Kate Eardley is World Vision’s senior policy advisor for child health.
For the past 13 years, those of us who work every day to help children and communities living in poverty have been guided by a common vision known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But what happens when this set of global priorities ends in 2015?
There are eight MDGs:
- Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
- Achieving universal primary education,
- Promoting gender equality and empowering women,
- Reducing child mortality rates,
- Improving maternal health,
- Combating HIV, malaria and other diseases,
- Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
- Developing a global partnership for development.
Each of these goals has specific targets—numbers that the world is supposed to reach, for example, in reducing child mortality. The goals are purposely audacious, and the progress has been uneven. But one thing that they have done very well is to focus us, helping to ensure that all of us who work to help developing countries are speaking about the same things and have the same broad vision. How do we keep this broad yet singular focus after the end of the 15-year MDGs in 2015?
Many of us from many different organisations and governments are working to answer this question. One important thing that we must consider for what we are calling the “post-2015 agenda” is nutrition.
One specific target in that first MDG was to reduce by half the number of people suffering from hunger. The world has definitely made progress, but global-level statistics obscure the fact that millions of people, many of them children, in places such as parts of Africa and southern Asia are still suffering greatly today. After 2015, we need to be even more specific in our goals in order to make sure that we are really targeting the people who are hungriest. How about a goal like ensuring that no young children are so hungry that it affects their ability to grow or for their vital organs to develop to full strength? In 2011, nearly around one third of the world’s children under age five suffered to some degree from this problem, which is called “stunting”. Or how about trying to eliminate chronic malnutrition, which is what we call it when season after season or year after year, the same groups of people are not getting enough to eat?
Improving nutrition is vital for improving child health. If children’s bodies are not developing properly or if they are weak from hunger, they are much more likely to die from diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria. Pregnant mothers need enough food with the right nutrients to have healthy babies. If children don’t get adequate nutrition in their first thousand days, from conception to age two, the damage to their physical and mental development is largely irreversible. This is an investment we must make now to improve the future of their countries.
As we both celebrate the progress made since 2000 and worry about the lives that haven’t yet been improved, organisations and governments must come together to set new goals to ensure that after 2015 we are still speaking to a shared vision. Recognising nutrition as the basis for good development—for people and economies—must be at the forefront of our minds as we move towards agreeing on that vision.