The World Reverses Progress on Global Hunger

By Charles W. Elliott

The newest U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) Annual Report on food security sends a “clear warning signal” of a troubling trend that reverses a long period of progress combating world hunger.

After A Prolonged Decline, World Hunger and Food Insecurity Worsen

FAO 2017 Food Security Report Cover

The 132-page data-rich report, The State of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2017: Building Resilience For Peace And Food Security [1] notes that for the first time in many years the number of chronically malnourished people across the globe—as well as those suffering from acute hunger—has increased from the prior year, reversing a prolonged historic decline in world hunger. The number of undernourished people jumped from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Every continent except Europe and North America has suffered an increase in prevalence of malnutrition. The report identifies a variety of causes for this reversal and highlights the interrelationships between global hunger, armed conflict, and climate change.

Emerging from the data is a stark picture of 44,000,000 more people now suffering from severe food insecurity than there were just two years ago. In fact, nearly one in ten people around the world, about 689 million people, now suffers from severe food insecurity. (see Report, Table 2). The people of Africa suffer the highest levels of severe food insecurity—27.4 percent of the population, four times that of any other continent.

In 2016, areas particularly hard hit by worsening food security were zones of armed conflict, especially where droughts or floods exacerbated those impacts. But the downward trend was not limited to conflict zones. Economic downturns have diminished food availability through reduced import capacity, impaired food access, and reduced ability of governments to protect poor households against rising domestic food prices. This has occurred particularly in countries that saw reduced revenue from oil and other primary commodity exports, which are traditionally used to finance food imports and subsidies and social safety nets.

Part 2 of the report analyzes in depth the relationship between conflicts and hunger. It reminds us that armed conflicts and diminished food resources create damaging self-reinforcing cycles. Armed conflict brings social disruptions, population displacement, and infrastructure destruction in its wake, damaging food production and distribution, and exacerbating food insecurity. As the report notes, “[f]ood insecurity itself can [then] become a trigger for conflict.” It urges governments and civil society to engage anew to reduce global hunger not just for its own sake, but also because “improved food security and more-resilient rural livelihoods can prevent conflict and contribute to lasting peace” (Report, p. 4).

The report addresses in detail the twin problems of childhood stunting (shortened height) and wasting (low weight for height). Although “the rising trend in undernourishment has not yet been reflected in increases in stunting,” 155 million children under the age of five — one in four children—still suffer from stunted growth. Those children incur higher risks of illness, poor cognitive skills and impaired learning ability. As a result, they suffer reduced earning potential and social skills. If stunting is widespread, it “also drags down the economic development of entire communities and nations” (Report, p. 14). Childhood wasting, causing increased risks of childhood illness and death, continues to be a serious problem. In 2016, childhood wasting affected one in twelve of all children under five years of age, a total of 52 million children. More than half of them live in southern Asia.

Preventive measures such as ensuring adequate nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, encouragement of exclusive breastfeeding for children six months and younger, and access to adequate health care can address these conditions. In fact, breastfeeding “is considered to be the preventive intervention with the single largest impact on child survival” (Report, p. 21). Improving breastfeeding rates could prevent 820,000 child deaths each year.

Malnutrition is not only the result of inadequate nutrition, that is, diets that are low in calories, it can also result from high consumption of low-cost, high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods that can cause obesity and disease. Thus, “multiple forms of malnutrition coexist, with countries experiencing simultaneously high rates of child undernutrition, anaemia among women, and adult obesity. Childhood overweight and obesity are increasing in most regions, and in all regions for adults. In 2016, 41 million children under five years of age were overweight” (Report, p. ii).

Food insecurity is just one of the factors that cause malnutrition. In addressing malnutrition, we must also address the education of women and girls; the commitment of resources for maternal, infant and young child nutrition; the provision of clean water, basic sanitation, and quality health services; improved food environments; and cultural factors.

The Nexus Between Armed Conflict and Food Insecurity.

