Anyone who has ever done the fundraising challenge 'Live Below the Line' will know how long a week can be when you're dealing with gnawing hunger and inadequate nutrition. I've completed the challenge a few times and it doesn't get any easier, but for those living below the poverty line it's a case of doing it every single week of the year. It is heartening that now 10 million fewer people go to bed hungry, but there are still 795 chronically undernourished people. Also important to note is that more than 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, reflecting poor nutritional quality irrespective of having enough calories to fill their stomachs.
But this week has been different: this week, we've had a series of critically important breakthroughs that are setting us on the path to ending undernutrition.
It's no coincidence that this week marks the second anniversary of the Nutrition for Growth Summit. I've written previously about the importance of this event where the UK, alongside the government of Brazil and the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, galvanised $4.15bn in nutrition specific commitments for much needed global efforts to end undernutrition. Donors also pledged an impressive $19 bn for sectors that contribute to improved nutrition. We're now seeing these commitments being made into reality.
Since then, the UK has steadily been delivering on its pledges. On the 3rd June 2015, there was another big announcement from Baroness Verma, DFID's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State: that £156.5 million of the £280 million matched funding promised at Nutrition for Growth will be unlocked by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This comes after the launch this April of the 'Power of Nutrition' catalytic fund for scaling up nutrition investments, towards which the UK pledged £32 million. In 2013, DfID disbursed £840 million to nutrition related ODA, 9% of its total disbursements. This puts the UK on track to fully spend out its commitment well before the 2020 target it has set itself, which would be an excellent achievement given the scale of the problem and the momentum building around fighting undernutrition.
What helped unlock that DFID spending was a new and exciting commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Speaking at the European Development Days in Brussels, Melinda Gates announced a doubling of their investments in nutrition to $776 million over the next six years. This expands the Foundation's work and brings a vital new focus to help all women and children not only survive but to thrive. Gates summed it up well: "It is not acceptable that a quarter of children around the world are stunted - physically and mentally - and will never achieve their full potential. We must do more to address this."
There has been much attention on the Nutrition for Growth commitments, including our own recently-updated nutrition scorecard. These announcements mean that two years on the UK is resolutely on track to meet its commitments and more than 50% of its matched funding commitments for nutrition specific interventions have been unlocked.
Still, one really good week in the fight against undernutrition is not enough. As anyone who has done Live Below the Line can testify, a week is a long time if you are hungry. The days seem longer and simple tasks like your ability to care for yourself or your children, and getting on with work get harder. In addition to an overall energy deficit, deficiencies of vital micronutrients such iron, vitamin A, zinc, or iodine can lead to a lifetime of ill health and poverty.
This infographic highlights how just one form of micronutrient deficiency, anaemia, can affect the lifecycle of women, from the risk of mortality during childbirth to low birth weight for their babies, to poor educational performance in their children and a lifetime trapped in poverty. It is welcome that as part of this new funding DFID and DFATD have funded the Micronutrient Initiative to increase technical support for countries looking to scale up nutrition and reduce stunting.
The world needs $9.6 billion a year to scale up high impact interventions to save nearly 1 million lives. Given the size of this gap it is unlikely that donors will be able to fill it completely, so in addition to increases in donor financing we are going to need countries themselves to prioritise nutrition. Countries made their own Nutrition for Growth commitments, such as the Ethiopian government's commitment of allocating $15m for tackling undernutrition, and these are a welcome and crucial part of the response.
The Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia this July will establish the cost of attaining two of the six World Health Assembly targets on nutrition. While nutrition is just one area where we need greatly increased resources, there are shortfalls in funding for crucial development programmes around the world that cannot be filled by granting Overseas Development Assistance alone. This conference presents an opportunity to examine and agree just how we will continue to fund development, and the mix of aid and domestic spending necessary to close the big gaps that exist. What is clear is that we will need both.
This week we should celebrate these announcements and progress on nutrition. Thanks to commitments made at Nutrition for Growth in 2013 being met, and with the opportunities presented by the Financing for Development conference, we can ensure the good news for nutrition keeps coming in the months and years to come.