Malnutrition matters


 Simon Bishop and Taimur Hadi from The Power of Nutrition on why the world needs to act now to prevent a looming malnutrition crisis. 

The war in Ukraine has shone a damming light on the fragility of the global food system. For far too long, too much of our world has relied too heavily on Russia and Ukraine, which together have accounted nearly a third of global wheat exports. The conflict there now threatens a tsunami of global hunger and malnutrition because soaring food, fertilizer and fuel prices mean thousands of families in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are unable to afford enough nutritious food.

Without urgent and ambitious intervention, experts say hundreds of millions more people worldwide will be pushed into extreme poverty and the knock-on effects of malnutrition will be felt for generations to come.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of all child deaths globally and in the first six months of 2022, an additional 260,000 children – equivalent to one child every 60 seconds – were affected by severe wasting, according to UNICEF.

In the Arab region alone, some 51 million people suffer from hunger, the UN estimates, and many countries carry a so-called “triple burden of malnutrition” caused by undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies.

Investing in better nutrition for children and mothers is proven to be one of the best tools we have to transform the health and education prospects of communities. Yet, nutrition is chronically underfunded. Currently, there is an estimated annual US$11bn shortfall and as a sector, it receives less than one percent of traditional donor aid.

The combination of Covid-19, conflict, and climate change is only making this situation worse as needs deepen and budgets shrink.

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Welio, 37, collects seed pods from the Prosopsis tree to feed her children and animals. A devastating drought is causing the worst food crisis to hit Ethiopia in 30 years, putting millions of people at risk of hunger, disease, and malnutrition. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos.

“Without urgent intervention, hundreds of millions more people worldwide will be pushed into extreme poverty and the knock-on effects of malnutrition will be felt for generations to come.”

­­Although the Middle East and North Africa region is affected by some of the worst rates of malnutrition globally, it is also pioneering ways to combat it.

The One Billion Meals initiative, for example, led by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Global Initiatives (MBRGI), this year provided food parcels, meals, and vouchers to some of the millions of vulnerable households across 50 countries.

This was made possible thanks to donations worth Dhs1bn ($272m) from UAE-based philanthropists, corporates, and community groups during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), meanwhile has its $2.5bn Lives and Livelihoods Fund, which was launched withdonor partners such as Qatar Fund for Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, with a joint vision to raise the poorest out of poverty in member countries.

As part of this, it has a fund for agriculture, which aims to boost production of staple crops and livestock to support local nutritional needs as well as economic output.

There is also the Food for Life campaign, a community awareness and engagement campaign run by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, Emirates Nature-World Wide Fund for Nature (WFF), and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This aims to address the relationship between health, nutrition, and planetary wellbeing through promoting healthy diets in the region.

These are examples of how the MENA region is showing global leadership to tackle the problem, but we must continue to innovate to plug the ever-increasing funding gap in nutrition.

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Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of all child deaths globally. Photo: Warrick Page/Panos.

That is what we’re committed to at The Power of Nutrition. Launched in 2015, we act as a financing and partnership platform, to raise money and create partnerships to advance the fight against malnutrition in Africa and Asia. In partnership with the IsDB and UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), we are working to create and implement the First 1,000 Days Initiative and respective Multi-Donor Trust Fund.

Over a five-year period, this aims to mobilise more than $200m of resources to support programmes tackling malnutrition for the most vulnerable people, specifically those focused on the critical first 1,000 days of life, in OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) countries.

Activities will include evidence-based, recognised best-buy interventions, such as: making sure children receive sufficient Vitamin A and pregnant women receive multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS); breastfeeding support and counselling for new mothers; and urgent treatment for children who are severely malnourished.

We’re also behind ‘Nutrition Ventures’, a first-of-its kind innovation financing hub that is designed to catalyse at least $400m for nutrition. The hub takes inspiration from the success of NatureVest, which was established by the Nature Conservancy in 2014, and has since leveraged $1.4bn of innovative finance for conservation through 12 very different deals.

Nutrition Ventures will identify, market test, and scale a range of innovative financing products (including payment-by-results, blended finance, impact investing, market guarantees and capital market Social Bonds) that aim to attract public and private investment into tackling malnutrition.

Currently we’re trying to launch the world’s first Zero Child Hunger capital markets Bond, which would bring much-needed genuine investment, not just grant money, into nutrition.

With the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) due to be hosted in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheik in 2022, the region has a global platform to educate and inform on not only preventative measures to climate change, but also on the actions that are needed now to react to the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and associated global cost of living crisis.

It is predicted that extreme poverty could threaten the lives and livelihoods of nearly three million people in the MENA region, so as much as there is a global incentive, it’s very much a local one too. - PA