Prioritise nutrition to unlock a fairer, safer future for all
By Emma Fabian, Head of Campaigns and Communications, UAMH

Faced with so many perplexing global problems, it is encouraging to know we can alleviate one of the biggest and most outrageous of all. We have the tools, the science, skills, and - indications suggest - reignited political will, to both treat and prevent malnutrition.

The case to do so is compelling. As we mark World Hunger Day, 28 May, global hunger is soaring. In recent years, fuelled by conflict, the Covid pandemic, and accelerating climate change, the number of hungry people has almost doubled worldwide.

The statistics speak for themselves. Malnutrition, an entirely preventable condition, is the biggest killer of children under five. One billion women and adolescent girls, who tend to eat least and last, suffer from undernutrition. The equivalent of more than the population of the USA and EU combined do not have enough to eat.

Reading this in the UK, daunted by the scale of the problem, and a perceived distance from it, a sense of futility could descend.

But here at United Against Malnutrition and Hunger, we believe there is evidence for optimism, and an imperative for UK Government action both on moral grounds and in our national self-interest.

We know we can deliver results. In previous decades, UK leadership was at the centre of international efforts that contributed to the proportion of undernourished people in the world falling by almost half.

Sadly, since 2019, progress has gone into reverse. Despite the escalating hunger crisis, less than one per cent of global Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) is spent on nutrition. In the UK, funding for nutrition in the aid budget has been cut by more than 60 per cent.

It is time to restore nutrition as an international priority. This is essential to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established by the United Nations to create a better world and better life for all by 2030.

The logic is clear. Food is foundational to development. It is the building block on which healthy bodies and societies depend.

Deprived of good nutrition, a domino effect of disadvantage is triggered damaging the potential of individuals, generations, countries, and economies to thrive, let alone excel.

Malnutrition affects women and children most severely and is passed from mother to child. Surviving infants are left with stunted growth and delayed brain development. For them, vaccine effectiveness is reduced, and the risk of illness and infection increased.

It does not stop there. This burden of premature death and illness puts a vast strain on healthcare systems. It suppresses a country’s productivity. The misery of extreme hunger contributes to violence and instability.

That vicious cycle sums up the interconnectedness of malnutrition and hunger to the world’s most pressing problems, but also the solutions to them.

It illustrates that if we act to achieve SDG 2, Zero Hunger, we can unlock progress on good health and well-being (SDG3), quality education (SDG4), gender equality (SDG5), economic growth (SDG8), reduced inequalities (SDG10), as well as peace and justice (SDG16). And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

That is why we are calling for the UK to scale-up cost-effective life-saving interventions like prenatal multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) and ready-to use therapeutic food (RUTF).

That is why we want Government support for British innovation to invest and engage with teams in lower income countries who have the local knowledge to deliver the sustainable food security they need.

The UK has an influential voice on the world stage. We should use it to champion partnerships to unlock resources aimed at tackling hunger and malnutrition specifically.

Yes, the challenge of global hunger is huge. But the opportunities presented by meeting it are bigger still.

Good nutrition leads to healthy populations, strengthened health systems, better educational outcomes for children, greater gender equality. It fosters peace, fairness, and stability.

That is the world we all want to live in.

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