Holistic View of Malnutrition Solutions Looks Beyond 2015

Rev. John L. McCullough | July 2, 2014

In a primary health care and nutrition center sponsored by CWS coalition partner ACT-Caritas in Kubum, measurements of a child’s growth are recorded at regular intervals. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT-Caritas

In a primary health care and nutrition center sponsored by CWS coalition partner ACT-Caritas in Kubum, measurements of a child’s growth are recorded at regular intervals. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT-Caritas

As original published on the 1,000 Days Nutrition Newsroom, June 25, 2014

There’s a saying amongst those humanitarians who respond to disasters as their professional focus.

“If you’ve seen one disaster … you’ve seen one disaster.”

No two disasters are alike. Disaster rips bare the tissue that makes up a community revealing all parts at once. The good traits of resilience, human connection and the natural tendency to help.  And, the bad – marginalization, once hidden, becomes more pronounced. Chronic problems usually unseen are often most visible when catastrophe knocks off the polish that makes it easy to ignore, and reveal the connections that work together to keep hunger and poverty systematized.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s recent move to address malnutrition from a multi-sectorial approach will empower the humanitarian community to tackle hunger, including hidden hunger, from all angles. It is an approach that is comprehensive, cutting across humanitarian sectors to ensure children in their first 1,000 days of life are given the proper access to the food they need to continue healthy growth and development. The policy change is a great compliment to USAID’s participation in the Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) global movement, which aims to build commitment to cut global hunger and undernutrition, and promotes a focus on the 1,000 day window of opportunity from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.

Yet I am also very excited about the stipulation to keep the global malnutrition threshold below 15 percent in humanitarian crises. Our agency has responded to crises for nearly 70 years, and while we certainly learn from each engagement and apply that knowledge for the benefit of those we serve, we also understand that each community’s struggle to ensure its most vulnerable thrive – including mothers and children – is unique. A multi-sectorial approach proffered by this USAID change will ensure we are considering the health and welfare of mothers and developing children from all angles: water, sanitation, health, food security, nutrition, sustainability.

We engaged many communities where meeting immediate needs following a disaster turns into a longer-term relationship to tackle their most chronic problems. The CWS responses to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami or the 2010 Haiti earthquake were among the largest in our agency’s history. As we engaged with communities struggling to recover we frequently found the roots of more chronic problems – like access to food, or clean water – laid bare in the wake. Together, we worked with communities and identified points of intervention that would have impact across sectors. Solving a water problem would enable gardens and healthy, sustainable food, for example.

Good nutrition will drive development and economic growth. USAID’s change comes when we have a unique opportunity to position food and nutrition security as central to the post-2015 agenda and to change commitments into global goals and targets.

Focus on goals is also one of the reasons why CWS is part of the Zero Hunger Challenge. By supporting a focus on “getting to zero,” an important shift is underway from relative goals to absolute goals, setting minimum standards for the right of all people to food and nutrition security, health, nutrition education, and water, sanitation and hygiene, and working toward universal access to these basic necessities. It is therefore critical that future development goals are guided by a vision of sustainably ending poverty, or “getting to zero,” that is broader than ensuring that no one lives on less than $1.25 per day.

Humanitarian sectors are all pieces of the same pie. They connect. They relate. An impact on one changes another. USAID’s move to address nutrition across sectors acknowledges the interconnectedness of malnutrition’s root causes and empowers communities to address them, especially when disaster reveals what otherwise may remain hidden.

Rev. John L. McCullough is President and CEO of Church World Service. This post is part of a Nutrition Leaders blog series in partnership with 1,000 Days to highlight global momentum for nutrition. Click here to view the entire series.