What can we expect from UK aid for global nutrition?
In light of recent reductions to the UK aid budget, we look at reasons to remain hopeful about the UK's continued role in tackling global malnutrition.
This blog was written as part of the TASC (Technical Assistance to Strengthen Capabilities) Project. TASC is part of the broader Technical Assistance for Nutrition (TAN) Programme, funded by UK Aid, which is a mechanism to provide technical assistance to the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).
The world has gone through significant upheaval since the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summits of 2013 and 2017. The Covid-19 pandemic, a growing burden of humanitarian crises and the continued and compounding impacts of climate change have altered the global nutrition landscape, creating a “seismic hunger crisis” while presenting significant challenges for traditional aid donors like the UK based on domestic fiscal conditions.
It is an opportune time to reflect on the UK government’s significant contribution to tackling global malnutrition over the last decade and its continued role ahead of the 2025 deadline for World Health Assembly Targets and the 2030 deadline on the Sustainable Development Goals. The final assessment of the UK’s progress and achievements towards its past Nutrition for Growth pledges has been published and new commitments have been made as part of the 2021 Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit. Crucially, the UK government’s priorities and ambitions for international development were published recently in its new strategy that will shape how nutrition action is delivered.
The UK’s achievements to date are impressive
The UK has been a global leader on nutrition as a key driving force behind and host of the first Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2013. It made ambitious commitments via the N4G process, and the final assessment published this week on delivery against those targets shows significant achievements to date. The UK delivered more than double its 2013 commitment on nutrition-sensitive spending (GBP 4.6 billion disbursed vs GBP 2.13 billion committed), with particularly notable increases to humanitarian and health programmes. And while nutrition-specific disbursements fell slightly short of commitments (-7%), its provision of GBP 530.2 million of nutrition-specific funding and GBP 242.8 million in matched funding means more than GBP 5 billion was provided in aid to nutrition over the last decade. As shown in Figure 1 below, over the last decade increases across nutrition funding have come steadily year on year.
Figure 1: The FCDO has disbursed over GBP 5 billion of nutrition ODA since 2013
The FCDO’s cumulative nutrition-specific, nutrition-sensitive and matched funding ODA disbursements for 2013–2020.
The results of these efforts have been substantial, not least surpassing the UK’s target to reach 50 million children under five, women of childbearing age, and adolescent girls with nutrition services by 10% (55.1 million reached).
Latest commitments represent a shift in light of economic uncertainty but leave the door open to scaling up the UK’s efforts on nutrition
The impacts of Covid-19 on the UK economy led to the decision to reduce the UK aid budget target temporarily to 0.5% GNI. A scaling-back of ambition from previous commitments on nutrition spending has followed. Given this current context, it can certainly be considered an achievement to see US$1.5 billion committed to nutrition for 2022–2030. This still represents a significant contribution – it is a similar level of commitment to other G7 donors and a notable proportion of total donor government pledges at the Tokyo N4G Summit that totalled US$15 billion. Crucially this commitment is not a ceiling; there is an opportunity to increase nutrition spending, particularly when the UK restores aid to 0.7% GNI, which it has reaffirmed its intention to do.
This may feel a challenge when nutrition isn’t named as a key priority in the International Development Strategy, but there is strong and clear alignment between the strategy and the nutrition ambitions the UK government has set out. Notably, health and ending preventable deaths are an explicit focus and FCDO's approach paper on ending preventable deaths strongly features nutrition throughout. With 12 million people dying each year due to poor diets, there is significant opportunity to see strong nutrition action through this focus.
Beyond ending preventable deaths there are clear alignments between a range of priorities and ambitions set out in the International Development Strategy. The focus on women and girls’ empowerment necessitates efforts on nutrition; the focus on humanitarian crisis brings with it a core element on nutrition when crises are often characterised by increases in child wasting and other forms of acute malnutrition; the focus on climate change brings with it critical links with nutrition, both in terms of driving water and energy scarcity that undermine resilient food systems and access to sustainable nutritious diets, but also the rising impacts of current food systems on the environment. UK efforts on global nutrition will need to be a broad and coordinated effort across aid programmes across multiple sectors and the department as a whole.
Driving a coordinated approach across FCDO has the potential to create a critical mass on nutrition action
Alongside its financial commitment, the UK has committed to introducing the OECD Nutrition Policy Marker from the point of programme design across all of its aid programming to support ambitions to increase the integration of nutrition across the department. This approach brings clear benefits of promoting multisectoral thinking and programming that drives greater and more sustainable impacts. It will draw out the intimate links and mutual gains for good nutrition and success across many other sectors and issues, not least progress around inclusive economic growth, crisis and resilience, health, gender equality, environmental sustainability. Indeed, with a more coordinated approach across FCDO, we can be hopeful about seeing the UK’s commitments on nutrition exceeded. What’s more, success in this area would be a helpful and positive example for other donors.
It is clear that tackling malnutrition and improving nutrition outcomes globally can and must continue to be a mainstay of the international development efforts of the UK and the wider global development community, enhancing funding and action towards ending global malnutrition by 2030.
You can read more about recent spending on nutrition from FCDO in the report we prepared as part of the Technical Assistance to Strengthen Capabilities (TASC) consortium.
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