Although the world currently produces enough food to feed everyone, over a billion men, women and children go to bed hungry every night. Hunger and malnutrition (both under and over-nutrition) continue to be a threat to the overall healthiness of the average human being. Additionally, given current population growth trends, experts predict that there may not be enough food to feed everyone by 2050.
Not surprisingly, it is the urban and rural poor that are more frequently undernourished. They also form the population segments that are the most powerless and without means to withstand the effects of climate change, increasing food and energy prices, the negative impacts of agribusiness, the global marketplace and unfair terms of trade (whether at local, national or international level).
The numbers of hungry and malnourished individuals began to rise in the mid-1990s, and then surged during the 2008 food price crisis. It has been speculated that the number of hungry persons will increase to well over a billion as many staple food prices have continued to rise.
In 2010, a total of 925 million suffered from chronic hunger: 578 million people in the Asia Pacific region, 239 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million hungry in Latin America, 37 million in North and North East Africa, and just a little over 19 million in the developed countries.
For agricultural economies like Pakistan, colossal damage from natural calamities has disrupted food production and affected the food price index within the country and nearby regions. Agriculture has never been high on the development agenda: as an example, in real terms, the share of overseas development aid to agriculture fell from 18% in the 1980s, to less than 4% in 2007.
One of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals was to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. We failed the MDGs and were unable to sustain SDGs.
As we enter 2018, Pakistan is populated at over 200 million people. This growing trend at 35% annually can take the tally to mammoth proportions by 2020. Understanding and awareness of long-term impacts to the people of the country remain unknown to policymakers as ignorance and oblivion remains adamant, where food insecurity will lead to hungry people – a trend amongst major war-torn countries.
Pakistan also has an ailing health sector – due to water scarcity and minimal disease control – which eventually affects food intake, consumption and production. Shockingly, we are still unable to battle Polio and have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the region. Lack of proper food and water has taken people over the edge with famine stricken portions of the country still in dire need of emergency food and water to survive.
The flipside of the coin is over-nutrition. As people change their diets from traditional foods to processed and calorie-dense foods, they are experiencing the health effects – notably cardiovascular problems, diabetes and other lifestyle illnesses – of too much of the wrong type of food. Globally, one of the ten major causes of heart disease remains to be over-nutrition.
So, how do we go about correcting our problems? Improving agricultural practices is only one of the solutions to the hunger problem. More global action is needed to address fundamental issues such as poverty and inequality; climate change and its effects on crop yields; land degradation and desertification; and the depletion of, and growing competition for, the vital resources of land and water.
Similarly, urgent action is necessary to stem the continuing rise in food prices exacerbated by commodity speculation; to discourage the use of land for bio-fuel rather than food production; and the acquisition of land in low-income countries by financial speculators.
Water is also a key challenge. To grow food we need water. Every human being has the right to water and sanitation. The obligation that water and sanitation is available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and safe for all without discrimination, at all times, must be progressively realized by countries within available resources.
States must take concrete and targeted steps towards ensuring universal access to water and sanitation. Where domestic resources are insufficient for such efforts, states must seek international cooperation and assistance. Pakistan is a country ravaged by war where the enemy is fighting to deprive us of water for food, storage and agro-growth, cutting down avenues that lead to prosperity and survival.
The challenge is to create a system in a sustainable manner wherein everyone is food-secure. Hunger and food insecurity involve not only a lack of sufficient food for a healthy life, but also the anxiety associated with meeting future food needs.
Hunger and malnutrition increase people’s vulnerability to shocks and crises, weaken their capacity to produce food and/or to access affordable, nutritious food and undermine their health and future potential. Severe malnutrition permanently impairs children’s capacity to learn. Consequently, providing sufficient nutritious food to everyone is a major goal for all concerned with ensuring people’s well-being – including governments and humanitarian agencies.
Where is the will towards prevention or the will to cure?
By 2014 for example, in Pakistan, education became the provincial responsibility of all provinces. Over three years down the road, the budget allocation to education reform is less than 2%. What the government is showing today is their utter lack of moral responsibility towards basic education while awareness of food and water security remains a lower priority due to bad governance, leading to hunger and malnutrition and an eventual Global Hunger epidemic within the new world order.
By law, there should be zero tolerance for negligence over health issues such as food insecurity and water scarcity as it leads to eventual long term collateral damage. For example, with one of highest population growth rates in emerging nations, Pakistan is the sixth most populated country in the world and with half of the population without access to clean food and water.
With over 53% of the population in Pakistan being women, over seventy percent do not have good primary education and are illiterate and hence unable to look after the health of their children-lacking council, knowledge of medicines, vitamin deficiency and even a pure and complete ignorance of a basic food and diet plan, that would help their children to live and grow healthy.
Global Hunger is a crisis. It is the lack of the right mind-set and the sheer occurrence of inaction towards the basic rights to life- food & water. Whatever the outcome, the solution lies with the people.
The policy makers, who can command good governance fiscal accountability, must put resources where they must be allocated and ensuring swift and immediate resolution. To end this epidemic, we need collective efforts by the state and the government together with the community, media and civil society.
The writer is a Director atCNNA Pakistan– a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.
With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.
A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.