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Momentum Is Building in the Global Fight Against Malnutrition

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Joel C. Spicer

Do you ever feel like some events and global trends that shape the world pass you by and you wind up hearing about them long after they're done? I certainly do. But there's something exciting and worth noticing that's happening right now in global health and development that has the potential to impact millions of the poorest people in the world: the acceleration of global leadership on nutrition.

Many insiders recognize that after decades of being overlooked as a global priority, the momentum for change is growing. There is increasing consensus that the massive burden of malnutrition is an unacceptable anchor holding back broader development efforts ranging from education, to health, to economic development.

The statistics are well known yet nevertheless mind-numbing in their magnitude. They serve as a powerful and simple rallying call:

In the coming months, a unique alignment of global events has the potential to fuse together leadership, partnership, commitment, and action for nutrition that could change the lives of millions. The opportunity is right in front of us if we are courageous enough to seize it.

A key link in the chain was forged recently in Senegal at the Francophonie Summit, where 57 heads of state -- among them leaders of countries with some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world -- signed a global resolution expressing their collective concern about hunger and malnutrition in their own countries and in West Africa in particular. More importantly, they committed to establishing domestic funding priorities for child and maternal health and nutrition. This is an important marker of collective concern and commitment. Translating this commitment into budget lines is the next crucial step.

The next major opportunity and potential link in the chain will be in front of us next week when leaders of the G7 countries meet in Germany. The combined economic power and capability of this group is more than enough to launch the world into a new era of ambition on nutrition. Canada has made nutrition a top development priority as part of its leadership in maternal, newborn and child health; imagine if the entire G7 did too?

If G7 leaders can agree to set ambitious, time-bound goals, commit to additional financing and use their individual influence to mobilize others beyond the G7, significant change is possible. While G7 countries will not by themselves close the financing gaps for nutrition, together they can serve as a global catalyst for change. It will take a true leadership commitment to make it happen but this is the kind of leadership that could inspire the world to action.

Following the G7, six weeks later in Ethiopia, heads of state, ministers, donors, NGOs and business leaders will come together at the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (aptly named "Time for Global Action") to address the challenges of financing the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It's clear that the donor-recipient model of ODA is evolving and that a paradigm shift is taking place on how development is financed. New sources of financing (beyond ODA) and new actors are emerging that are essential parts of the solution to problems like malnutrition. Blended finance, solidarity levies, private sector investment, market guarantees, and social impact bonds -- these are all increasingly important tools in the development finance toolkit. The importance of investing in nutrition, what it will cost, and how we will finance it through innovative partnerships will be given high profile at this conference. This opportunity is the next link in the chain.

As we advance toward the UN General Assembly in September where the world will adopt the SDGs, we must forge together the leadership, momentum, creativity and commitment to action from these three events -- in Senegal, Germany, and Ethiopia -- in order to build the strongest possible nutrition chain.

Making bold commitments for change is an important step. What the world desperately needs now are leaders with the drive to transform those commitments into action.


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