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EU action on nutrition in development cooperation

News and Press Release
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Brussels, 13 March 2013

Through its development cooperation, the EU has played a leading role in tackling hunger for many years and is the world's largest donor in supporting global food security and sustainable agricultural development. The EU believes in tackling all aspects related to poverty and hunger and seeks to support access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for all, and at all times.

In 2008, the EU set up a €1 billion Food Facility which benefitted 150 million people across the world. Around 80 projects (out of 232) specifically addressed nutrition and safety net measures.

However, the EU recognises that ‘hidden hunger’, or under-nutrition, has not always been adequately addressed and has stepped up to remain at the forefront of global efforts to eradicate hunger and under-nutrition in the world, particularly focusing on reducing the number of undernourished children.

The EU committed to meet at least 10% of the World Health Assembly's global target to reduce stunting of 70 million children by 2025, pledging to help reduce this number by at least 7 million.

A new policy on nutrition outlines the EU’s strategy to tackle under-nutrition from both the development and humanitarian perspective.

Facts and figures

  • According to the World Health Organisation roughly 165 million children aged under 5 years old are suffering from stunting (stunting = chronic under-nutrition/low height for age).

  • Globally 2.6 million children under the age of five die every year as a result of under-nutrition. Under-nutrition contributes to 35% of illness suffered by children under five, and long-term under-nutrition (stunting and/or frequent episodes of wasting and micronutrient deficiencies) causes devastating and irreversible damage.

  • Around 36 countries are home to 90% of the world's children who suffer from stunting, or chronic under-nutrition. In those poor countries, one in three children is stunted and in some cases it is as high as one in two.

  • Many countries are witnessing increasing public health problems posed by the double burden of malnutrition: both under-nutrition and overweight. Trends of child stunting, or chronic under-nutrition, remain high throughout Africa and Asia, particularly in comparison to developed countries. Children are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be stunted if living in rural areas, in the poorest quintiles and where women’s status/education is lowest.

  • At a global scale, it has been estimated that the cost of under-nutrition represents up to 10% of individuals' lifetime earnings and between 2% to 8% of a nation's GDP. But because chronic under- nutrition is not visible to the naked eye, the problem is often poorly/not recognised and understood (‘hidden hunger’), it becomes the norm and everyone accepts it.

The Communication “Enhancing Maternal and Children Nutrition in external assistance: an EU policy framework”

The Commission adopted this Communication on the 12th March 2013. It has two aims: to reduce the number of underfive’s that are stunted and to reduce the number of underfive’s that suffer from wasting (low weight for height). The policy outlines three strategic priorities. Firstly: a stronger mobilisation and political commitment for nutrition at country and international level (through the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement). Secondly, scaling up nutrition interventions. Thirdly, the EU will invest in applied research, support information systems and provide technical expertise for implementation of support.

The Commission is also drafting an Action Plan on nutrition which outlines in detail how the Commission plans to reach its commitment of reducing stunting in children under five by at least 10% (7 million children) of the World Health Assembly goal by 2025. The Action Plan will address how the 3 strategic objectives are to be attained as well as detailing the accountability framework, looking at resource tracking and measurement of impact. The Action Plan is expected to be ready by the end of 2013.

Examples of EU work on nutrition

In Peru, the EU supports nutrition governance to boost policy implementation

In 2008, Peru had one of the highest rates of under-nutrition in Latin America: as much as 1 in 3 Peruvian children were stunted, in rural areas even more. These figures are very high considering that Peru was among the fastest growing economies in the region. In response to this situation, the government of Peru adopted a series of measures such as CRECER the poverty alleviation strategy in 2007 that featured the fight against malnutrition as the core set of priorities - this marked a turning point in Peru’s major progress on reducing maternal and child malnutrition.

Given the clear national commitment to fight under-nutrition and positive results achieved by Peru, in 2009 the EU contributed over €60 million for the implementation of the Peruvian Nutritional Programme (amounting to 22% of the national budget) thereby supporting sustained commitment.

In part, through the EU’s support, Peru has made strides in reducing under-nutrition. For example, the most in need are targeted by focusing in the three poorest regions of Peru. In those areas, the EU contributes to the reduction of chronic under-nutrition through improved service delivery to the most vulnerable (including child vaccinations, mineral and vitamin supplementation of children and pregnant women) and by acting early and focusing efforts on the period of growth that is most vulnerable to undernutrition (the first 1,000 days of life).

So far, the prevalence of child under-nutrition among children less than three years old reduced by 10%: from 28.5% in 2007 to 18.6% in mid-2012

EU-UNICEF joint action for improving nutrition security in Ethiopia:

This support is part of the EU-UNICEF joint action for improving nutrition security in Africa, targeting four countries; namely, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali and Uganda with a total EU contribution of €14.95 million.

In Ethiopia, about half a million children, 100,000 adolescent girls and 100,000 pregnant and lactating mothers in 20 targeted areas of Amhara, Oromia and Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples (SNNP) regions will benefit from this project.

Among the various interventions supported in this project, this EU grant will strengthen the coordination of the existing national nutrition programme at federal level and support the existing Community Based Nutrition (CBN) programme with additional activities.

The EU grant will put a particular focus on stunting reduction programmes in the 20 targeted areas. Nutrition-specific interventions include promotion of the use of available foods and resources, as well as breastfeeding -, vitamin and mineral supplements, appropriate complementary foods and the fortification of staple foods.

For more information:

IP/13/221: New EU policy to improve nutrition across the world and save millions of lives