Hunger is often the consequence of a political decision not to prioritise feeding a population, writes Azad Essa.
Pretoria - We will not solve hunger by 2030. This is the message from the Global Hunger Index released last week. The Index, produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute, explores how far countries have come in reducing hunger across the planet. And the results are telling.
Out of the 118 countries profiled, seven were found to have “alarming” levels of hunger, a further 43, including Nigeria, India and Indonesia, are rated as having “serious” hunger levels.
Countries south of the Sahara still have the most number of hungry people, followed by South Asia.
One positive is that no country this time round was ranked as “extremely alarming”.
The index also found that hunger levels in the developing world had dropped by 29%. The countries that showed most improvement include Rwanda, Myanmar and Cambodia who were once categorised in the “alarming” section. This is important because it means that the trend can be bucked, tackled, and indeed reversed.
Ending hunger is not an option.
As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched in 2015, ending hunger is considered integral towards building a more just and healthy society.
Overall some 795 million people still go to bed hungry every night and there is absolutely no reason for it to be this way.
“We have the technology, knowledge and resources to achieve (zero hunger). What is missing is both the urgency and the political will to turn commitments into action,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern Worldwide.
Hunger is not the result of not having enough food to go round. Neither is it a question of charity.
Instead, hunger is often the consequence of a political decision not to prioritise feeding a population, be it in normal or dire circumstances.
Journalists who have travelled to areas in regions hit hard by drought will tell you that even some of the most basic of markets in the area have food on their shelves.
Those with money will survive. It is the poorest, like small-scale farmers who often can’t afford emergency food supplies when their crops fail.
This makes the idea of hunger even more tenuous. No child, no adult should be left to the hand of the market when it comes to hunger pangs.
Some of the countries listed at the bottom end of the report, like Central African Republic and Chad, come as no surprise.
Then, there are countries like India and Pakistan, who ought to be doing better. Out of the listing of 118 countries, India is at 97, and Pakistan at 107. This is embarrassing given how both countries are each other’s throats “in defence of the nation”, when they can barely feed their people. Even Bangladesh (90), Nepal (72), Myanmar (75) and Sri Lanka (84) fare better than India and Pakistan when it comes to hunger and stunting of children. China is way ahead of this pack at 29.
But where the report is useful and important, and recommends that industrialised countries revisit trade agreements that often marginalise the needs of the developing world, its approach seems a little patronising.
For one, the report tries to present the statistics in an objective and hostile manner, which is impossible given the outside interference in some of the countries struggling to feed its population.
Then, it points out that 13 countries, including Syria, Somalia and Burundi were not profiled because of a lack of stats, but it fails to profile the hunger pangs in some of the most industrialised of nations, like the US and the UK, which is certainly neither accurate nor useful.
If you believed this report, “hunger” is still something that happened “there” to “other people”.
Take the US for example; almost 50 million are food insecure. In the UK, it was reported in 2013 that the number of people being fed by food banks had risen from 26 000 in 2008 to 347 000 in 2012. [READ REPORT HERE]
These are chilling stats that point to a global economic system that benefits few, no matter the passport.
The new global economy, of contract work, low minimum wages and poor job security, has created new economic nodes but also “black holes” in both the industrialised and developing world.
Extreme wealth and starvation have never been in such close proximity.
Take South Africa for example, the biggest economy in Africa, but where one in four citizens are food insecure.
Or again India, regarded as the “fastest growing big economy”, home to some 255 million people who are food insecure. In 2014, India exported 30 million metric tons of food, worth $23 billion, despite the fact that 30% of its population were not guaranteed food themselves. It doesn’t make sense.
Joel Berg executive director, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, says it is “the skyscraper owners, not the starving masses, who have the political power to decide how food stocks are utilised.” [READ MORE HERE]
But this description is not limited to India; it is the same story in Detroit, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg.
And as the most basic of human needs, fixing the problem is a matter of prioritisation.
In many ways, the inability to end hunger goes to the heart of depravity of our political and economic systems.