Afghanistan has the potential to make significant progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs), with its rich natural resources and young population. However, the country also faces considerable challenges in terms of complex and protracted conflicts, climate change and gender inequalities, with over half of the population living below the poverty line. Some progress has been made in tackling malnutrition but the prevalence of stunting in children under five remains high at nearly 41 percent and under-five wasting levels are 9.5 percent .
The country joined the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in September 2017 and launched the Afghanistan Food Security and Nutrition Agenda (AFSeN-A). Three United Nations agencies – the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – have been active contributors to Afghanistan’s multisectoral nutrition response and committed to providing financial support to AFSeN-A’s Technical Secretariat for a minimum of two years. The UN Network is combined with donor partners in Afghanistan and known as the UN-Development Partners Forum.
This article is a collaboration between a number of key nutrition actors in Afghanistan, including: Said Shamsul Islam Shams, coordinator of the Technical Secretariat of the AFSeN-A; Maureen L. Gallagher, until recently Chief of Nutrition for UNICEF Afghanistan and Zakia Maroof, a nutrition specialist working with UNICEF; Muhebullah Latifi, National Nutrition Coordinator at FAO; and Muhammad Akbar, Programme Policy Officer with WFP and Martin Ahimbisibwe, Head of the WFP nutrition team in Afghanistan.
- What role has the ‘UN Network’ played in supporting the development of Afghanistan’s multi-sectoral nutrition response?
There have been three main phases of United Nations support for nutrition in Afghanistan: before, during and after establishing the Afghanistan Food Security and Nutrition Agenda (AFSeN-A), including the AFSeN Strategic Plan (2019−2023) and multi-sector platform. In the first phase, United Nations support for nutrition included both nutrition-specific activities and agriculture activities via various platforms. This was followed by a second phase where three United Nations agencies, FAO, UNICEF and WFP, provided technical and financial resources and support to establish, enable and operationalize the National Technical Secretariat of the Food Security and Nutrition Steering Committee (the multi stakeholder platform, as spelled out in the AFSeN-A). This secretariat was housed within the Office of the Chief Executive from October 2017 to April 2020, which enabled multi-sectoral and high-level engagement with the Government of Afghanistan.
During this period, the three United Nations agencies (set up as the UN-Development Partners Forum) focused on advocacy and technical support to enhance multi-sectoral discussion and coordination of food security and nutrition (FSN) and preparing a roadmap for the AFSeN-A, including a multi-sectoral strategic plan that has been developed and is being rolled out.
The UN-Development Partners Forum has also played a critical role in enhancing the current capacity of the AFSeN secretariat, particularly with scaling up nutrition coordination at provincial level, although this is still at an early stage. The three agencies have backed up the AFSeN focal point in all provinces where one or all agencies have a presence, resulting in stronger and functional provincial committees in several locations.