Elimination of hunger in our lifetime can be a reality
Opinion: In a time of plenty, no child should suffer hunger
‘Hunger steals a child’s future. The effects of hunger do not stop there. Hunger exacts a heavy toll on national economies.’ Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
It is a tragedy that in today’s world hunger still threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, devastating children’s futures as it did in Ireland only generations ago.
As we all know, in the 1840s, famine and starvation killed a higher proportion of the population of Ireland than they have done in any other famine anywhere in recorded history.
Today, improved national and international responses thankfully mean that famines are rare, but the heavy toll of chronic hunger, affecting those who simply do not get enough of the nutritious food they need for a healthy diet, remains a devastating reality in too many communities around the world.
One-quarter of the world’s children under five – some 165 million – suffer from stunting or early-life growth failure. We now understand that stunted girls and boys are more likely to underperform in school. Moreover, when they mature they are more likely to earn lower wages, to have children at an earlier age, to experience poorer health and to live a life of poverty. Hunger steals a child’s future.
The effects of hunger do not stop there. Hunger exacts a heavy toll on national economies. Compelling evidence gathered by the World Food Programme and national governments from the Cost of Hunger studies in Africa revealed the crushing impact of hunger on the economies of sub-Saharan African countries.
At the same time, many of these same countries are experiencing impressive economic growth. Unless hunger and chronic malnutrition are addressed, these twin ailments will continue to drag them backwards and undermine the long-term sustainability of any economic gains.
Today we are fortunate to understand not only the cost of hunger but also what we must do to eliminate it worldwide. To address the economic impact of chronic hunger, we need the right mix of policies that allow urban and rural families to sustainably access healthy and nutritious food.
Equity must be hard-wired into all our global efforts to ensure nobody is left behind. We must recognise that income inequality is a significant factor that lies behind the failure of most of the world’s poor and hungry to meet their food needs.
Economic growth must be inclusive, supporting employment and incomes for the most vulnerable and better access to markets for businesses and farms.
Meeting the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable will require more than economic growth alone; growth must be accompanied by investments in nutrition, safety nets and social protection.