OK, so the UN has produced a new report on hunger and says there are now 805 million hungry people in the world. What does that mean? Is it good? Is it bad?
Well, first of all the so-called SOFI report does show progress. There’s a decline of more than 100 million in the ranks of the hungry over the last decade. That’s slightly more people than the population of the Philippines. If you go back to 1990–92, it’s progress of 209 million – a bit more than the population of Brazil.
So that’s substantial. However, if you put it next to the target the world set itself in the Millennium Development Goals, it’s not quite enough. The MDG on hunger, agreed by world leaders in 2000, is to halve the proportion of undernourished people in the world by the end of 2015.
Since the benchmark year of 1990, the proportion of hungry people in developing regions has dropped from 23.4 percent to 13.5 percent, just short of the 11.7 percent target. If current trends continue, it could fall a bit further — to 12.8 percent — by next year. But it’s still not quite enough to meet the goal.
It’s clear then that the rate of reduction needs to be accelerated. And with less than 500 days to go until the deadline to reach the Millennium Development Goals, something needs to shift, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern and Western Asia.
What it boils down to is that ending hunger has to be placed firmly at the centre of the political agenda. Just as a side note, this is one reason why WFP is organising an event at the UN General Assembly next week: to focus attention on the Zero Hunger Challenge – the drive launched by the Secretary General to unite governments, private sector, communities and individuals behind the fight to eradicate hunger.
OK, you might say, so if the world were to commit to those extra efforts to hit the MDG target, what exactly would need to be done?
The actions needed include investments to boost food production and to improve social safety nets to lift people out of extreme poverty. In almost all cases, what’s needed are integrated strategies – in other words, we need to fit our various hunger-fighting programmes together so they support each other.
An example of this from the WFP world is when we get free school meal programmes to buy food from smallholder farmers. This helps to raise those producers’ incomes and stimulates the local supply of more-nutritious foods. The school meals help to keep children in school (a good thing in itself) while ensuring that they get at least one nutritous meal every day.
Of course, the elephant in the room in all of this is war. Conflict is a major driver of hunger and it’s no coincidence that four of WFP’s biggest food assistance operations at present are in countries wracked by conflict – Syria, Iraq, CAR and South Sudan. Here too, real political will is needed. Because if fighting stopped, agriculture and trade could resume, people could return to work, food would be more-accessible to more people. And there would undoubtedly be a reduction in the number of hungry people.