Funding by rich countries to combat malnutrition has remained flat for seven years, according to a report released today by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This barely accounts for three percent of the funds needed to reduce the 3.5 to 5 million annual deaths of children under five attributed to malnutrition.
The report also reveals the enormous waste built into the food aid system. According to MSF, much of the nutrition funding gap could be filled by re-allocating existing funds towards the most vulnerable group, children under five.
The report, released in advance of the World Food Summit in Rome, analyses how a global effort to prevent childhood malnutrition – which can lead to life-long handicaps, if not death – has simply not been funded. Rich countries only spend an annual US$350 million out of US$12.5 billion the World Bank estimates is required to adequately combat malnutrition in 36 high-burden and 32 high-prevalence countries.
"At the World Food Summit it would be a colossal mistake not to finally commit to improve and scale-up nutrition programmes alongside efforts to boost local food production," said MSF nutrition team leader Stéphane Doyon and co-author of the report. "This report documents the fact that nutrition interventions that have been proven to reduce deaths remain catastrophically underfunded."
MSF used data from the OECD, European Commission, World Bank, Gates Foundation and UNITAID to analyse the funding flows of the main international donors. Although billions of dollars of international assistance are labelled "development food aid and food security" or "emergency food aid" less than two percent is being spent on interventions targeted specifically at reducing childhood malnutrition. Moreover, existing funds are being wasted through inefficient practices, such as the US government policy of shipping in-kind food aid overseas, which costs an estimated US$600 million more than purchasing food aid locally.
"The lack of targeted efforts means that young children receive inappropriate food that does not have the key nutrients they need to avoid becoming dangerously malnourished," said Doyon. "There are opportunities to partly scale-up nutrition funding simply by improving the efficiency of the existing donor government policies."
Today the authors of the report said that governments can also improve food aid by introducing and paying for newer, more expensive, but nutritionally appropriate food for young children. International organisations, including MSF, have proven that severe malnutrition can be prevented and cured on a very large scale.
During 2008, MSF has treated more than 300,000 malnourished children. Malnutrition weakens resistance and increases the risk of dying from pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles or AIDS.