Asia and the Pacific regional overview of food security and nutrition: Placing nutrition at the centre of social protection (2019)

FOREWORD

This is the second annual report developed collaboratively by United Nations agencies on progress in Asia and the Pacific towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 to eliminate hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Its findings are a cause for concern. The SDG hunger deadline is just over a decade away, and nearly half a billion (479 million) people are still undernourished in Asia and the Pacific. To achieve SDG 2 in the region, more than 3 million people must escape hunger each month from now until December 2030.

Asia-Pacific is home to well over half of all people worldwide who do not obtain sufficient dietary energy to maintain normal, active, healthy lives. But the problem goes well beyond calories. In most countries in the region, the diets of more than half of all very young children (aged 6–23 months) fail to meet minimum standards of diversity, leading to micronutrient deficiencies that affect child development and therefore the potential of future generations. The high prevalence of stunting and wasting among children under five years of age is a result of these deficiencies. The report notes that only four countries in the region are on track to meet the global target of a 40 percent reduction in the number of stunted children between 2012 and 2025.

At the same time, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is rising steadily among children and adults, negatively affecting health and well-being. Addressing the resultant burden of diet-related non-communicable diseases places great strain on national healthcare budgets and also causes productivity losses.

In addition to analysing progress towards SDG 2, this report describes developments in the past year that could affect regional food security and nutrition in the medium to long term. Some of these developments – such as national legislation on food fortification and the implementation of fiscal policies to promote healthy diets – could prove beneficial. Continued economic growth also has the potential to improve food security and nutrition. Nevertheless, growing inequality undermines such positive developments, as do climate- and conflict-related shocks and disasters.

Social protection is an important way of reducing inequality and mitigating the impacts of disasters, and it is expanding in the region. A special section of this report discusses how to develop social protection programmes that accelerate progress in eradicating hunger and malnutrition. The focus of the section is on making social protection programmes more nutrition-sensitive and shock-responsive by describing key lessons derived from experiences worldwide. It finds that specific nutrition-sensitive principles should be applied to the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of social protection programmes, both in normal times and in the face of shocks.

Important factors include broad programme coverage; the size and predictability of transfers (cash and in-kind) and their tailoring to the nutritional needs of women and children; investing in nutrition education and social and behaviour change communication to increase knowledge; understanding how gender roles affect the impact of transfers; creating linkages with other sectors (for example to ensure access to health services as part of social protection programmes); and the predictability of financing.

Although social protection has great potential to help in eradicating hunger and malnutrition, the report notes the need for more research into the impacts of social protection programmes on the health and nutrition of the poor, especially women and children, people with disabilities, and indigenous people.

We hope this report helps inform dialogues that lead to innovative and effective actions in member countries to improve food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific.