Data and Realising the Right to Food – Tracking Progress on Hunger and Malnutrition

Governments around the world have affirmed the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. This basic human right is one of the topics discussed at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome this week, where 137 Governments have gathered.

How do we know if governments are delivering against this commitment and fulfilling their responsibilities to their citizens? How do actors like UN agencies and charities know where in the world their efforts are most needed, and if they have been successful in reducing malnutrition?

The involvement of civil society and citizens in the process is vital. Do all people have access to safe and nutritious food? Asking people and communities is a good place to start. We must record their responses and monitor well to track progress towards the realisation of their rights and improvements to their nutritional status

Data is crucial to doing this. How many children in a country are malnourished? How many are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months?  How much is a government spending on nutrition and where? These are all things that citizens should know and be able to hold their governments to account for.

And then there’s the role of bodies like the CFS. The CFS is mandated to develop an innovative mechanism to promote monitoring and accountability for food security – an important contribution.

A few weeks ago in New York, governments agreed to a new development agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 of the SDGs is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030". How should progress towards this goal be tracked? Speaking at the CFS this week, Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the inclusion of all 6 globally agreed World Health Assembly nutrition targets as SDG indicators would strengthen the SDGs’ effectiveness to measure progress. I completely agree.

This year’s Global Nutrition Report includes a range of stats (see below) that illustrate the state of malnutrition in the world today. But they are not enough. We need data that accurately and comprehensively tracks progress to address malnutrition as regularly as possible. This topic will be discussed at the Scaling Up Nutrition Global Gathering in Milan next week, where countries will share their perspectives on what works for national nutrition data systems.

Some of the nutrition stats from the 2015 Global Nutrition Report:

42 million:                    number of children under age 5 worldwide who are overweight or obese

51 million:                    number of children under age 5 worldwide who are wasted (too thin)

161 million:                  number of children under age 5 worldwide who are stunted (too short)

795 million:                   number of people who are hungry

1.9 billion:                     number of people worldwide who are obese or overweight

2 billion:                        number of people worldwide who are micronutrient deficient (do not have enough vitamins and minerals

1.3:                              average share of government budget allocated to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive spending in 14 SUN member countries

5:                                number of the 6 World Health Assembly global nutrition targets for which we can track progress (child stunting, child wasting, child overweight, exclusive breastfeeding, anaemia in women of reproductive age; work on determining progress for low birth weight is ongoing)

1:                                 number of countries on track to meet all 5 WHA targets (Kenya)

See the Global Nutrition Report's 50 Numbers that Reveal the World's Nutrition Challenge and Actions to Overcome it here.

Marie Rumsby and Lawrence Haddad will facilitate a session at the Scaling Up Nutrition Global Gathering next week: Catalysing the Nutrition Data Revolution, a SUN Country Perspective.

Marie Rumsby is Head of Hunger and Nutrition at Save the Children and Vice-chair of the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network.