 This year’s report devotes its entire part 2 to “Conflict, Food Security And Nutrition: The Imperative of Sustainable Peace.” Here it examines how “armed conflict affects food security and nutrition, and how deteriorations in food security conditions can exacerbate conflict” (Report, p. 30). The number, complexity, and duration of conflicts around the world have sharply increased in the past ten years.

Violent conflicts are currently at an all-time high. We cannot adequately address hunger and food insecurity without addressing the causes of conflict and their cascading effects.

Armed conflict causes an array of interrelated impacts. These can include, for example, economic recession, inflation, employment disruption, forced population movements, blockades of trade routes, damages to transportation infrastructure, the destruction of food stocks, livestock, and other productive assets, disruptions to food systems and markets, reduced access to water and cooking fuel and, of course, injuries and deaths. All of these effects damage food security and can threaten entire markets.

A recent example is the conflict in Yemen, which is “creating a country-wide crisis that is driving unprecedented levels of food insecurity and undernutrition, collapsing its social protection system, threatening a breakdown of the banking, health care, and other institutional infrastructure,” and “tipping large parts of the country into a destructive downward spiral of extreme food insecurity and increasing poverty” (Report, p. 45). Yemen’s GDP dropped by 34.6 percent in a single year, between 2014 and 2015.

This deterioration of security and increases in conflicts have stalled global progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition. In 2016, more than two billion people were living in countries affected by conflict, violence, and fragility. The vast majority of the chronically food insecure and malnourished live in such places: an estimated 489 million of 815 million undernourished people and an estimated 122 million of 155 million stunted children.

FAO currently classifies 19 countries with a protracted crisis. All 19 countries are also affected by conflict and violence, which are typically worsened by climate related shocks such as prolonged droughts. This combination of events has led to the displacement of millions of people, causing and protracting food insecurity in host communities. [2]

Addressing hunger and food insecurity in such environments requires a new “conflict-sensitive approach that aligns actions for immediate humanitarian assistance, long-term development and sustaining peace” (Report, at ii).

Food insecurity is not only the consequence of conflict; it can also be the cause. This risk is particularly high where deep inequality and weak institutions exist. Sudden spikes in food prices increase risks of political unrest and conflict, as exemplified in 2007–2008 when food riots broke out in more than 40 countries (Report, p. 52).

The report also notes the relationship between climate change, conflict and food insecurity. Climate-change driven events, such as long periods of drought, increase the risk of conflict and hunger, as they exacerbate competition for diminished food supplies, arable land, and water.

Conversely, when the global community addresses food security, reduces the potential for conflict, and strengthens adaptability and resilience in the face of climate change and natural disaster, it dampens the negative mutually reinforcing impacts of conflict and hunger.

The Report (pp. 60-73) therefore recommends that governments and civil society adopt and implement policies to:

— address the impacts to agriculture and food systems caused by conflict and civil insecurity;

— confront the root causes of competition over natural resources and mitigate their impact on food systems and the wider economy;

— prioritize investments to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector;

— provide effective livelihood and social supports to populations displaced by conflict;

— strengthen social protection systems, as households facing conflicts may engage in “increasingly destructive and irreversible coping strategies that threaten future livelihoods, food security and nutrition.”

The U.N. General Assembly had declared the period 2016–2025 as the “United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition.” The global challenge after 2017 is to halt the downward trend by recognizing and directly addressing the interlocking triad of food insecurity, conflict, and climate change. The Report makes clear that attaining the U.N.’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger and preventing all forms of malnutrition by 2030 will demand an entirely new and focused commitment of resources and an end to “business as usual.”

Charles W. Elliott is an attorney with 30 years of experience in public interest litigation on behalf of municipal governments, environmental organizations, and victims of environmental pollution. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Buddhist Global Relief.


