Second International Congress of Nutrition: little progress, ongoing frustration, alas
The Second International Conference on Nutrition took place in Rome a week ago. It brought together a wide range of people from government, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and donors to consider how world leaders could join forces to end malnutrition in all its forms.
The First such conference took place 22 years ago. I wrote a disheartening account of it at the time. In reading it over (it is only two pages), I am struck by how little has changed.
The conference produced two documents of note:
- The Rome Declaration on Nutrition of global intent to reduce malnutrition
- A Framework for Action, giving a long list of steps needed to make progress.
Corinna Hawkes, now at the World Cancer Research Fund, reported on the meeting.
The documents were adopted in a matter of minutes at the commencement of the conference. And then they somehow disappeared…So, my conclusion on ICN2? It’s only going to make a real difference if it is seen as the initiation of a process rather than its conclusion—the start, not the end. And if this helps prevent malnutrition—in all its forms—then we can safely say it will indeed have made a difference.
ICN2 elicited a collection of documents, among them:
- WHO Global Nutrition Targets 2025
- WHO non-communicable disease targets.
- IFPRI’s Global Nutrition Report: “Under existing assumptions, projections from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF show that the world is not on track to meet any of the six WHA nutrition targets. Globally, little progress is being made in decreasing rates for anemia, low birth weight, wasting in children under age five, and verweight in children under age five. Progress in increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates has been similarly lackluster.”
- Public Interest Civil Society Organizations: Statement: “22 years after ICN1, this conference is taking place without properly evaluating progress or failures and without significant participation of civil society, in particular those most affected by hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. We deplore that ICN1 has sunk without trace and we do not want this to happen for ICN2…The conclusion of the ICN2 negotiations is a welcome step, in particular its focus on malnutrition in all its forms. However, we consider it inadequate to confront the scale of the global malnutrition challenge.”
This last statement concludes with a call to action:
22 years – an entire generation – have passed since the first ICN. It is unacceptable that millions of people continue suffer from and die of preventable causes of malnutrition in all its forms. This violence must stop immediately.
We call upon Member States to make clear and firm commitments at both national and international levels to ensure the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition and related rights. We will not watch idly as another 22 years pass by.
We stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We demand that Member States and the UN system live up to their obligations.
We hereby declare a worldwide People’s Decade of Action on Nutrition.
The time for action is now!
I’m for that. May it succeed.
2014 Global Nutrition Report: Actions and Accountability to Accelerate the World’s Progress on Nutrition
From the point of view of the authors, the report itself is an intervention against malnutrition: it is designed to help reframe malnutrition as a global challenge, to raise ambitions about how quickly it can be reduced, and to reenergize actions to reduce it.
Almost all countries suffer from high levels of malnutrition. Countries should make a common cause and exploit opportunities to learn from each other. It is clear that the low-income countries do not have a monopoly on malnutrition problems and that the high-income countries do not have a monopoly on nutrition solutions. Failure to intensify action and find solutions will cast a long shadow, bequeathing a painful legacy to the next generation. Our generation has the opportunity—and the ability—to banish those shadows. To do so, we must act strategically, effectively, in alliances, and at scale. And we need to be held to account.