21 November 2017

Southern Africa: A Call for Commitment, Accountability and Acceleration of Efforts to End Hunger and Malnutrition

Photo: IRIN
Malnutrition is common in Malawi - 65 percent of people live in poverty. Malawi.

Johannesburg — The Graça Machel Trust in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) will be jointly hosting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) launch of the 2017 Global Nutrition Report (GNR).

The launch event will be an opportunity to share the findings of the Global Nutrition Report (GNR), take stock of the state of SADC countries' nutrition gains and challenges, celebrate renewed commitments to nutrition on the continent and explore strides to achieving sustainable development.

The SADC launch follows the global launch of the Report in Milan, on 4th of November, where world leaders gathered to address the global crisis of malnutrition. Under the theme, "Nourishing the SDGs", the gathering called for shared value, greater accountability and the need for 'nutrition-smart commitments'. The Report findings show that despite progress, 155 million children globally are still stunted - they are too short for their age - often due to lack of nutrients, impacting their physical and cognitive development.

The world is also off track on meeting internationally agreed nutrition targets. The financing needed to tackle malnutrition does not match the high levels of malnutrition and remains alarmingly low. Countries only allocate between 1 % and 2 % of their health budgets, while donors only spend about 0.5 % of overseas aid on nutrition. The indicators for nutrition are also alarming with the Report revealing that that 28% of children under the age of five in Southern Africa suffer from stunting, 6% from wasting and 1% from severe wasting. Additionally, 12% of children under 5 are underweight. At the same time, there is widespread micronutrient deficiency, and obesity is on the increase.

Finding smarter and collaborative ways to combine efforts to end malnutrition

Participating in the SADC GNR launch, Mrs. Graça Machel, Founder of the Graça Machel Trust said, "In spite of significant progress in reducing levels of malnutrition by the SADC countries, malnutrition remains stubbornly high, with two thirds of countries in the region showing levels of stunting above 30%. These stark findings give a very clear and unambiguous message that governments need to work together with the private sector, civil society and communities in much smarter and collaborative ways to eradicate the scourge of malnutrition."

"Today's launch of the report brings together representatives from across different sectors, which I hope will spur on opportunities to work together towards a common development agenda that benefits all. The right to nutrition for women and children is however inter-related, as the lack of adequate nutrition, especially for pregnant women and children in the first 24 months of their life, is often a key contributor to the high levels of child mortality, stunting and the associated loss of human capital. This in turn has detrimental outcomes on the overall economic, social and political development of the continent. Africa's women and children deserve to live full and productive lives and this requires access to enough nutritious food 365 days a year."

The SADC community is grappling with multiple burdens of malnutrition. Lola Castro, the acting Regional Director of the World Food Programme agreed, noting that, "The Southern Africa region is characterised by very high stunting rates; the coexistence of undernutrition and overweight is also a growing challenge. Continued focus on nutrition-specific interventions, particularly those that prevent malnutrition, is necessary, but nutrition-sensitive approaches are also essential in accelerating progress towards ending malnutrition in all its forms". According to the Report, SADC countries have a serious burden of two or three forms of malnutrition and progress in global nutrition targets is slow or moving backwards.

Sustainable development will however require a multi-pronged approach, which necessitates the private sector to play a much broader role in addressing malnutrition. Mrs. Sheila Sisulu, Chairperson of the Tiger Brands Foundation, said, "Malnutrition is far reaching and affects every country in the SADC region. Alarmingly, two-thirds of SADC countries have more than 30% of their children suffering from stunting, a form of malnutrition that prevents them from developing to their full potential. Unless we all come together to address the multi-faceted drivers of malnutrition in the region, which include insufficient support for smallholder farmers, limited infrastructure, gender inequality and inadequate child care practices, the region will not achieve the development targets it has set itself. As the business sector, we have a critical role to play in using all technologies, know-how, human and financial resources to work hand in hand with researchers, government, farmers and civil society organisations. Together we must invest in well planned, resourced and co-ordinated long-term nutrition interventions, if we are to achieve our development outcomes."

Government commitments to ending malnutrition

In 2014, all SADC countries committed to improve the nutritional status of all children and in particular, the elimination of child under- nutrition in Africa with a view to bringing down stunting to 10% and underweight to 5% by 2025 by signing the Malabo Declaration. Further to that, in 2015, SADC governments committed to endorsing the Sustainable Development Goals. The governments confirmed that, through their National Development Plans, they will reduce the prevalence of stunted, underweight and wasted children under five to ensure that no child is malnourished by the year 2030.

We applaud the new commitments made at the Nutrition Summit in Milan:

* US$100 million over five years from the Aliko Dangote Foundation, the philanthropic organisation of Aliko Dangote, founder and Executive Chairman of the Nigerian Dangote group, Africa's largest home-grown conglomerate, to reduce the prevalence of undernutrition by 60 percent in targeted areas of Nigeria.

* Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Zambia also made commitments to expand domestic programs to improve nutrition for mothers and children.

Filling gaps and changing the way we use and analyse data

The Global Nutrition Report highlights that data gaps are hindering accountability and progress. More regular, detailed and disaggregated data is needed if we are to improve nutrition universally. This will ensure better choices, informed decision-making at the policy level and that marginalised, vulnerable populations are not left behind in the SDG Agenda.

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