Good nutrition is the cornerstone of development, playing a critical role in health, education, gender equality, and economic advancement. Malnutrition is a pressing issue, responsible for 45% of deaths in children under five. Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) of Zero Hunger includes ensuring everyone has access to safe, adequate, and nutritious food and ending all forms of malnutrition.
This includes achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, as well as enhancing the resilience of food systems to climate change. While significant progress has been achieved in the past, this has now gone into reverse. Ongoing challenges such as conflict, escalating climate change, and the persisting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have led to an increase in hunger and food insecurity since 2015.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP) over a quarter of a billion people across 58 countries and territories are facing acute food insecurity or worse.
Severe reductions to WFP funding have meant scaling back assistance in many of the world’s hotspots including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Jordan, Palestine, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. Current projections suggest that nearly 600 million people will still be facing hunger by 2030. 45 million children suffer from wasting (7% of children under five globally), more than double the SDG 2 goal of less than 3%.
Progress to achieve SDG 2 will require integrated approaches across the short medium, and long-term which should include:
- Scaling up treatment of severe malnutrition and preventing future cases by increasing coverage of proven and cost-effective interventions for mothers and children. With an estimated two million children dying of malnutrition every year, there is an urgent need to expand access to treatment with therapeutic foods and scale up proven interventions to prevent malnutrition occurring in the first place.
- Investing in sustainable food systems to ensure access to nutritious food and prevent malnutrition. Research and development (R&D) into affordable nutritious and climate resilient crops should be prioritised, starting with a reversal of the 36% cuts to nutrition-sensitive spending on agricultural research which took place in 2021. With global food demand projected to increase by 50% by 2050 and crop yields projected to decline by 30%, urgent action is required to supercharge R&D efforts.
- Maximising global resources available to address the nutrition crisis, through World Bank financing reform to release urgently needed finance; ramping up mechanisms such as the Child Nutrition Fund which can mobilise international and domestic resources through match funding; and leveraging the expertise of the City of London to draw in private capital through innovative financing initiatives.
The Hunger to Health initiative, launched in October 2023, offers a helpful integrated model on which to base this approach. Such interventions will need to be accompanied by concerted efforts to rebuild trust which was damaged after the abrupt cuts to funding following the decision to reduce Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.5% of GNI.
To achieve this, the UK should establish enduring partnerships which draw on local knowledge and co-create programming. Long term nutrition contracts should be developed which commit to shared outcomes with partners, provide predictable financing with guarantees that funding will not be abruptly withdrawn, and underpin policy consistency.
New approaches to partnerships should utilise match funding mechanisms to leverage in additional funds and crucially align priorities with partner countries. The International Development White Paper provides a welcome commitment to a reinvigorated partnership approach.