Asia is facing a triple burden of malnutrition and is home to the highest numbers of stunted and wasted children in the world. The causes of malnutrition are multi-factorial, calling for changes in the food system and trade policies as well as the health, education, social protection and labour sectors, and thus call for integrated action. These challenges are compounded by stark gender disparities, urbanization, climatic events (e.g. cyclones, flooding) and ethnic marginalization in some areas.
Regional colleagues from the Asia regional UN Network for SUN (AUNNS), cognizant of the above, are making concerted efforts to better harmonize UN support in nutrition. To this end, colleagues from FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO gathered for a two-day strategic meeting (31 January – 1 February 2018) in Bangkok, where they discussed and set into motion how this would take shape on the ground. Participating colleagues acknowledged that articulating and pursuing integrated action through the UN Network confers benefits such as increased operational efficiencies. This, in turn, helps to ensure that more people receive the support they need for good nutrition and that ‘no one is left behind’, a fundamental characteristic of the 2030 Agenda.
Four work streams were selected around which the UN agencies are converging: advocacy, situation analysis/reporting, programming and partnerships. In concrete terms, the Asia UN Network has decided to develop a common UN narrative for the region, with support from the UN Network for SUN Secretariat, which will impart learning from similar efforts it has supported at the country level. Joint-data analysis will be conducted for the regional report on the State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) in an effort to be comprehensive and minimize overlap. In addition, the Asia UN Network is developing a consolidated UN programme of work to support that of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), retreating from individual, agency-specific MoUs. Asia’s UN Network is also intent to step-up inter-agency collaboration in selected countries, based on the burden of malnutrition, the presence of UN agencies and a conducive working environment. The UN collaboration will be pursued through joint programming on complementary feeding across food, health, social protection, and WASH systems, and potentially a joint nutrition capacity assessment.
The regional UN colleagues, likewise, organized a wider stakeholders meeting on 2 February 2018, where topics such as social protection, food safety (specifically Codex Alimentarius) and oral health were discussed within the context of nutrition. With a clear vision, genuine motive to work better together and an openness to new approaches, the Asia UN Network is well-positioned to address the complex nutrition issues that are affecting the region.