Abu Dhabi backs UN-led fund to combat chronic malnutrition

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi gives $2.5m in launch funding to Unitlife, a UN-led partnership seeking to catalyse support for global nutrition programmes.

A United Nations-led trust fund dedicated to halting chronic malnutrition has received $2.5m in financing from Abu Dhabi’s Reaching the Last Mile initiative, a fund co-founded by the emirate’s crown prince.

Unitlife was created by UN Women and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and the Government of France, with the goal of drawing attention and funding to a condition that affects an estimated 149 million children worldwide.

Established in 2017, but launched in June 2021, Unitlife plans to leverage innovative financing and cross-sector partnerships to fund sustainable food systems and drive the use of climate-smart agriculture.

Women, who are typically responsible for growing food, cooking and feeding their families, as well as educating in the home, will be placed at the heart of the fund’s programming.

Speaking at the fund’s launch, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, France, said insufficient progress has been made in solving chronic hunger. “Food insecurity and malnutrition remain one of the greatest challenges of our century,” he said.

Chronic malnutrition develops when infants do not receive the nutrients they need during the first 1,000 days of life. As a result, they can face lifelong consequences affecting their physical growth, cognitive development and immune systems. The disease is linked to approximately 45 per cent of global deaths among children under five.

In Africa, where one in three children are chronically underfed, the drain on GDP is estimated to reach up to 16 per cent in the continent’s worst affected countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the burden of malnutrition due to major disruptions in food supplies, health and social protection systems. An additional 2.6 million more children are expected to be chronically malnourished by 2022, Unitlife reported, citing data from UNICEF.

Unitlife’s first programme began in late 2020, in Niger’s southern region of Zinder, where nearly half of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. The programme aims to expand to support 280,000 people – of which half are women and girls – by March 2022.

The $500,000 project, administered by GOAL, an international NGO, will expand distribution of bio-fortified cereals to smallholder women farmers; set-up solar irrigation systems for women’s vegetable farms; increase supplies of fresh milk; and provide access to a local goat banking system.

The Abu Dhabi money has been drawn from the Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) initiative, a portfolio of global health programmes working towards disease elimination, funded by the crown prince.

Other donors include EcoBank, African-based hotel group ONOMO, and OnlyOne, a French digital bank, which has said it will donate €0.60 (about $0.71) for every customer.

Ade Ayeyemi, CEO of EcoBank, which has supported Unitlife through awareness and fundraising campaigns among its staff and customers, said: “This is about giving children the best start in life. Good nutrition is the foundation for physical and cognitive development and gives people the potential to escape poverty and lead productive lives and earn decent incomes.”

A new partnership with UAE-based conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim, which will include fundraising within the firm’s network of malls, is due to be unveiled later in the year, a spokesperson for Unitlife told Philanthropy Age. - PA