Tag Archives: Social justice

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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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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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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A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading

Giving Girls in Nicaragua the Gift of Education

BGR Staff

2016-09-chicas-colegio-la-esperanza

A partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the North Country Mission of Hope is enabling ninety-four girls in Nicaragua to attend school. The Nicaraguan government mandates that children must wear black enclosed shoes and a uniform with their school insignia in order to attend public school. Considering that rural poverty is a staggering 67%, many poor children in the country are unable to attend school. A family will spend its precious financial resources securing food rather than putting shoes on the feet of their children. Purchasing a school uniform for their children, particularly a girl, is not a priority for survival. Over a third of adults cannot read or write, so they will have little interest in providing their children with the opportunity to obtain an education.

2016-09-corazon-de-jesus

Sadly, over 50% of babies in the country are born to teenage girls. Young mothers become completely dependent on the males in their community. The penal system in Nicaragua lacks laws protecting the rights of women and children, and therefore domestic violence is rampant. Without the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, this cycle will never end for the young women in Nicaragua.

The North Country Mission of Hope and Buddhist Global Relief have recently joined hands to help break this cycle. The North Country Mission of Hope sponsors nineteen rural schools in the barrios surrounding Chiquilistagua, providing a daily school meal, renovating and repairing the facilities as needed, and providing equipment such as school desks, blackboards, chairs, and tables. Through funding provided by BGR, ninety-four girls received sponsorship paying for their school shoes, uniforms, insignia, school supplies, backpack, and bi-annual parasite medicine.

The global partnership between BGR and the North Country Mission of Hope is a demonstration of what can be done when the power of compassion joins hearts in a common cause. The partnership offers these girls a safe haven to go to every day where they receive the gift of an education, necessary nourishment, and the chance to socialize with other children their own age. This generation of females will graduate and secure employment, which will give them financial freedom and a chance to make an impact upon their communities, society, and nation. In the faces of these girls one can see our future leaders—young women who will help make the world a better place for everyone.

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This article is based on a report from North Country Mission of Hope.

Defending the Forests in Cambodia

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Cambodian Monks and Trees

Photograph: Chantal Elkin (Flickr) for Alliance of Religions and Conservation

Forests are the lungs of the world. Their trees suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breathe out oxygen, thereby controlling carbon emissions and helping to maintain a viable planet. They serve as homes to countless varieties of animals, birds, insects, and plants, many with rare medicinal properties. In tropical countries the forests provide a blanket of coolness that protects against the heat of the day. And for centuries the forests have given shelter to Buddhist monks, who resort to them to pursue their quest for peace of mind, wisdom, and the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, nibbāna.

Yet all around the world the forests are in danger. With the growth of global population and the need to expand agricultural production, the world’s forest cover has shrunk drastically. In almost every continent, trees are being cut down at alarming rates by loggers, land developers, and large agricultural firms in order to make room for mono-culture plantations and industrial-scale farms.

Deforestation has been occurring especially rapidly in Cambodia. According to the human rights organization Licadho, between 2000 and 2013 14.4 percent of Cambodia’s jungle disappeared. Over 12 percent of the trees were cut in protected areas. The loss of forest cover portends danger for people, animals, and the climate. As in so many poor countries, profit takes precedence even over survival, as people pursuing short-term aims recklessly undermine the prerequisites for our long-term future.

But the forests have a determined corps of guardians who have risen to their defense: Buddhist monks. The German news agency DW recently posted an article about an organization of Cambodian monks—the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice—that is battling to save the country’s forests. The organization’s leader, Venerable But Buntenh, explained: “No one has told me that I should go out there to protect the forest, but for me it was a logical thing to do. I am doing all I can to save it. I plant new trees, I help the people who live from the forest, I am reminding the government of the promises they’ve made.” A younger monk named Horn Sophanny, who was inspired by Buntenh to join the movement, states: “It is our job to lead society to a better place. We are the symbol of compassion. The pagodas are the roots of our knowledge.”

The monks hold workshops at which they teach local people how to use social media to protect themselves and the jungles near their homes. They receive staunch support from the villagers who live near the forests but have faced strong opposition from the authorities. They have been spied on, threatened, and sued; their workshops are interrupted by village chieftains; their temples have been raided by the police. Even the supreme patriarch of the Buddhist order has criticized them, saying that monks shouldn’t be involved in protests.

But the monks remain undeterred in their determination to protect the forests. Buntenh says: “I don’t think I’m a good monk, because I am mean to the police and to the military. But I’m ready to give everything for my people and the forest. If I have to give my life for it today or tomorrow, then I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality. Continue reading