[1] FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2017, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017: Building resilience for peace and food security, Rome, FAO. The full report is available at the FAO website at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-I7787e.pdf

[2] For example, the civil war in Syria has forced more than 6 million people to flee their homes to other locations within the country and another 5 million to nearby countries. This amounts to a displacement of more than 60% of the population. As a result of this conflict, agriculture production is at a record low in Syria, “with about half the population unable to meet their daily food needs” (Report, p. 44).

 

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BGR Solidarity Walk in Nagpur, India

By Ven. Ayya Yeshe

On Saturday, October 21, the Bodhicitta Foundation and members of our girls’ home walked in solidarity with our wonderful partners, Buddhist Global Relief, and all the wonderful people who contribute to our work of lifting women and children out of poverty.

Many of the girls in our girls’ home have come from villages where they had to walk for many kilometres, missing school to carry water, take care of livestock, and watch over siblings. Now the girls walk to end poverty, they walk for girls’ empowerment, they ride to school, to a new life.

Often as we move through life, we don’t know where we are going, in what direction we are moving. The annual Walk to Feed the Hungry offers us a chance to reflect where we are going, how we are manifesting the truth of our sacred bond and inter-connectedness with the earth and all beings.

For us at Bodhicitta Foundation, the support of the wonderful people at BGR means we can walk in the direction of hope and dignity, of empowerment, equality, love, compassion, and human  rights. We thank you for walking this journey with us for so many years now!

Bonded as I am with each of the hundreds of children and women we help, I can really see the hope and gratitude in their eyes, for your gift is the gift of life. These children shine like stars on earth, as they can now reach for their dreams because of you.

Ven. Ayya Yeshe, an Australian bhikkhuni (Buddhist nun), is the founder and spiritual leader of the Bodhicitta Foundation.

BGR Donates to Help Puerto Rico and Rohingya Refugees

By BGR Staff

This past week the BGR Board voted to approve emergency grants of $5,000 each to two organizations working with people in distress: to Oxfam America, which is hard at work in Puerto Rico, filling in where the U.S. government effort has been slow and inadequate; and to the World Food Programme, which has been providing urgently needed food aid to the Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in their native Myanmar and taken refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. The statements that follow have been adopted from reports by the two organizations.

From Oxfam America, on the situation in Puerto Rico

Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of its residents, who are U.S. citizens, have been struggling to survive without food, clean water, or electricity. Although they have the resources, the U.S. government’s emergency response has been slow and inadequate. For this reason, Oxfam America has stepped in to make sure the island’s 3.4 million residents receive immediate aid.

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More than half of the island is without clean water. The threat of deadly waterborne diseases hangs heavily over rural communities. Millions of residents are currently without electricity due to a downed electrical grid. Food and fuel are in desperately short supply. The elderly and the sick are at grave risk as hospitals run out of fuel to keep generators running. Families need help.

It’s rare that Oxfam America engages in disaster relief efforts in places where the government has the capacity to respond appropriately. But this case is different. Unwilling to wait on the U.S. government’s slow and inadequate response when people are in desperate need, Oxfam has been doing everything it can to support local organizations to meet Puerto Ricans’ most urgent needs right now. Oxfam will also be supporting the people of Puerto Rico to advocate in Congress for more resources to rebuild the island and fortify it to meet future disasters more effectively.

From the World Food Programme, on the Rohingya refugees

The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, affirmed WFP’s commitment to supporting people fleeing violence in Myanmar as he met refugee families and saw WFP relief activities in the new settlements in the Cox’s Bazaar area of Bangladesh.

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Beasley said: “I have heard heartbreaking stories today, speaking to people who ran for their lives and saw loved ones killed before their eyes. These horrors must stop. Many of these people were receiving WFP food assistance in Myanmar. Now, they will receive WFP food assistance in Bangladesh, until they are able to return home safely.”

WFP started distributing food as soon as the influx began, and has scaled up operations to reach almost half a million refugees in the past month with life-saving assistance. WFP has distributed rice to some 460,000 refugees, and has also been providing high-energy biscuits to more than 200,000 people as a one-off emergency measure when they arrive in the settlements and at border crossing points.

