ICN2 – Better Nutrition Means Better Lives

Julia Suryantan, M.D. | December 9, 2014

His Holiness Pope Francis at ICN2 Photo: Julia Suryantan

His Holiness Pope Francis at ICN2 Photo: Julia Suryantan

We know that to achieve nutrition security, we need not only food, but we need good quality of food, and access to health care, safe water, sanitation and a healthy environment.

In late November, I and over 2,200 other participants attended the Second International Conference on Nutrition, including representatives from more than 170 governments, 150 representatives from civil society and nearly 100 from the business community. It was a high-level inter-governmental meeting on nutrition jointly organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization.

The first ICN was conducted in 1992. The purpose of ICN2 was to review the progress made since ICN1, reflect on nutrition problems that remain and look at new challenges and opportunities

As stated by the FAO Director General, Graziano da Silva, “We cannot look at nutrition as the responsibility of the individual alone: nutrition is a public issue.” So, it needs inclusive actions that involve every actor to take part in eradicating hunger and malnutrition. No one should be left out.

No country is free from malnutrition. Different countries face under nutrition, over nutrition and even both (a double burden of malnutrition). The causes of malnutrition are often complex; it’s not only about not eating enough or eating too much. It’s not only about food. Ending malnutrition in all forms (stunting, wasting, hidden hunger, overweight and obesity) is imperative to eradicating extreme poverty.

One of the side events during the ICN2 was the launching of the first Global Nutrition Report. This is a very rich and informative report.  One of the key points that I want to highlight is about the cost-benefits of investing in nutrition. For every dollar, rupiah, or peso invested in nutrition, at the median, more than 16 will be returned. That is an incredible return on investment and an effective way to fight extreme poverty.

The Global Nutrition Report is an important and critical step in ensuring that attention is given to nutrition — now and every year. The report highlights the need for an environment where both policies and platforms are shared and integrated across many sectors. This is essential if we are to address the underlying determinants of malnutrition. These include health, agriculture, education, sanitation, social protection and the empowerment of women. All things that cannot be addressed with a vertical approach.

The report tells us 43% of commitments made at the Nutrition for Growth Summit are on track. However, we cannot ignore that we still have a long way to go.  Therefore a series of events in the global North and South are now organized to stimulate nutrition-relevant actions by contributing to country-led efforts from a wide variety of stakeholders to strengthen accountability as well as highlight opportunities and bottlenecks to progress in addressing malnutrition. There is clearly a momentum that we need to use and respond in the proper manner.

On the second day of the ICN2, His Holiness Pope Francis made strong statements during his speech. His Holiness mentioned that the right to nutrition can be guaranteed only if we care about the actual subject, that is, the person who suffers the effects of hunger and malnutrition: the true subject.

Accountability was rightly a dominant theme throughout the conference. The ICN2 Framework for Action, although endorsed by all governments, is voluntary and there are significant difficulties in tracking expenditure for nutrition sensitive interventions, where sectors like agriculture can contribute to nutrition outcomes but often won’t, or will have limited impact, unless nutrition is deliberately prioritized. During the whole week, it became clear to me that we need a vocal and sustained political will to ensure that nutrition commitments are honored. We need a strong accountability and a clear framework for nutrition finance if we are to scale up our response in tackling malnutrition in all its forms.

ICN2 is not the end of the journey of fighting hunger and malnutrition. It is time to renew our commitments, engage more actors to join the journey and become more accountable for our actions to ending hunger and malnutrition for the benefit of future generations.

Julia Suryantan, M.D. is the Global Health and Nutrition Advisor, CWS.