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Why is undernutrition not a higher priority for donors?

Summary of research1

Recent research by the Institute of Development Studies looks at how two donors prioritise undernutrition - The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Commission (EC). The study was based upon:

The research suggests that while DFID and the EC recognise the importance of undernutrition, they do not see investments in reducing it as fundamental to development.

However, the EC and DFID do spend relatively large amounts on healthcare, water supply and sanitation, social protection and food security. While these interventions can indirectly impact nutritional status, the absence of a nutrition strategy to guide them does not generate confidence.

The authors of the study suggest a number of reasons why commitment by DFID and EU are so lukewarm. These include the fact that as chronic undernutrition is affected by many different sectors, it is no-one's responsibility - a classic failure of collective action. As a result, there are few champions promoting nutrition within the EC or DFID. Another reason given is that the current focus on achieving good governance does not easily support the allocation of resources to nutrition. A third posited reason is that the way in which DFID and EC report on their progress means there are few incentives to prioritise nutrition. For example, DFID measures poverty using statistics about the number of people living on less than one dollar a day. Finally, DFID and the EC are not engaging with the international agencies responsible for nutrition while these agencies are too dependent on the donors to sufficiently challenge them, and so rely on the donors to proactively engage.

The authors suggest a number of ways in which DFID and the EC could do more on nutrition. These include:

Finally, the nutrition community needs stronger leadership to challenge DFID and the EC more effectively. They need resources to conduct independent nutrition audits, and to find better ways to link nutrition to existing donor priorities.

Show footnotes

1Sumner. A, Lindstrom. J and Haddad. L (2008). Why is undernutrition not a higher priority for donors? Id21, issue 3, produced by Institute of Development Studies.

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A Sumner, J Lindstrom and L Haddad (2008). Why is undernutrition not a higher priority for donors?. Field Exchange 34, October 2008. p9. www.ennonline.net/fex/34/why

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