As the situation stabilizes, WFP plans to transition to more sophisticated programs, especially with a view to supporting the nutritional needs of women and children and developing electronic voucher programs that integrate with markets.

The food for new arrivals comes in addition to assistance that WFP provides through e-vouchers to 34,000 registered refugees living in official camps. Another 72,500 undocumented refugees living in makeshift camps, who arrived after the last outbreak of violence in October 2016, before the present influx, receive rice and nutrition support.

Kindling the Light of Education in Haiti

By BGR Staff

The Father Jeri School in the Ti Plas Kazo district of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, has been one of Buddhist Global Relief’s major funding commitments. Last year BGR began a three-year project with its partner, the What If? Foundation, to make of Father Jeri a top-notch school. The funding from BGR is intended to establish a strong school infrastructure, ensuring that the educational standards are high and that the accompanying facilities provide an excellent environment for learning. Currently 188 impoverished children, aged 3–19, are enrolled in Pre-K to 8th grade. The hope is to expand the school in the years ahead so that it includes high school and accommodates up to 350 children.

During the first year (2016–17), the BGR grant covered the salary for an educational human resource specialist who recruited and hired well-trained teachers and administrative staff. The grant funded the purchase of comfortable furniture (including desks, tables, chairs, book shelves and storage) for classrooms and a cafeteria to make the environment conducive to learning. And it financed the modification of the land that surrounds the school to fit the needs of an educational environment.

The school opened in September 2016 and is offering children in the Ti Plas Kazo community a wonderful opportunity to receive a quality, affordable education. The building is clean, filled with natural light, structurally sound, and designed to be an environment for learning. The school provides a challenging academic curriculum along with real world learning outside the classroom and opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. The physical space and curriculum, in combination with the commitment from teachers, students, and families, is providing a unique educational opportunity for poor Haitian children.

The grant from BGR for the second year (2017–18), administered through the What If? Foundation, has the following purposes:

  • to ensure that salaries are competitive to help retain a quality teaching and administrative staff
  • to install a water pump to get water from the underground tank that collects groundwater to the tank on the roof, which supplies every room in the school with water
  • to purchase four laptop computers for administrative staff and teachers
  • to provide school supplies —including paper, pens, chalk, and books—to ensure that teachers have the materials they need to create a strong learning environment.

The Father Jeri Academic School is not just the culmination of the Ti Plas Kazo Community’s dream, but also a symbol of hope for the community, and a true catalyst for developing a new generation of Haitians.

The following is a report BGR recently received from the What If? Foundation, including an interview with Program Director Lavarice Gaudin:

Despite the uncertainty of hurricane season, our partner Na Rive is determined to carry on in building Haiti’s future. The Father Jeri School started classes as planned the first week of September. Program Director Lavarice Gaudin is happy to report that enrollment has increased 60% from last year. Word is spreading quickly about the Father Jeri School.

We caught up with Lavarice and asked him to share his vision for the new school year.

Hello Lava! Congratulations on your second school year!

Thank you! Our first year was incredible. We learned so much. And we look forward to making this next year even better. We are so grateful for the support of the What If? Foundation’s donors in making it all possible.

 

What are you most excited about?

There is so much interest in the Father Jeri School from students, parents, teachers, and community members. I keep hearing that this can be the best school in Haiti. We are working hard to make sure that this is true.

That’s wonderful! What are your goals for the year ahead?

We plan to keep focusing on early education – pre-kindergarten and the early elementary years. Our pre-kindergarten classrooms are unique in Haiti. The small class size, colorful rooms, and playful project-based way of teaching the fundamentals – it all sets the Father Jeri School apart. For the higher grade levels, we are making sure our students are prepared to succeed in the government exams and continue to progress in their education.

What is the most important ingredient for the school’s success?

The quality of the education. The pretty school building is not enough, it’s the high quality education that makes the school even more beautiful. We also want to add the final grade of secondary school next year, so our students can begin and complete their education at the Father Jeri School.

