By Jill Tipton and Christelle Huré (@ChristelleHure)
Globally, current levels of undernutrition remains unacceptably high, with 156 million children under five stunted and 50 million threatened by wasting. Over 3 million children still die of malnutrition every year. Factors and pathways leading to undernutrition are diverse, complex, and most often interconnected. In order to address the scourge of malnutrition once and for all, the SDGs need to reflect this complex set of factors, but also to consider nutrition as “both an input to and outcome of the SDGs.”
Compared to the MDGs, the SDGs are a step in the right direction. In the MDGs, there was only one relevant target for nutrition. Included under Goal 1, which focused on the fight against poverty, nutrition was unappreciated as an objective in its own right. The SDGs have rectified this error with Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
Nutrition as an outcome of the SDGs
However, we must not exclusively focus on achieving Goal 2 if we want to witness a world free of undernutrition. Hunger and nutrition are not the same thing and nutrition is not going to end only by ending hunger but will depend on the success of many SDGs, as overcoming the plague of malnutrition is also about more sustainable and healthy diets, better systems of support for mothers and infant care, better health and sanitation, etc.
This means that although Goal 2 will be essential for eradicating undernutrition, other SDGs that contain no direct reference to nutrition are just as essential and must be mobilized as well.
Action Against Hunger advocates for “nutrition security,” a model that grasps the complex and varied nature of undernutrition and promotes addressing a suite of issues— agriculture, WASH, education, health, mental health and care—to holistically treat and prevent cases of undernutrition. Although difficult to observe at first glance, the SDGs have the potential to reflect this multisectoral approach. Nutrition is most obviously present in Goal 2, but Goals 1, 3, 6, and 13 (concerning poverty, health, WASH, and climate respectively) all have serious ramifications for the fight against undernutrition. Target 6.1 of Goal 6, for instance, aims to “achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.” Good nutrition is not possible without drinkable water, making this target just as significant as many of those included in Goal 2. A few targets and indicators found in other less directly related goals are also relevant to nutrition. That is not to say that the SDGs have been 100% successful in their multisectorality. Goal 3 (Ensure Healthy Lives) is unfortunately weak on nutrition, with no transversal targets on anemia or breastfeeding, even though malnutrition is one of the major causes of children mortality worldwide.
Nutrition as an input of the SDGs
Achieving the targets found in Goal 2 and other nutrition-sensitive goals is crucial, because it is impossible to achieve the targets found in other goals without profound progress on undernutrition. Again, many of the targets of Goal 3 on improving health and well-being are out of reach unless nutritional status is improved. Target 3.2, which aims to reduce preventable deaths of children under age 5, is inextricably linked to childhood malnutrition. Over 45% of the deaths of children less than 5 years are due to malnutrition, making it one of the key underlying causes of childhood mortality. This knowledge makes the fact that there is no reference in Goal 3 to Severe Acute Malnutrition, which touches 16 million children under age 5, particularly egregious. Another example is the link between nutrition and economic growth, a target which features heavily throughout the 2030 Agenda but is particularly highlighted in Goal 8. Some researchers estimate that countries in Asia and Africa with high rates of malnutrition may lose up to 11% of their annual GDP due to productivity losses caused by malnutrition. A $1 investment in nutrition generates $16, a rate of return greater than 10%, making it one of the best buys in development, especially in growing economies.
Success on these targets as well as so many others is only achievable if stakeholders in the nutrition community, such as Action Against Hunger, work across sectors to share their expertise on nutrition, and inversely, if knowledgeable actors in other fields push for an SDG implementation strategy that addresses their own sectors as well as nutrition.
The vast interconnectedness of the SDGs is why Action Against Hunger is ready to work across sectors and in coalition to fight for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs cannot be accomplished if civil society does not unite to advocate for a truly universal, multisectoral approach. As many governments prepare their implementation plans and harmonize their national policies with the 2030 Agenda, Action Against Hunger is calling for a strong representation of the nutrition security approach in the countries’ strategies. We will not only recommend that governments include targets in line with those established by the World Health Assembly to reduce rates of undernutrition but that they include nutrition and nutrition-sensitive targets and indicators throughout their development plans and mainstream nutrition into their policies for other sectors, which also must be aligned with the SDGs.
The incredible breadth of the 2030 Agenda is a veritable challenge, and we hope that, in partnership with other members of civil society, we will be able to rise to the occasion.
About the authors: Christelle Huré is the Advocacy Nutrition Security Advisor and Jill Tipton is an advocacy intern at Action Against Hunger France. Action Against Hunger works in more than 45 countries around the world to end hunger, promote nutrition, and save lives.