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Improving Training in Nutrition in Emergencies

Summary of workshop report1

An international workshop on improving training in emergency nutrition was held in Nairobi on November 6th and 7th 20082. The workshop brought together universities, training institutions, humanitarian agencies and government staff with the common goal of improving training in emergency nutrition in developing countries. The main objectives of the workshop were to:

A background paper was presented, as well as country and agency experiences of nutrition in emergencies training4. A key output of the workshop was a consensus statement for future nutrition in emergencies training (see Box 2).

In addition, nine core principles upon which future training in nutrition in emergencies is based were also agreed:

  1. Prioritising national and regional capacity
    Emergency nutrition training is required by a number of target groups. The priority group is 'national' staff so that in emergency contexts, there are a sufficient number of adequately trained staff with emergency nutrition skills who can be quickly and easily deployed.
  2. Focus on nutrition literacy
    'Nutrition literacy' refers to an understanding of nutrition concepts and issues. 'Nutrition literacy' is required by a broad range of actors involved in emergencies, and not confined to nutritionists alone. 'Nutrition literacy' needs to be raised at all levels, from field staff to senior managers.
  3. Range of training
    These will include training, for example, for graduate and undergraduate students, humanitarian agency staff and government staff.
  4. Institutionalisation and accreditation/ certification
    It is important to embed training within existing institutions and structures in order to sustain initiatives. A system of certification for nutrition in emergency training courses recognised by both academic institutions and operational agencies would help to keep the quality of training high.
  5. The focus needs to be on improving 'nutrition literacy' in a broad range of professions from nutrition to food security specialists, and agricultural staff social sector workers.

  6. Practical experience and internships
    Linking classroom-based learning with practical experience was agreed to be essential in emergency nutrition training.
  7. Trainers
    A cadre of good trainers in nutrition in emergencies is essential. Trainers may not necessarily be technical experts. However, it will be hugely advantageous if trainers have some level of practical experience and understand the realities of emergency contexts.
  8. Sustainability
    Many training initiatives have failed in the past because they were not sustained. In some cases this was due to lack of funding but more commonly, it was due to a lack of appropriate trainers on hand to do the training and a lack of commitment by participating agencies. One way of ensuring financial and political sustainability will be through developing business models that are able to ensure adequate income from funding and/or student fees, while maintaining commitment from within the training institution.
  9. Advocacy
    Good advocacy was viewed as the essential element to successful nutrition in emergencies training. Advocacy is needed at global level, regional and national level. A series of steps should be followed to develop a successful advocacy plan, the first of which is documenting the evidence. For example, there is a common view that there are not enough people with emergency nutrition and related skills available, especially 'national' staff, but there has been no attempt to document and analyse this gap. An 'audit' of staff that could be deployed in an emergency with nutritionrelated skills would be useful. In addition to this quantitative evidence, qualitative information, such as case studies of particular emergencies and real-time evaluations, would be useful in understanding where the gaps in capacity are.
    An urgent need was identified for the creation of a web based searchable register of staff with relevant skills. Creation of this register would also contribute to the audit of the 'capacity gap'. This type of analysis fits within the Global Nutrition Cluster capacity development strategy objectives.
  10. Evaluation/quality control
    Evaluating the process and outputs achieved by training initiatives will be very important in order to ensure that the quality achieved is good enough to meet the needs for professional competence identified by employers and others.

"We're finding it increasingly difficult to recruit good quality emergency food security and livelihoods people and I'm not sure if there are less people with a public nutrition background out there or whether they don't want to work for our organisation!"

Humanitarian agency staff member, November 2008

The way forward

Global Nutrition Cluster is currently looking at the appropriate institution for hosting an interactive website for the HTP. Once established, this will provide an ideal opportunity to expand and obtain feedback on the HTP and institutionalise monitoring of the HTP. Specific recommendations were made by the workshop participants in relation to dissemination of the HTP as follows:

  1. There is a need to translate the HTP if wide spread use is to be achieved. The Global Nutrition Cluster Capacity Development Working Group (CDWG) has committed to translating the HTP into French and Arabic. Portuguese was identified as another priority language.
  2. To help ensure widespread use, the HTP needs graphic layout to be completed for all modules.
  3. Some paper copies of the HTP may be needed because of difficulties with internet access and downloading large files.

Proposal for a Nutrition in Emergencies Training Network

There was discussion around the concept of a Nutrition in Emergencies Training Network (NIETN) and how it would look (See Figure 1). It was suggested that the network was an affiliation of four key partners encompassing universities and training institutions, humanitarian agencies, government bodies and other interested agencies, including the Global Nutrition Cluster and donors. The overall goal of the network would be to improve training in nutrition in emergencies. The network would be managed by a coordinating group that would initially be tasked with developing funding proposals to carry out key activities. A proposal for the Network has been written by NutritionWorks. It is envisaged that in early 2009, a first meeting of the network will be held and proposals will be produced for network activities.

Box 1: The Harmonised Training Package (HTP)

The HTP was produced over a 1.5 year period by NutritionWorks and a number of authors and is a unique and comprehensive set of materials on nutrition in emergencies comprising 21 modules, which cover different technical areas. The HTP is a package of training materials but is not a ready to use course. Adaptation is required to create courses targeted at different audiences in different countries. The modules are designed to be used to develop stand alone, focused short courses and comprehensive nutrition in emergencies training courses and can also be used for advocacy.

The HTP has been piloted and evaluated by Valid International and is now in the public domain. It can be used by any agency or institution. To download the HTP, go to:, click on Nutrition, and see under 'Nutrition Cluster Products'.

Box 2: Consensus statement

The participants of this workshop agree that:

  1. Capacity to respond to nutrition problems arising in emergencies is currently inadequate.
  2. There are very few nutrition in emergencies training opportunities, notably in developing countries.
  3. There is an imperative to improve nutrition in emergencies training in order to fill the gap in capacity to respond effectively to nutrition problems that arise in emergencies.
  4. The harmonised training package (HTP), developed by NutritionWorks under the auspices of the IASC Global Nutrition Cluster, represents a significant step forward in facilitating improved training. The workshop participants encourage its widespread use.
  5. There are immediate opportunities to improve nutrition in emergency training at international, regional and national level, using the materials of the HTP, through:
    1. training networks (such as the Public Health in Complex Emergency network) that can introduce emergency nutrition training short courses.
    2. university nutrition and public health degree courses
    3. diploma level training run by technical colleges
    4. in-service training.
  6. A new Nutrition in Emergencies Training Network should be formed with the objective of increasing capacity to provide effective response to the nutritional problems arising in emergencies.
  7. The Secretariat (contingent on seed funding) will develop a number of concept notes focusing on advocacy, and developing and implementing courses in emergency nutrition training.

Show footnotes

1The full report is available from:, click Nutrition

2The workshop was the initiative of the UNICEF-led Global Nutrition Cluster and was organised on their behalf by NutritionWorks, in association with the Centre for International Health and Development, University College London. The workshop is part of a broader emergency nutrition capacity development strategy being implemented by the Global Nutrition Cluster Capacity Development Working Group.

3NutritionWorks is a UK based partnership of international nutritionists with expertise in emergency nutrition and capacity building.

4These can be obtained from Carmel Dolan or Fiona Watson: see end of document for contact details.

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Reference this page

Improving Training in Nutrition in Emergencies. Field Exchange 35, March 2009. p19.



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