(April 2, 2004) I was privileged to attend the 31st Session of the Standing Committee on Nutrition, during the week of March 22 and learned quite a bit there. I hadn’t ever been to a session before. It was exhilarating to listen to about 250 people (and talk to a fair number) deeply interested in and informed about nutrition issues (hunger is a not a technically well enough defined—and possibly too emotive a word—to have been frequently used there) gathered together in one place. The four and one half day session took place in New York at the United Nations and UNICEF.
(Well, like so much in the modern world, what this committee is requires some explanation. Its name has not always been the same and it has certainly changed important aspects of its way of being/acting over the years. It was started, under another name which escapes me at the moment, to provide coordination between U.N. agencies such as UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Program on nutrition issues. For many years, until very recently, it was known as the sub-committee on Nutrition. For most of its life it was a committee of U.N. sub-organizations. Later it broadened to include representatives of developed country governmental organizations and I presume developing countries, though they may not have been as much in evidence for financial or other reasons. Recently, about seven years or so ago, it was broadened to include representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs). The secretariat of the SCN was also moved from the FAO to WHO, evidently because it was difficult to get things done at FAO.)
The meeting had three parts. The first and second essentially covered the same ground–a discussion of the Millennium Development Goals and their relation to nutrition. The first was a very interesting series of plenary (full meetings of everyone) and the second were the reports of the standing committees, with discussion by those attending. These standing committees appear to be the most active portion of the SCN, and certainly managed to get an incredible amount of expertise focused on specific nutrition issues It is very interesting to see how important nutrition is by sector. For health, for example, an estimated 50 percent of deaths from illness and infection (such as measles) is in fact caused by the weakened health caused by malnutrition/hunger This is presented in the 5th Report on the World Nutrition Situation (don’t download unless you have a fast internet connection–it is 141 pages). However more accessible links are available at http://www.unsystem.org/scn/Publications/foundation4dev/foundation4dev.htmThe third was a series of meetings of representatives of the three different types of institutions represented there in order to discuss issues and prepare for the next meeting which will be in Brasilia, Brazil. I attended the private sector meeting– where there were well over 100 people from about 80 non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and universities.
This was an excellent learning experience for me. I definitely have a better understanding of important issues.
There are many nutrition issues. There are at least 10 important micronutrients that are in short supply. How can they all be supplied to the right people in poor countries? A micronutrient by micronutrient approach is not possible due to cost reasons, yet there appears to be no broader approach. Moreover, actual food and providing it to those who need it is an even more difficult task.
While the level of effort in trying to improve the nutrition of poor people is impressive, it is very far from sufficient.