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Good nutrition is a human right and the foundation of well-being
Only when a human rights approach is taken will the international community be able to move beyond addressing short term needs to begin tackling the real issues at stake. If the underlying issues are not addressed, sustainable solutions will not be found.
The Voluntary Guidelines for the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security (VGRtF), developed and endorsed by the CFS in 2004, provides a useful tool for States to consider human rights principles when developing strategies, policies, programmes and legislation for achieving food security and nutrition objectives. The VGRtF offers specific recommended actions to improve the nutritional status and well-being of people. These include actions to diversify eating habits, to promote breastfeeding, to disseminate information about the feeding of infants and young children, and to undertake parallel actions in the areas of health, education and sanitation.
Drivers of malnutrition can intersect and overlap, intensifying the exclusion of certain groups of people. These may be difficult for an external audience to address but are intimately understood by those affected. Therefore, creating enabling environments for people, especially marginalised and deprived people, to empower themselves are essential for them to set their own priorities, be equipped to meaningful participate in decision making processes, advise in their implementation and the monitor and evaluate the outcomes to ensure that the benefits reach the intended targets. If this goes ignored, the international community will fail to utilise the local knowledge and expertise available and continue holding people back from reaching their full potential.
The progressive realisation of the right to adequate food requires States to fulfil their human rights obligations under international law. There are several international instruments available in which the progressive realisation of the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, is enshrined. These include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (Art 25), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Art 2 and 11), UN Charter (Art 55 and 56), the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the four Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols.
Following the human rights based approach, governments have the prime responsibility in creating an enabling environment for nutrition. The central role of the UN system and its specialised agencies is to support governments in this endeavour. The world now has a complete and comprehensive set of nutrition targets and a sustainability agenda that provides social, economic and environmental context in which these nutrition targets should be met. These targets supplement the human rights agenda; specifically the Right to Adequate Food, indicating the responsibilities of governments and the avenue they should take to respect, protect and fulfil the Right to Adequate Food. In addition, high-level political attention for nutrition is increasing, with many governments committed to developing concrete policies and actions. This momentum must be maintained. Many institutes, organisations and individuals have been mobilised for nutrition in several important and influential initiatives, programmes and networks. More are welcome. (UNSCN, 2017)
The UNSCN publication Nutrition and Human Rights (UNSCN, 2002) is one contribution to that effort. Traditionally, deliberations have focused more narrowly on how the nutrition advocates can use the human rights law and institutions more systematically to underpin efforts aimed at bettering human nutrition. The publication helps to provide a better understanding of how the insights and tools of the socially oriented nutrition community can support the identification of ways in which the human rights principles can guide development. The ultimate goal of which being to enhance sustainable positive effects for the human being and for society.
Another contribution from the UNSCN is the discussion paper By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition and leave no one behind (UNSCN, 2017). This text presents the centrality of nutrition in the current sustainable development agenda, of which will only reach the intended target if actions are developed using a human rights framework. It provides an overview of the numerous and inter-related nutrition targets that have been agreed upon by intergovernmental bodies, placing these targets in the context of the SDGs and the Nutrition Decade. It aims to inform nutrition actors, including non-traditional ones, regarding opportunities to be engaged and connected in a meaningful way.
Every man, woman and child has the right to adequate food and nutrition (CESCR, 1999). Good nutrition (as opposed to malnutrition) is included in the human rights to food, the human right to health and is the foundation of human health and wellbeing. It is a moral imperative to work towards the elimination of malnutrition, considering current knowledge, techniques and means of mobilisation and communication. Malnutrition, which includes undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity, affects all countries regardless of the nature of the malnutrition problem and income levels. Reducing its causes and effects is requisite for achieving the SDGs. Good nutrition is associated with mental acuteness and higher individual earnings. These outcomes in turn support macroeconomic and societal growth. Conversely, malnutrition impairs individual productivity, which acts as a drag on national growth. Malnutrition represents a pernicious, often invisible, impediment to the successful achievement of SDG targets (UNSCN, 2017).