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Nutrition Boost: Time to rethink our approach to financing Sustainable Development Goal 2

I’m writing this from Washington DC, the site of the annual World Bank Spring Meetings. As hundreds of ministers descend on the city to discuss the pressing finance and development issues of the day, the Springs are a great chance to reflect on the world’s efforts to fund the fight against global malnutrition.

The World Bank is a particularly appropriate place to have this discussion, as they were a key partner in the production of the Investment Framework for Nutrition, which indicates that we need to spend $70 billion by 2025 to achieve the World Health Assembly targets on stunting, wasting, anaemia and exclusive breastfeeding.

Yet despite the invaluable analysis done in that framework, and the progress made since, we are still lagging far behind schedule against almost all the world’s nutrition indicators and goals. 155 million children are stunted, 52 million are wasted, whilst obesity in young children and anaemia in women of reproductive age have both risen. This is totally unacceptable, and more must be done.

Why are we behind?

There are many reasons why we are so far behind, not least the chronic inequity that we examined two years ago in our Unequal Portions report. But there’s one factor that underpins all others: the continuing inability to provide the financing that the fight against malnutrition demands. And I think perhaps the Investment Framework’s narrative does not help our case here, as it doesn’t tell the full story. Critically, it excludes the financial requirements for nutrition-sensitive investments. This is understandable, as there’s minimal data in this area. But we must be ambitious. If we’re serious about achieving SDG2 and ending malnutrition for all by 2030, we need to think about larger numbers that include those vital nutrition-sensitive interventions.

New calculations from Save the Children indicate that to deliver on SDG2, an additional $23.25 billion is required each year until 2030, three times more than the World Bank figure. While these calculations are rudimentary (as mentioned, the nutrition-sensitive data here is almost non-existent), the underlying message is clear and unequivocal: the current nutrition financing paradigm can’t provide that sort of financing – we need a step change in how we fund the fight against malnutrition.

A new model for nutrition financing

Our new position paper, Nutrition Boost¸ sets out what needs to be done to address the financing gap. The first element is a diversification and refocusing of nutrition finance, hailing:

  • the primary standing of domestic resource mobilisation and the necessity for progressive tax reform
  • the importance of scaling up innovative financing mechanisms such as the Global Financing Facility and Power of Nutrition
  • the use of official development assistance to fill the gaps, focusing on the most excluded and catalysis of domestic resources.

Those methods are all paramount, but to my mind far more important is the second element – the ways in which increased funding is spent. No matter how much finance is available, we believe success will not be achieved without following these four key pillars rigorously.

  • Supporting and funding national nutrition plans – the key to sustainable, country-driven change, providing costs on a country by country level, identifying funding gaps across the range of nutrition interventions, and holding government accountable to those gaps
  • Equity – prioritising ‘Leave No One Behind’ and moving away from the uneven picture of achievement that characterised the Millennium Development Goals
  • Transparency & Accountability – all nutrition financing must be transparent and accountable, both domestically and globally
  • Bridging the humanitarian–development divide – investment in shock responsive development work allied with sustained post-humanitarian response funding to lock in developmental gains.

If we can get these right, SDG2 will be within reach again. Now that’s something worth striving for.


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