Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

When food security is undermined, so is humankind

Lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food sources severely compromises health, education and employment

Women who fled drought queue for food at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of the Somali capital Mogadishu. AP
Women who fled drought queue for food at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of the Somali capital Mogadishu. AP

The United Nations’ recent report, titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, made for alarming reading. The report, known as Sofi, tracks food security around the world and measures progress towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – namely, achieving zero hunger by the year 2030. Sofi’s findings show how far we are from that point right now. According to the report, 821 million people – or one in nine people – currently face hunger around the world, an increase of 10 million from the previous year. There are two billion people without guaranteed access to food. There is little doubt that eradicating hunger and malnutrition is an extremely challenging mission.

Let’s make no mistake here. This is not just about food consumption and its physiological impact. Accessing food with dignity and respect is a basic human right. Every man, woman and child should have easy and safe access to food at all times. Safe and reliable access to food supplies, the definition of food security, is at the core of many other UN sustainable development goals we hope to achieve by 2030. Food security is a precondition for achieving these as well as many other goals. When food security is undermined, so too are human security and prosperity.

Lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food severely compromises health, education, employment and human security as a whole. When families face hunger, they usually resort to harmful coping mechanisms, such as pulling their children out of school, pushing them into unsafe labour activities, marrying them off at an unreasonably early age and neglecting their health needs and medical care. The effects include loss of opportunity in the future, lack of social integration and the reinforcement of economic and social inequalities.

In the long run, food insecurity can lead to many other dangerous issues that have negative social, political and economic repercussions on communities including radicalisation, extremism, unrest, conflict and displacement.

We reached the moon 50 years ago and dream of what life might be like on Mars, and yet we cannot feed everyone on planet Earth. We must make it a priority to address the underlying causes of hunger and food insecurity first and foremost. That includes tackling issues such as conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks. As Sofi demonstrates, the food crisis last year was driven by a combination of conflicts and climate extremities in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. It was also instigated by instability and violence in places such as in Iraq, Palestine and Central African Republic, while climate variations and extremes triggered crises in countries including Madagascar, Mozambique, El Salvador, Honduras and Malawi. The problems were exacerbated by economic slowdown and downturn in many areas of the world.

When families face hunger they resort to harmful coping mechanisms: pulling children out of school, pushing them into unsafe labour, marrying them off at an early age

What should be done to address the alarming food insecurity situation now facing the world? The World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s leading humanitarian organisation fighting hunger, is working – along with its sister UN agencies, governments and non-government organisations – to break the cycle of conflict and climate degradation that is threatening food security and other development gains. But effective and lasting solutions require more than that. There is an urgent need for wider and deeper partnerships that make full use of global policy platforms. There is also a need to commit to massive investment in disaster-risk reduction and climate adaptation mechanisms to enhance livelihoods and boost resilience. Governments also need to implement adequate remedial social protection programmes and structural transformations that are inclusive and help the poor and that integrate food security and nutrition concerns into efforts to reduce poverty and gender inequality.

It is unfortunate that in a world where we produce more than four billion tons of food, close to 40 per cent of it never reaches those who need it. Between 30 and 50 per cent of the food produced globally is either lost or wasted on its journey from field to fork. If food loss and waste is addressed properly, many hunger and food insecurity problems would be solved and a huge number of related challenges overcome. To achieve that, we should change the way we deal with food availability. If food is distributed in a just and equitable way, and if food loss and waste is minimised or eliminated, there will be major improvements to food availability and security.

Food security is at the core of the global drive for a better, safer, more equitable and more sustainable future. We need to work together to fight climate change, enable peace and eliminate the challenges that obstruct us from achieving our zero hunger target by 2030. Meanwhile governments should make active efforts to invest wisely during periods of economic boom so as to reduce the great levels of economic vulnerability and inequality that plague us today.

Mageed Yahia is director of the World Food Programme in the UAE and representative to the GCC region

Updated: August 13, 2019 06:09 PM

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