Putting nutrition at the top of the agenda: Launch of the 2013 Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index

Putting nutrition at the top of the agenda: Launch of the 2013 Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index


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Putting nutrition at the top of the agenda: Launch of the 2013 Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index

By Kat Pittore, Nutrition Convenor, IDS and Dolf te Lintelo, Research Fellow, IDS

As tackling hunger and undernutrition continues to be a global challenge, holding Governments to account and encouraging them to take action is vital. Today the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) 2013 launches and finds that efforts to address hunger and nutrition are inconsistent and uncoordinated as they are often misunderstood and tackled as one issue.

The index comprises 45 high burden countries and shows levels of national governments’ political commitment to tackle hunger and undernutrition in terms of policies, laws and spending. The index measures commitment to address hunger and commitment to address undernutrition as separate yet complementary phenomena.

Why nutrition, as separate from hunger?

There is a growing recognition that food security does not equal nutrition security, as well as increasing evidence that improvements in nutritional status are not simply a result of increasing incomes. Hunger and nutrition are related but not the same. Hunger, is when a person is not able to consume enough energy (macronutrients) to live a health and active life, and nutrition, whereby a person is consuming enough energy (macronutrients) as well as adequate quantities of essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) and live in a clean environment with access to health care, water and sanitation.

As hunger and nutrition are related but not the same, interventions to tackle them should be complementary, yet different.

By showing what governments do or fail to do on accounts of both hunger and nutrition, HANCI evidence empowers citizens to hold their governments and political leaders to account. More so, by highlighting the important steps they can take to address these challenges, HANCI provides positive stimulus to reinforce such critical efforts on nutrition and hunger. It is hoped that new data as well as tools such as HANCI will continue to build the profile of undernutrition and its critical importance to human development.

Addressing undernutrition is political

Technical knowledge of what types of programmes are needed to tackle undernutrition is not lacking, but as His Excellency Roberto Juguaribe, Brazilian Ambassador to the UK said “nutrition is essentially a political issue, not a technical one”. This applies to both aid giving countries and aid recipients. Nick Dyer, Head of Policy at the UK Department for International Development (DFID) remarked at the one year anniversary of the Nutrition for Growth Summit held in June 2013 in London, “nutrition has been an orphan issue for many years, it has only been a focus at DFID for the last 3-6 years”.


New HANCI findings affirm such observations. Thus for instance, the Government of Zambia’s efforts to address hunger and undernutrition are weakening, despite a decade of rapid economic growth, and saliently, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) figures show that nearly half the population was undernourished during the period 2010-2012. HANCI expert perception surveys, with over 500 stakeholders within six countries, show that nutrition does not get as much political traction as hunger. For instance, hunger spending is strongly sensitive to electoral cycles, in contrast to nutrition. Consultations in Tanzania show that politicians anticipate that people vote on the basis of having their stomach filled, so those in power are prioritising action to reduce hunger, such as investing in maize production, over efforts to address chronic undernutrition, such as sanitation. Limited awareness by political leaders and the general public of dire consequences of undernutrition means that it is harder to put undernutrition on to political agendas.

In June of last year, a new Lancet series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition provided a codified version of what we know works in terms of tacking undernutrition, as well as providing a cost of how much it would take to scale up 10 proven interventions at 90 per cent coverage in 34 high burden countries. One of the most striking facts to come out of the new series was the fact that now almost half of all under five deaths are due to undernutrition, increased from an estimated one third in 2008. While this is partly a positive, as in actual fact child deaths are decreasing rapidly thanks to initiatives such as improved vaccination coverage, it starkly shows that greater political will to address remaining child deaths due to undernutrition is not materialising at the same rate.

It is evident, that the priority right now should be getting nutrition high up on political agendas. By showing what governments do and fail to do, the HANCI 2013 offers a powerful tool for citizens to hold their governments to account and to use sound evidence to demand positive change.

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