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Closing the Gap for Post-2015: New Ambition for Acute Malnutrition

25/09/2014 09:35 BST | Updated 24/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Nutrition is both a maker and marker of development. Yet, undernutrition continues to hamper the ability of children to live happy, healthy lives and reach their full potential.

Millions of children - 52 million to be exact - suffer from acute malnutrition. Commonly known as wasting, because of the rapid and severe weight loss it can induce, acute malnutrition can quickly result in death without treatment. Yet it is among the most neglected issues in development.

The 'unfinished agenda'

As we reach the final stages of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) it becomes increasingly apparent that nutrition was one of the greatest missed opportunities of the past 15 years. Progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition has been uneven, with levels remaining persistently high across many regions and countries.

While there are no 'magic bullets' in development, nutrition is a foundation for better health and has the potential to springboard progress in a range of development issues. In fact, the chronic lack of investment in nutrition has resulted in slow gains in other MDGs and a key reason why many will not be met by the looming 2015 deadline. It is fair to say that nutrition is the biggest 'unfinished agenda' of the MDGs.

A new ambition

There is still time to turn this around. Global leaders are currently in New York for the 69th UN General Assembly where they are discussing future priorities in health and development. On Thursday, the dialogue turns to hunger and nutrition, with a special event on Delivering Zero Hunger. There, advocates from around the world will call on governments to safeguard the lives of millions of children by ensuring that the nutrition agenda is finally tackled in the Post-2015 development framework.

The importance of this framework cannot be underplayed. It will shape global priorities for the next 15 years.

All stakeholders - from governments to civil society - must maintain nutrition momentum during this critical period of Post-2015 negotiation. Things are moving in the right direction, but greater ambition is needed.

The proposed goals and targets for nutrition - to achieve the World Health Assembly (WHA) targets to "reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5 per cent by 2025" - are insufficient, insofar as they only run to 2025. Even if the 2025 targets are met, more than 30 million children will remain acutely malnourished and at high risk of death.

'Closing the Gap: Towards a 2030 Wasting Target' - a new report released today by the Generation Nutrition campaign - urges governments to include nutrition as a goal in the Post-2015 development agenda, with specific targets to tackle stunting and wasting by 2030.

As well as ensuring that nutrition is present in the next development framework as a goal -representing the global challenge we set out to change - the targets - that translate the goal into practical and measurable outcomes - must be ambitious and reflect the global need.

This is especially important for acute malnutrition (also known as wasting). For too long, it has been viewed as a by-product of famine or conflict. In reality, most children who suffer from this life threatening condition live in stable, non-emergency countries.

The fact that nearly three-quarters of children with acute malnutrition live in Asia - an area less prone to droughts and famine than sub-Saharan Africa - shows that acute malnutrition is by no means a simple outcome only of man-made and natural crises. Rather, its persistence in non-emergency contexts highlights the failure of long-term development processes. It needs to be addressed as an explicit part of the development agenda - starting with the Post-2015 development agenda.

In calling for greater ambition for nutrition the report also calls on governments to agree on a new target that aims to reduce by half the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition. The current ambition would bring rates of acute malnutrition from eight per cent to five per cent. By sustaining the World Health Assembly targets beyond 2025, as Closing the Gap recommends, we could reduce that number by another one per cent, bringing the rate of acute malnutrition to less than 4 per cent.

That may not sound like much, but one per cent represents an additional seven million children. During 15 years this would see the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition fall by 28 million. That's 28 million children's lives protected from the devastating impacts of malnutrition.

Make your voice heard!

We must ensure momentum for nutrition during this important period of Post-2015 negotiations is not lost. You can help. Make your voice heard and sign the Generation Nutrition petition. Show world leaders you care and they should too.