Today, a small piece of metal 3 billion miles away started projecting images of the dwarf planet Pluto. At this stage, at such a distance from Earth, a lot of the operations that the machine runs are automated, having been programmed along the path to navigate obstacles known and unknown to reach its destination. It is a truly remarkable achievement, and one that began just 10 years ago by a group of scientists in a lab a stone’s throw from Washington D.C.
Looking back at their achievement now, I wonder about what great milestones we will see met in 2025. What group of leaders will take their outsized ambition and meticulously plan the route to navigate to their goal?
Personally, I’d turn our aspirations back towards the Earth, to a goal the world set in 2012. If in 10 years, we can get a hunk of metal to navigate our solar system over 3 billion miles, can we say we dreamed big and 10 years from now we brought 74 million children out of chronic malnutrition?
Earlier today, at a side event at the UN Financing for Development Conference (FFD), we learned what it will take to get there. For an investment of USD $6 billion per year, the world can reduce rates of stunting in children under 5 by 40%. That is about $8.50 per child per year – or about the price of a single movie ticket. Stunting is an outcome of poor nutrition at an early age, and has irreversible effects on physical and cognitive development. In a nutshell, poor nutrition is one of the main causes for the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
But we can get to 40% reduction. Take Maharashtra, India as an example. In a country where stunting rates are among the highest, Maharashtra, through strong economic growth, nutrition & health missions, and dedicated nutrition staff, managed to reduce rates of stunting by 13% in only 7 years. Donors, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom, that have been expanding the scope of their nutrition commitments are also big parts of the solution. Nutrition represents only 1% of official development assistance, but since we can’t “rob Peter to pay Paul” – we need to be creative in how we can reach the $6 billion threshold.
There will be a lot of talk about innovative financing this week at the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – and innovation will be critical in closing the nutrition financing gap. The Power of Nutrition, which leverages investments by private and non-traditional donors; UNITLIFE, a proposed voluntary levy on extractive industries to fund nutrition and other such programs will have to be used to get there.
But we also need to understand that though we need more money for nutrition, we also need more nutrition for the money. Better programming is critical for ensuring that every dollar counts. Every $1 dollar, pound, peso, or rupee invested in nutrition is said to return about $18 to the economy. Making that number a reality means investing in the right interventions, having national nutrition plans in place and delineating dedicated nutrition budget lines so that we can follow resources to results. We need the right data, which is why ONE will join the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition network.
Reaching these goals won’t be easy, but the Pluto mission, as the project manager put it, was “the equivalent of a golfer on the East Coast hitting a ball across the continent and making a hole-in-one in Los Angeles.” I hope that world leaders can match that ambition so that 10 years from now, we too can reflect on how, much like the mission caught a glimpse of Pluto in 2015; we have brought the end of malnutrition into our sights.