Global Britain must renew its pledge to fight malnutrition

Posted On: 
20th June 2019

This week sees the launch of a new APPG whose focus is an issue that will save lives, transform economies and is integral to ending poverty once and for all, write David Linden, Lord Collins and Baroness Manzoor

The UN still expects the goal to end malnutrition in all its forms by 2030 to be “largely missed.”
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It is a simple and obvious message – the food we eat is fundamental to our health, happiness and productivity. The same is true for societies. Without a well-nourished population, the health of a country and its ability to grow is dramatically hindered.

Malnutrition is an expression that tends to conjure up images of great famines and starvation, but it is an issue that is far more complex, insidious and widely spread. It is not just a question of too little food, but of not having the right food, particularly as a young child, adolescent or during pregnancy.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 45% of all deaths of children under five are linked to malnutrition. This is because a strong immune system – the first line of defence against illness – can only be developed with the right nutrition.

It does not take a vivid imagination to picture how such compromised health caused by malnutrition may impact on a child’s wellbeing, education and job prospects. The human cost of malnutrition is immeasurable. But the global economic cost is estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to be $3.5tn per year due to lost productivity and the burden on health systems.

"The human cost of malnutrition is immeasurable"

We have seen first-hand the impact that malnutrition has on societies. Just recently, our co-chair Lord Collins visited Zambia – a country where 40% of children are growing up physically or cognitively stunted due mainly to an over-reliance on maize, a crop that is high in carbohydrate but low in protein and fat, and lacks many essential vitamins.

Zambia’s rates of stunting are unacceptably high, but sadly typical of the region. Globally, almost one quarter of under-fives suffer stunted growth due to malnutrition. When such a vast number of people are unable to meet their potential, is it any wonder that poverty rates remain so high?

The UK is a global leader in the fight against malnutrition, and that is something we should all be proud of, no matter our party loyalty. In 2013, the UK government hosted the first ever Nutrition for Growth summit. It was a pivotal moment in tackling malnutrition, where partners including governments, development banks and philanthropists pledged over $24bn to tackling malnutrition and agreed to an ambitious set of targets and policy pledges.

Millions of lives have been saved and transformed as a result of the summit, and UK leadership has continued since. In fact, since 2015, nutrition interventions made by the UK government have saved the lives of 42 million people – a population more than five times that of London.

But despite the vast progress since 2013, the UN still expects sustainable development goal 2 – to end malnutrition in all its forms by 2030 – to be “largely missed.” And some indicators for malnutrition, such as those for acute hunger, have recently started to rise.

Thankfully, we have an opportunity to get back on track. In 2020, the Japanese government will host the next Nutrition for Growth summit. UK leadership will be imperative for its success and it is for this reason that we, a cross-party group of parliamentarians, have decided to form an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nutrition for Growth.

As the summit approaches, we will be supporting and challenging ministers to lead the way globally to ensure worldwide political buy-in. We will do this by working with civil society here in the UK, but also with partners around the world, particularly in countries with a high burden of malnutrition. Our ultimate goal is for a significant financial pledge at the summit and for renewed commitment to an even more ambitious set of targets.

Without a successful summit next year, the progress made since 2013 is at risk. We believe the summit is a unique opportunity to address something that is both a key driver and a symptom of poverty. It is an opportunity for Global Britain to continue to demonstrate its leadership on a universal issue – an issue that will save lives, transform economies and that is ultimately integral to ending poverty once and for all. But it is an opportunity that could slip by without parliamentary and public will.

The APPG on Nutrition for Growth will launch in the Jubilee Room, Westminster Hall on 24 June, 3-5pm. For more details, follow us on Twitter @APPGNutrition.

David Linden is SNP MP for Glasgow East and is chair of the APPG on Nutrition for Growth with co-chairs Labour peer Lord Collins of Highbury, and Conservative peer Baroness Manzoor