Let’s End Chronic Hunger
By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
30 May, 2015
Inter Press Service
At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.
The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2015 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates almost 795 million people — one in nine people worldwide — remain chronically hungry.
The number of undernourished people — those regularly unable to consume enough food for an active and healthy life — in the world has thus only declined by slightly over a fifth from the 1010.6 million estimated for 1991 to 929.6 million in 2001, 820.7 million in 2011 and 794.6 million in 2014.
With the number of chronically hungry people in developing countries declining from 990.7 million in 1991 to 779.9 million in 2014, their share in developing countries has declined by 44.4 per cent, from 23.4 to 12.9 per cent over the 23 years, but still short of the 11.7 per cent target.
Thus, the MDG 1c target of halving the chronically undernourished’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 is unlikely to be met at the current rate of progress. However, meeting the target is still possible, with sufficient, immediate, additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress thus far.
Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 15 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases.
By the end of 2014, 72 of the 129 developing countries monitored had reached the MDG 1c target — to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the chronically undernourished under five per cent. Several more are likely to do so by the end of 2015.
Instead of halving the number of hungry in developing regions by 476 million, this number was only reduced by 221 million, just under half the earlier, more ambitious WFS goal. Nevertheless, some 29 countries succeeded in at least halving the number of hungry. This is significant as this shows that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.
Marked differences in undernourishment persist across the regions. There have been significant reductions in both the share and number of undernourished in most countries in South-East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean — where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached.
While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished. West Asia alone has seen an actual rise in the share of the hungry compared to 1991, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.
Efforts need to be stepped up
Despite the shortfall in achieving the MDG1c target and the failure to get near the WFS goal of halving the number of hungry, world leaders are likely to commit to eliminating hunger and poverty by 2030 when they announce the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations in September.
To be sure, there is enough food produced to feed everyone in the world. However, hundreds of millions of people do not have the means to access enough food to meet their dietary energy needs, let alone what is needed for diverse diets to avoid ‘hidden hunger’ by meeting their micronutrient requirements.
With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome by 2030 without universally establishing a social protection floor for all. Such efforts will also need to provide the means for sustainable livelihoods and resilience.
The Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome last November articulated commitments and proposals for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition. Improvements in nutrition will require sustained and integrated efforts involving complementary policies, including improving health conditions, food systems, social protection, hygiene, water supply and education.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.
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