Sounding off on purported plans to create UN Nutrition

A woman in Rafah, Gaza, receives a sack of rice during food distribution by the World Food Program. Photo by: United Nations

Are there really plans to create a new U.N. agency for nutrition?

At last week’s Committee on World Food Security, talks circulated among delegates about a “proposed” agency — or effort of some kind — that would follow the multistakeholder, country-led Scaling Up Nutrition platform and promote breastfeeding and nutrition-sensitive approaches in agriculture and water, sanitation and hygiene, among other sectors.

Some delegates called it U.N. Nutrition: an agency to be launched at the much-anticipated Second International Conference on Nutrition — better known as ICN2 — in Rome next month.

“We had confirmation from U.N. insiders [and] also from delegates that there is a concrete plan,” Stefano Prato, managing director of the Society for International Development and one of the CFS participants, told Devex correspondent Elena Pasquini in Rome.

Since then, Devex has received feedback refuting the story.

“There is no effort underway to create a new body entitled UN Nutrition,” said Lucy Sullivan, executive director of 1,000 Days, an initiative to prevent undernutrition among young children, in a written comment to the story, citing conversations with relevant U.N. agencies.

Rather, the heads of the U.N. agencies involved in nutrition committed in June 2013 to establish “a fully functioning SUN UN System Network,” which she said “is now taking action to ensure that it is well-established and functional in all countries, as well as at regional and global levels.”

Stacia Kristof Khalidwe Nordin, a nutrition officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization, also countered the report. What is happening, she said, is an effort to better link all U.N. nutritionists so they can be “more collaborative and synergistic.”

Nordin noted a meeting last year in Nairobi for key nutritionists in their respective regions and their government counterparts to launch the network that Sullivan mentioned.

“I think the author of this either knows something I don't know, or should get some facts from the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition,” she said.

Meanwhile, other Devex readers expressed concern over purported plans to create a new agency.

The United Nations needs to have a clear vision and objectives and justify the “enormous” costs of such a plan, said Sergio Cooper Teixeira. The justification, he said, should include an analysis that compares the long-term cost of running U.N. Nutrition with the potential added development impact as well as details on which functions within existing agencies would be transferred to the new entity and how that would affect the operations of those institutions.

Still, Teixeira said he’d rather see the United Nations come up with new, improved and joint programs in the field which offers a better use of resources than adding another structure within the U.N. system.

Reader M Berger agreed, arguing that while the issue of addressing nutrition challenges is important, creating another U.N. agency is not the solution.

Should the United Nations create an agency dedicated to nutrition — or how should it address the issue? Join the debate by leaving a comment below.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.