New ICAI review: Assessing DFID’s results in nutrition

16 Sep 2020

  • New ICAI review looks at results claimed by former Department for International Development (DFID) in its nutrition work.
  • Report finds that DFID had made important progress following earlier ICAI report, and confirms it had surpassed its goal of reaching 50 million people by 2020.
  • But ICAI also highlights inconsistencies in DFID’s results measurement, and says more can be done to reach the most vulnerable women and children in its target communities; awards a green-amber score with six recommendations.

The government has beaten its goal of reaching people in some of the world’s poorest countries with nutrition services – but with malnutrition set to rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it should do more to help the most vulnerable, according to a new review from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI).

The report from the aid watchdog looks at the results claimed by the former Department for International Development (DFID) in its nutrition-related programmes. Worldwide, 820 million people are chronically undernourished, and DFID had pledged to reach 50 million people, particularly women and children, by 2020 – a goal that ICAI confirmed it had exceeded.

ICAI also found that DFID had made some important changes to how it calculated its nutrition results, using scientific evidence of “what works”, following criticisms by the watchdog in 2014. It had played a leading role in strengthening political leadership and advocating for nutrition to be a priority, and its ability to work in difficult environments and crisis contexts to reach its target groups had been “impressive”. However, ICAI said that the government’s efforts – which focused on preventing undernutrition, including wasting and stunting – did not always reach the most marginalised within these groups, and that the accuracy of its data could be improved.

ICAI awarded a green-amber score and made six recommendations for the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to take forward.

ICAI Chief Commissioner Dr Tamsyn Barton, who led the results review, said: “It’s clear that DFID has been a leading voice globally in tackling malnutrition, and that its approach was rooted strongly in the scientific evidence of ‘what works’. The government deserves credit for what it has achieved – not least in reaching more than 50 million vulnerable women and children with its programmes, a claim that we found was robust.

“However, despite the positive action taken in response to our earlier concerns, there is more that needs to be done, as sadly the COVID-19 pandemic means that the number of people facing hunger will increase. We will continue to monitor FCDO’s progress in this area carefully.”

ICAI’s review team examined the validity and robustness of DFID’s reported nutrition results, whether their interventions had been reaching the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach women and children, and how much impact they had achieved in helping to reduce malnutrition.

The review found that DFID’s claim to have reached 50.6 million people with nutrition interventions between 2015 and 2019 was valid, and in some cases could be an underestimate. In addition, after ICAI raised concerns in 2014 about the way DFID measured results, the department introduced a new classification, based on scientific evidence, rating the intensity of its work – which led to more meaningful results being reported. More than half of the 20 nutrition-related programmes assessed by ICAI had met their immediate targets, with evidence of strong performance in areas such as child feeding and dietary diversity, working in places affected by humanitarian crises such as drought and conflict, and strengthening government engagement.

However, despite DFID making “significant efforts” to reach those highly vulnerable to undernutrition – particularly children under five, women of childbearing age and adolescent girls – and despite achieving some “impressive results” in challenging environments such as Somalia and drought-stricken regions of Zambia and Ethiopia, ICAI found that DFID’s interventions did not always reach the most marginalised in their target communities. This was exacerbated by a lack of reliable data and monitoring systems, as well as by the burden on community workers, many of whom were low-paid or unpaid volunteers.

ICAI said that DFID’s nutrition portfolio had “strong potential” to achieve impact, particularly in the long term. The report also noted that despite many countries facing financial constraints, DFID had created momentum in strengthening global leadership and action on nutrition, though global progress had begun to stall. However, ICAI found that recent results on reducing stunting and wasting were mixed, with improvements in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Zambia contrasting with an overall negative trend in Nigeria. It also found that DFID was not sufficiently working across sectors in order to tackle all the underlying drivers of malnutrition, and should do more with the private sector and other governments to strengthen nutritious food systems.

ICAI’s review, which was prepared before DFID merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office earlier this month, recommended that FCDO should capture and communicate progress against all goals of its nutrition strategy; strengthen its statistical capacity; strengthen systems for reaching the most marginalised women and children; more consistently gather citizen feedback; scale up its work on making sustainable and nutritious diets accessible to all; and work more closely with partners to align different sector programmes and focus on the most vulnerable communities.

Read the review here.

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