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This week’s International Conference on Nutrition: Lots to welcome but we have some concerns…

A fortnight ago I blogged about the many events taking place during Nutrition November. One of them is the Second International Conference on Nutrition – or ICN2 – taking place 19–21 November 2014 in Rome.

The conference, organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), brings together ministers and representatives from 193 governments to demonstrate their commitment to ending malnutrition in all its forms. Member states have agreed two conference outcome documents:

  • a Rome Declaration on Nutrition, which is a political declaration of intent
  • a voluntary Framework for Action (FFA) – containing a set of policy options and strategies for signatories to achieve the principles of the Rome Declaration.

Save the Children is calling for governments to:

  • make the policies and actions put forward in ICN2 Framework for Action specific and time bound to ensure they’re implemented
  • work through existing initiatives and architecture for nutrition – for example, the Scaling Up Nutrition movement should not only be used as a monitoring and accountability tool, but as a major partner in implementing ICN2 commitments
  • ensure the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals hold governments accountable for delivering on improvements in nutrition for their citizens.

We value many elements of the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and Framework for Action. However, ICN2 does not guarantee a positive outcome for nutrition. We have the following concerns::

  1. The framework lacks specific, time-bound, prioritised, detailed, and measurable recommendations. This will make it very hard for populations and their civil society representatives to ensure implementation of recommendations at the necessary scale. We urge ICN2 signatories to individually take the floor to commit to specifics of the FFA, with measurable, time-bound detail.
  2. We doubt that the FFA’s recommendations for accountability will be adequate – especially because the establishment of national targets, intermediate milestones and national monitoring frameworks have been left as voluntary, state-centric processes. The accountability mechanism will need careful stewardship, starting with ICN2’s Roundtable 3 ‘Governance and Accountability for Nutrition’. We feel accountability can be enhanced if: a) states commit to establishing (and resourcing) multi-stakeholder platforms for nutrition, as per recommendation for an enabling environment; b) the UN establishes a formal follow-up process, requiring state actors to account for their progress; c)  the proposed biennial UN accountability report is annual and is done in conjunction with existing nutrition architecture, especially the Global Nutrition Report.
  3. We’re deeply concerned by the ‘recommended actions to promote, protect and support breastfeeding’. These priority actions need to be highlighted and strengthened to ensure the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes is adopted (not adapted) into national law and then enforced and monitored. All reference to the need for governments to protect consumers, especially children, from inappropriate marketing and publicity must be made in relation to drinks as well as food. Member states should bring their maternity leave policies into line with the International Labour Organization minimum recommendation.
  4. Neither outcome document explains ICN2’s fit with the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. A concerted effort is needed to ensure a positive outcome is taken-forwards from ICN2’s Roundtable 1 ‘Nutrition in the Post-2015 Development Agenda’.
  5. The UN has not detailed how all its nutrition-related agencies, funds and programmes will coordinate their future work. We will call for these concerns to be addressed, starting with ICN2’s Roundtable 3: ‘Governments and Accountability for Nutrition’.
  6. The nutritional status of adolescents has not been prioritised, relatively speaking. We will call on our civil society parents to help ensure adolescents are recognised, alongside other vulnerable groups, as an essential constituency for breaking the intergenerational cycle of undernutrition.
  7. There’s a lack of information for the proposed decade of action on nutrition. It will now be important to influence these plans to ensure they do not lack the necessary ambition to deliver WHA 2025 Global Nutrition Targets.
  8. The Scaling Up Nutrition movement was not mentioned as a means for creating an enabling environment for action or ensuring accountability for commitments. In this way, ICN2 risks duplicating existing nutrition architecture and may violate the ‘do no harm’ principle – governments do not need competing national nutrition plans and nutrition action plans. Instead, initiatives should support existing efforts to scale up nutrition.
  9. There’s a relative dearth of recommendations for nutrition-specific interventions – particularly a failure to recommend all ten cost-effective interventions evidenced in the Lancet (2013) Maternal and Child Nutrition.
  10. It’s lamentable that member states missed an opportunity to specify the level of increased investments needed to eradicate malnutrition. It is also a failure of the declaration not to put a time-frame on its goals.
  11. The recommended actions for wasting miss the opportunity to promote the improvement of identification and measurement of wasting – both for curative and preventative purposes. 
  12. Social protection recommendations need to target interventions at the 1,000 day window and incorporate empowerment activities for women and adolescent girls. Furthermore, consideration must be also given to achieving sustainable livelihoods and behaviour change through national social protection systems.

These concern’s must be resolved either during the conference in the follow-up work.

I’ll be blogging again at the end of the week with updates from the conference.


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