Tag Archives: Global hunger

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 Meets World Food Program USA

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Twice over the past several months, BGR made emergency donations of $10,000 to the World Food Programme to help address the humanitarian crises in four countries—South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen—all of which are suffering from severe food shortages bordering on famine. Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has called this “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.” More than 20 million people across the above four countries face starvation and famine.

The World Food Programme, a United Nations agency, is the world’s largest body tackling hunger around the globe. Last year WFP assisted 76.7 million people in 81 countries with nutritional aid and related forms of assistance. They have been consistently effective in delivering aid to the four countries tottering on the brink of famine.  

World Food Program USA builds support and resources for the UN’s World Food Programme. Shortly after we submitted our donations, Zeenia Irani, Major Gifts Officer of WFP-USA, wrote to thank us and asked if we would be available for an in-person meeting in New York City. We replied positively and fixed the meeting for June 27th. On Tuesday afternoon BGR Board member Sylvie Sun and I met Erin Cochran, WFP-USA’s Vice President of Communications, and Zeenia for tea at the Roosevelt Hotel in mid-town Manhattan.
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 2

By BGR Staff

7. Cameroon: Practical Vocational Training for Single Mothers and Marginalized Women    NEW PARTNER

CCREAD-Cameroon—the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development—is a civil society organization based in Cameroon with a United Nations Special Consultative Status. It runs strategic programs developed in collaboration with state and non-state actors. Its interventions aim to introduce marginalized people and communities to social and economic empowerment opportunities and foster environmental sustainability.

This new BGR project will be launched in Mile 16 Bolifamba, a typical slum community with a population of 17,850 inhabitants, 98% of them peasant farmers. More than 85% of households live below the UN poverty line, with extreme marginalization of women and girls. More than 60% of children born of single/teenage mothers and widows are unable to complete a single academic year in school because of extreme poverty, as their mothers are unemployed. These households face major challenges in purchasing food and paying rent, medical bills, and school fees for their children.

This project is aimed at reducing extreme suffering for marginalized women and single and teenage mothers through practical vocational training. This will equip the women with the social and vocational skills they need and with the financial means to send their children to school; it will also transfer the skills to other girls to tackle long-term poverty within the area and beyond. Each year, the project is expected to benefit 100 women  (adults), 50 young girls (youth), and 100 children. Continue reading

Improving Crop Resilience and Income for Rice Farmers in Thai Nguyen Province, Vietnam

by Tricia Brick

When a series of tropical storms struck Duong Thi Thanh’s village in northern Vietnam last summer, she feared that her rice harvest would be lost. “I thought we would have nothing to eat and sell for this crop,” she said, noting that a neighbor’s rice fields, grown using conventional methods, were severely damaged by the storms. But Thanh’s crops, cultivated using practices of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), survived the rains and brought a good price at market.

Hoang Van Phu, director of the International Cooperation Center (ICC) of Thai Nguyen University, has been working for more than a decade to bring SRI practices to smallholder farmers in the region, with the goal of increasing farmers’ efficiency, productivity, food security, and income through the use of environmentally sustainable methods. Buddhist Global Relief grants have supported the center’s efforts since 2011.

The BGR grant for fiscal year 2016-17  was used to support training for farmers in SRI methods via the creation of three large-scale collective fields in the Phu Binh district of northern Vietnam’s Thai Nguyen province.
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A Decision Cruel and Callous

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Embed from Getty Images

Much has been written over the last several days about the political and economic repercussions of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out from the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s been pointed out that the decision will diminish our standing in the world and cast us in the role of a rogue state, a pariah among nations. Our economy will languish, overtaken by other countries that make the leap to full reliance on clean energy. The mantle of global leadership will pass to Europe and China, and we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated on the international stage. To be an American abroad will become a mark of shame.

The decision to leave the Paris Accord, however, should be seen not only as an act of foolishness, arrogance, and delusional thinking, but also as an appalling expression of cruelty. The decision is cruel because it reveals a glaring deficit of compassion—a callous lack of concern for the billions of people around the world who are endangered by a more hostile climate. Sadly, it is those nations and peoples with the lightest carbon footprint that are being hit the hardest. Even before freak weather events began to multiply and inflict horrendous harm, smallholder farmers and day laborers in the developing world faced an uphill struggle just to put food on the table and get enough clean water to meet their daily needs. Now, assailed by ever more frequent and destructive climate disruptions, these same people find their very lives suspended over an abyss. Continue reading

It’s Time to Reawaken the Spirit of Occupy for the Starving Millions

Adam Parsons

04 May 2017

Photo credit: timeslive.co.za

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources in the 21st century? The time has come, the author argues, for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated the Occupy protests from 2011, but now focused on the worsening reality of mass starvation in the midst of plenty.


The world is now facing an unprecedented emergency of hunger and famine, with a record number of people requiring life-saving food and medical assistance in 2017. Since the start of this year, the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war has continued to unfold, while the international community has failed to take urgent commensurate action. The extent of human suffering is overwhelming: more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, including 1.4 million children – a conservative estimate that is rising by the day. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and could soon follow in Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.

In February, the UN launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian funding, calling for $4.4 billion by July to avert looming famines in these four conflict-ridden regions. Yet not even $1 billion has been raised so far, leaving little hope that these vital minimum funds will be raised on time. Last week the UN also sought to raise $2.1 billion for the funding shortfall in Yemen alone – described as the single largest hunger crisis in the world, where two thirds of the population are food insecure. But even this appeal remains barely half funded, which will almost certainly leave millions of neglected Yemeni’s facing the prospect of dying from starvation or disease.
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Improving Nutrition among Children in Korhogo District, Cote d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

Mothers gather to discuss nutrition in Korhogo Health District

Malnutrition is a pressing problem in Cote d’Ivoire, where over 40% of the population lives in poverty. Cote d’Ivoire ranks 172 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, making it among the poorest countries in the world. The country has a population of 22 million, of which 6 million are children under five. Estimated child mortality under five years is 195 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is just 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc being the most important), is a major contributing factor to the high rate of infant mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five years. Micronutrient deficiencies are also widespread.

BGR is currently partnering with Helen Keller International (HKI) to implement a program to improve an understanding of proper feeding practices among young girls and women in Korhogo Health District over the next three years. The primary goal of the project is to decrease the incidence of malnutrition in children during their first 1,000 days of life by training health workers in ENA in the Korhogo Health District. Korhogo Health District, located in the under-served Poro Region in northern Cote d’Ivoire, operates 77 health clinics that serve a target population of around 760,000.
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