Eliminating hunger by 2030 need not be a lost cause

Laggards like India need to take challenges head on, instead of living in denial


November 10, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Eliminating hunger by 2030 need not be a lost cause

One of the largest food producers in world, India is also home to world's largest number of hungry & malnourished people

Despite hunger and malnutrition having become even bigger problems due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 pandemic, the world need not write off its target of eliminating hunger by 2030 as part of UN Sustainable Development Goals. But for this governments in problem countries like India and elsewhere need to quit living in denial about the issue and the enormous challenges it puts on the society.

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Findings in the latest report by Global Hunger Index on the situation of hunger worldwide should not have been a surprise most experts had been warning that hunger was becoming more widespread due to numerous factors like drop in harvests due to climate change, the Ukraine war and a record high inflation. Yet when the GHI revealed the severity of hunger, it did come as a shock to most.

Not only does the latest report warn of an alarming hunger in far too many countries, but it also said that decades of progress in tackling hunger in many countries was being eroded. According to the GHI, as many as 828 million people around the world were undernourished in 2021. As many as 44 countries had serious or alarming hunger level, with the situation in 20 of these being worse than in 2014, the last comparable report.

GHI is not the only report to raise alarm about the situation of hunger in the world. Earlier, in May, the Global Report on Food Crises, published by the UN’s World Food Programme said that a record high of nearly 193 million people across 53 countries were acutely food insecure, meaning that their lives or livelihood were in danger. It represented a massive 80 pc rise in number of people in such precarious situation from 2016, or barely six years.

Both the reports warn that the situation is almost certain to become worse in 2023 due to numerous crises like climate change, conflict as well as lingering economic impact of Covid-19. What makes the situation even more challenging for the world is that the countries facing worst hunger are also those with other challenges such as poverty, inequality and poor infrastructure, making it even harder to tackle the problem of food as simply even flooding the market with food would not help.

Extreme hunger and poverty are deeply intertwined and hence it is no surprise the problem is far more severe in places like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where most of the global poor are concentrated and hence where most of the urgent action is required. However, so far there is little evidence of governments in these countries stepping up to meet the challenges head on, instead many continue to live in denial.

India, for instance, is home to the world’s largest population of poor and extremely poor people. It is also home to the world’s largest number of undernourished and malnourished people and with highest rate of child wasting and stunting.

However, instead of taking the GHI and even the earlier UN WFP index seriously, the Indian government quickly dismissed the reports as not being based on ground reality, even though the same problems have crept up the carefully manicured data released by various government agencies themselves. But India is not alone in being dismissive of the problems, many other governments remain blind to the problems and fail to give it the priority it needs.

The global community remains largely uninvolved, leaving a few multilateral agencies like the UNWFP or aid organisations struggling to organise the resources needed to tackle the immediate problems at hand.

The situation is likely to worsen in the immediate future as none of the three major drivers of hunger are likely to disappear soon. Even if the conflict in Ukraine, which is the easiest of the lot to resolve, gets over in the next few months, one way or the other, the impact of supply chain disruptions caused by it as well as the lost harvests or low crop yields due to unavailability of fertilisers is expected to continue to linger on for several months or even years before the situation stabilises.

The other big issue driving hunger is conflict, which is widespread in the areas hit by hunger, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in parts of Asia. The prognostic on most of these conflicts is hardly encouraging as the main hotspots like Ethiopia, RDC, West Africa or pockets of West Asia and countries like Myanmar are likely to stay the same or even worsen in 2023.

But the biggest challenge for tackling hunger is climate change which is global and is impacting harvests in every single nation, driving up uncertainty about food availability, not only for the people at the bottom of the pile, but also the lower middle classes and even the middle classes as some items are likely to disappear from the kitchens and dining tables if food prices continue to spiral as they have been since the pandemic began.

Dark the situation may be, but it is not a lost cause yet. Despite all the challenges, the global food production has been rising, give or take an exceptionally bad year. So, the world has enough to feed everyone adequately vanquish hunger and malnutrition. The challenges are mainly two-fold. One is infrastructure to transport from the production areas to the areas where it is needed and to store it there. The other challenge lies in access, in terms of affordability. Most of the malnourished persons can only afford take in calories rather than proteins, vitamins or other nutrients needed for a healthy body and mind.

With the use of technology and better farming techniques to optimise harvest, without destroying the soil or cause long-term damage to the environment, it is possible to sustain agriculture production to ensure that every mouth is fed properly, despite the impact of climate change which is leading to prolonged droughts as well as flash floods or excess rainfall, all of which are calamitous for farming.

What the world is sorely missing is the right approach to tackle hunger. First, the governments of the affected countries need to admit to the problem’s existence and undertake all it takes to counter that and ensure that every one is fed properly and every day. For this, the governments must ensure that everyone has access to free or subsidised food, nutritious and wholesome rather than just foodgrains.

These programmes are of course expensive and at times beyond the reach of some countries. It is here that the international community ought to step in and play its role. Though there is rising awareness about food wastage, the amount of food being wasted in the rich countries is still so large that it can ensure that millions of people are well-fed throughout the year. The rich countries also need to keep up their commitments of contributions to international bodies like the World Food Programme as well as numerous charities that run food aid programmes.

Hunger can be tackled, but only collectively.



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