Nutrition was neglected in the millennium development goals, so we need tougher targets to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030
Nutrition did not feature strongly enough in the millennium development goals (MDGs). Persistently high levels of hunger and undernutrition in many countries mean that these issues remain part of the MDGs' unfinished agenda.
Governments and international actors are increasingly recognising that good nutrition is a precursor for the achievement of a wide range of development issues. A recent report by the World Bank stated that one reason for the slow gains in some of the MDGs was the chronic lack of investment in nutrition.
While the proposed target of the open working group on sustainable development goals (SDGs) - to "by 2030 end all forms of malnutrition" - is a bold and inspiring statement, it is critical that world leaders sign up to new and ambitious nutrition targets up to 2030, including on wasting and stunting in under-fives.
Working for an organisation with a vision of world without hunger, it was inspiring to see the calls to action towards that end during the recent general debate of the United Nations General Assembly session. The movement to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition is building strength.
Now is the time to debate what is possible in the next 15 years on undernutrition. What is on the table is meeting the already agreed World Health Assembly targets in 2025. That's not good enough for the SDGs, which have a 2030 deadline. It would mean a five-year implementation gap (2026-2030) during which no action was expected of countries on wasting (acute malnutrition) and stunting. What's more, if the 2025 targets are met, around 31 million children will remain acutely malnourished and at high risk of death.
On acute malnutrition the Generation Nutrition campaign has released a new report, Closing the gap: towards a 2030 wasting target, urging governments to agree specific targets to tackle stunting and wasting by 2030. An agreement to, by 2030, reduce the number of malnourished children under five years of age affected by stunting and wasting by at least 50%, is the absolute minimum that states should agree to as part of the new SDGs framework.
If there were half the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition in 2030 as there are now now that would mark a significant shift from current trends. And we would be on track to end child deaths from acute malnutrition within a generation.
Could a more ambitious target than a reduction of the number of children suffering undernutrition by over half be achieved, and therefore agreed as a viable target next year? As this is a problem the world knows how to solve, the answer is: yes, as long as:
1) Over the course of the year it becomes apparent that progress on child undernutrition is occurring more quickly than is anticipated. The release of the first Global Nutrition Report in November will form part of that assessment.
2) The post-2015 agreement overall has a high level of ambition across all the causes of undernutrition, including on poverty and inequality, as well as the necessary resources and enabling political environment for achieving these gains.
If those two conditions are met, the trajectory for child undernutrition can be elimination. Governments have less than a year to decide if they have the political will, and can dedicate the means, to make that end sooner rather than later.
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Child undernutrition is still an issue all around the world. Can the sustainable development goals get the numbers to zero? Photograph: Matthew Abbott/AP