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Whose job is it to tackle malnutrition? How we can use the Nutrition Report to build accountability

For millions of people whose lives are blighted by malnutrition, 8 June 2013 should prove to be a great moment.

On that day, the Nutrition for Growth bonanza brought together on an massive scale, governments, civil society, donors and businesses in London. They pledged $23.15 billion to tackle malnutrition ($4.15 billion for programmes that address the immediate determinates of nutrition and $19 billion to address the underlying causes of malnutrition) and made other vital political commitments necessary to improve global nutrition by 2020.

Berhanu, from Ethiopia, with a cup of yogurt produced from cows his family received as part of a Save the Children livelihoods project.
(photo: Colin Crowley/Save the Children)

Who’s responsible?

But a year and a half since and vigilance is still needed to ensure that glitzy nutrition announcement results in lasting change. After all, who is to ensure high-profile nutrition commitments are fulfilled once the spotlight is turned off and the signatories return to their day jobs?

And who can advocate to ensure that action secures a tangible benefit to the 805 million people worldwide who are chronically undernourished, the 165m children stunted by the age of five, or the 3.1m children under 5 still destined to die each year as a result of malnutrition?

Accountability is key. Especially in the field of nutrition, where good solutions require the input of multiple actors in multiple sectors – health and water, sanitation & hygiene, education and care, agriculture and food systems, and social protection and livelihoods, to name but a few.  As a result, it’s all too easy for nutrition to become everyone’s problem, but no one’s responsibility. Without the appropriate accountability mechanisms, nutrition risks a triangulation of responsibility and gridlock.

Massive step forwards

Next week sees the launch of the first-ever #NutritionReport – a ground-breaking, comprehensive narrative on progress in all forms of nutrition and its drivers. It’s potentially a massive step forwards in improving accountability for nutrition. The report will, among other things, track the progress of countries, civil society, businesses, donors and the United Nations against their Nutrition for Growth commitments. (Save the Children was found to be “on course” for its own commitments.) It will also put forwards a plethora of recommendations for action that could yet prove a seminal guide for driving action at a local, national and global level.

It’s what we do with it that matters

But, as with all reports, no matter how ground-breaking, without a receptive and well organised constituency it risks just gathering dust on a shelf. If the report’s potential is to be fulfilled, it must be supplemented by the immediate building of a robust, targeted and sustained advocacy movement of civil society organisations capable of:

  • raising awareness of nutrition
  • advocating for the implication of #NutritionReport recommendations
  • catalysing national Nutrition Action Plans
  • holding nutrition investors (like governments and businesses) to account
  • providing support to decision-makers.

Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) has made valiant progress fostering such a movement. Already, more than 1,500 national and international civil society organisations are engaging under the banner of the SUN Civil Society Network, which is working in 30 countries to create an enabling environment for good nutrition governance.

Our challenge now is to improve collaboration among civil society alliances to better support national nutrition priorities. After all, as John Gaventa and Gregory Barrett concluded in their 2012 study of citizen engagement, “when civil society and communities put pressure on stakehold­ers, social change happens more quickly.”


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