It’s so important to build a strong foundation — starting with pre-kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. We are fostering leaders, not followers, and this requires consistent excellence.

What are your biggest challenges?

Having enough resources to pay teachers and purchase school materials. There’s so much that we need, and prices keep rising in Haiti. Finding ways to bring technology into the classroom. And continuing to support the students beyond academic achievement — providing them with the nutrition and energy to learn. We pray that with the help of our big sister What If, we will make it happen. Little by little, we are on our path to becoming the best school in Haiti – and creating a better future for our students.

The Walk to Feed the Hungry is the primary source of the funding that enable BGR to support its many projects around the world. So please join a walk, support the walk of others, or simply donate to Buddhist Global Relief.

 

Moral Vision as the Foundation for Global Well-Being

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Buddhist contingent at the People’s Climate March in New York City, September 2014

All the classical spiritual traditions of humankind are confronted by the simple but undeniable fact that we are living at a critical time when the future of human life on earth is in serious jeopardy. Dark clouds have gathered on the horizon, and we can see them in every direction. One dark cloud is the ever-widening inequality in wealth between the rich and the poor—the inequality that is driven by a neoliberal economic system that funnels more and more of the world’s wealth into the hands of a small powerful elite, who manipulate governments and international law for their own advantage. Another dark cloud is the volatile financial system, which treats the world’s vital resources such as food, water, and land as objects of financial speculation, leaving millions of people around the world hungry, landless, and homeless, burdened with oppressive debt. Still another is the persistence of wars: regional wars that are seemingly interminable and generate new terrorist groups almost as soon as the older ones bite the dust; the specter of all-out nuclear war just the press of a button away. And still another cloud takes the form of the all-seeing surveillance state, which uses the new electronic technologies to snoop into every aspect of our private lives.

Perhaps the darkest cloud of all is climate change, which has been transforming the natural environment in ways that imperil the future of human civilization. The accelerating changes to the planet’s climate, and the rapid depletion of our natural resources such as water, soil, and food, call not only for pragmatic remedies but also for a robust moral response. Our moral responsibility now extends beyond the narrow confines of our national borders to people throughout the world. In every continent people are already being bludgeoned by the impact of a warmer, stranger, more violent planet. Indeed, those who face the harshest consequences of climate change are the people least responsible for it: the simple farmers and villagers of of southern Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts of climate disruption occurring now extend down the line to future generations, who will have to inherit the legacy of planetary devastation that we leave behind. Our responsibility also extends to non-human beings, to the countless other species that face the loss of their natural habitats and the threat of imminent extinction.
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Resilient Livelihoods in Northern India

By Patricia Brick

Jay Devi, a farmer in Pritampur village in Uttar Pradesh, India, struggled for years to earn enough from the sale of her crops to pay for the fertilizers and pesticides she needed for her fields. Like many other women farmers in the region, she was entirely dependent upon purchased chemical fertilizers and pesticides for her crops of beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, and pumpkins. But the high cost of these products cut sharply into her earnings. She dreamed of saving enough money to purchase a water pump for her home so that she would no longer have to walk to a communal well for drinking water. But her profits were never enough; some seasons she could not even afford to buy the chemicals she needed, and as a result her crop yields suffered further.
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Technical Skills Training for Low Income Girls in Sri Lanka

By Patricia Brick

Young women in Sri Lanka face rates of unemployment nearly twice that of their male counterparts, with unemployment levels highest among women with secondary school diplomas. But the costs of vocational training and other higher education are prohibitive for many girls. While state universities offer free higher education, these schools accept only a fraction of qualified students. Those who are not accepted must pay to attend private or professional schools, where scholarship funding may be difficult to come by.

The BGR project, “Providing Access to Skills Development for Selected Out-of-School Girls from Low Income Families,” supports Sri Lankan girls and young women in pursuing higher education and vocational training. Administered by the Center for Women’s Research (CENWOR), the project helps young women prepare for careers in such rapidly expanding fields as information technology and civil engineering.
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