Lord Collins: We must embed nutrition policy into UK Aid programmes
In 2018, 5.3 million children under the age of five died, with undernutrition being a key cause of nearly half those deaths. By taking the lead to support nutrition sensitive interventions, we can end the blight once and for all, writes Lord Collins.
Nutrition sensitive aid interventions. It sounds complicated – but is actually very simple. Because nutrition is so foundational to human life, it intersects with almost all aspects of development policy. For example, unless a child has adequate nutrition, they will be unable to meet their potential in school and are more susceptible to disease. This has implications for their employment prospects and therefore the economic success of their country. Good nutrition also relies on food and agriculture systems that deliver healthy diverse diets at a cost people can afford.
UK Aid programmes aim to make improvements in all different aspects of development. Nutrition sensitivity is the policy of embedding nutrition within those programmes, in order to radically improve the effectiveness of our aid budget without spending significantly more. It is a policy that DfID already pursues but where there is significant room for improvement.
During the Queen’s Speech debate, I welcomed the commitment to ensure twelve years of quality education for every girl. However, unless this government equally supports nutrition, they will never meet that objective. Malnutrition disproportionately affects women and girls, preventing many girls from attending school and hindering the potential of those that do. In order to meet their aim, the Government must take a holistic approach to global education by, for example, ensuring nutritious school meals or delivering micronutrients in the schools they fund.
Climate change is another case in point. For example, last year the Government committed £61m to support drought resistant crops that can withstand high temperatures, with the intention of preventing food insecurity as a result of climate change. While tackling food insecurity is important, unless the crops contribute to a diverse, nutritious diet, the Government will miss a gaping opportunity to really improve people’s health, rather than just keep them alive.
2020 will see the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit take place. In 2013, the UK hosted the first ever N4G Summit, mobilising around GBP 17 billion — of which the UK contributed GBP 1.25 billion in new investments — to combat malnutrition. The majority of the UK’s contribution supported nutrition sensitive interventions.
In the years since the summit, the number of children whose physical or cognitive growth is stunted by malnutrition has reduced by over 12 million. But despite progress, nutrition remains one of the most pressing issues in global development. In 2018, 5.3 million children under the age of five died, with undernutrition being a key cause of nearly half those deaths.
It is very welcome that the UK made such a significant contribution to support nutrition sensitive interventions in 2013. But if progress is to continue, it is vital that the UK once again takes the lead at Tokyo by taking steps to better embed nutrition into UK Aid’s portfolio and pledging funds at least to the same level as has been the case since 2013, or ideally making an uplift. By taking the lead, we can encourage others to contribute – and end this blight once and for all.
Lord Collins is a Labour Peer in the House of Lords and Shadow Spokesperson for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.