The New Face Of Hunger
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The price of food is soaring. The threat of hunger and malnutrition is growing. Millions of the world’s most vulnerable people are at risk.
An effective and urgent response is needed.
The first of the Millennium Development Goals, set by world leaders at the U.N. summit in 2000, aims to reduce the proportion of hungry people by half by 2015. This was already a major challenge, not least in Africa, where many nations have fallen behind. But we are also facing a perfect storm of new challenges.
The prices of basic staples — wheat, corn, rice — are at record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months. Global food stocks are at historic lows. The causes range from rising demand in major economies such as India and China to climate- and weather-related events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts that have devastated harvests in many parts of the world. High oil prices have increased the cost of transporting food and purchasing fertilizer. Some experts say the rise of biofuels has reduced the amount of food available for humans.
The effects are widely seen. Food riots have erupted from West Africa to South Asia. In countries where food has to be imported to feed hungry populations, communities are rising to protest the high cost of living. Fragile democracies are feeling the pressure of food insecurity. Many governments have issued export bans and price controls on food, distorting markets and presenting challenges to commerce.
In January, to cite one example, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed for $77 million to help provide food for more than 2.5 million people pushed over the edge by rising prices. He drew attention to an alarming fact: The average Afghan household now spends about 45 percent of its income on food, up from 11 percent in 2006.
This is the new face of hunger, increasingly affecting communities that had previously been protected. Inevitably, it is the “bottom billion” who are hit hardest: people living on one dollar a day or less. When people are that poor, and inflation erodes their meager earnings, they generally do one of two things: They buy less food, or they buy cheaper, less nutritious food. The result is the same — more hunger and less chance of a healthy future. The U.N. World Food Program is seeing families that previously could afford a diverse, nutritious diet dropping to one staple and cutting their meals from three to two or one a day.