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The progress against hunger of recent decades has been one of the most encouraging trends in a world that sometimes seems to lack much hope.
To end hunger altogether, we must be able to produce enough nutritious food to meet everyone’s needs. That is hardly a revelation, but it has sometimes received less attention than warranted. The focus has often been on other essentials, such as ensuring that there is enough food in places where it’s needed and that people can afford to buy the food they need.
Issues such as population growth and climate change pose new food supply challenges and have brought agricultural productivity into the spotlight once again. A population projected to reach 10 billion by 2055 will require “doing more with less.”
Sometimes the connection between hunger and climate change is not immediately obvious. But climate change means droughts, floods, extreme temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, changes in soil composition, new pests and plant diseases, desertification, and numerous other obstacles to food production. Slowing and then halting climate change, as well as enabling people to mitigate the existing damage and damage that is no longer preventable, is vital to ending hunger.
Bread for the World Institute’s recent resources on climate change include:
In this issue of Institute Insights, we look at the link between natural disasters and climate change in Oceania—and people’s resourceful efforts to feed their families. The intersection of poverty and conflict has brought near-famine conditions to Yemen. To prevent further tragedy, both diplomacy and humanitarian assistance are essential. With a record number of people displaced from their homes by climate change and conflict, we discuss options that could reach more people with lifesaving humanitarian assistance. And in the United States, African American leaders are celebrating Black History Month and the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign with renewed commitment to ending hunger wherever it exists.
When world leaders signed on to the Paris Climate Accord, they demonstrated that the world has woken up to the urgency of responding to climate change. Awareness and commitments to action are vital. Now, we need to press decision makers for action.
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
By Stephen Mink
Beyond the beach resorts that generate income and lift the country into the middle-income category, Fiji’s people are navigating a difficult nutritional transition. The population of this archipelago in Oceania faces infant malnutrition, underweight children, and widespread anemia—but increasingly, also high rates of overweight and obesity among youth and adults, with the rise in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that accompany these.
The nutritional picture is changing due to lifestyle changes, a poorer quality diet, and reduced production of traditional food crops for local consumption. In the latest national nutritional survey, more than 60 percent of the population was found to be of unhealthy weight—overweight, obese, or underweight.
This was the context when, in February 2016, Cyclone Winston slammed into Fiji with 200 mph winds—the strongest ever recorded in the Pacific. The 5,000 inhabitants of Koro Island, scattered in 14 coastal villages, sought safety in stronger buildings such as schools and churches. Today, low tide reveals the cinder blocks of destroyed structures washed into the ocean, while the remains of tin roofs are still visible atop a few trees.
Despite a capable disaster response from government, civil society, and international aid organizations, families are still recovering—physically, emotionally, and nutritionally. The recent Christmas season was notable for the sound of pounding hammers, as family members home for the holidays provided extra hands to repair houses and churches. Families gathered to celebrate being together took time to reflect on the struggles to provide sufficient nutritious food for everyone. Some progress has been made, while difficulties remain.
In the days after Cyclone Winston, the villagers of Koro Island took stock of the destruction of their food sources. The wind had stripped tree branches previously bearing breadfruit, papaya, mangos, and other fruits, while the intense rains had carried away much of the annual food crops and a great deal of fertile soil.
Until the trees could recover and once again bear fruit, and re-planted fields once more produce taro, yams, cassava, and assorted vegetables, families needed to rely much more heavily on harvesting fish, shellfish, and edible seaweed from the reefs fringing the island. Village committees decided to temporarily lift the restrictions on reef fishing that the population had instituted to avoid unsustainable exploitation. Ocean resources carried people through the recovery period.
By early 2018, farms were producing again, and the village committees re-imposed restrictions on reef fishing so that marine resources could recover. No net fishing is to be done within an agreed zone demarcated by buoys.
Koro Island made a successful recovery from the cyclone, thanks to coordinated efforts by international, national, and local bodies. The difficulty is that the recovery only returned the population to its previous nutritional levels. Improving nutrition in a sustainable way will require efforts to identify and change the root causes of such problems as infant malnutrition, anemia, and obesity.
One major contributing factor is gender inequity. At family meals, men traditionally eat their fill first, before women and children share what is left in the communal serving dishes. This practice means that food shortages affect the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and young children, first. Single mothers and their children have an even more difficult time getting enough to eat. Village norms often push unmarried women to the fringe of access to farmland and neighborhood food-sharing networks, leaving them more reliant on the strenuous work needed to glean natural resources from unoccupied land.
Improving nutrition for everyone requires overcoming both external and internal factors that contribute to malnutrition. It appears that revising cultural norms to be more fair to women is proving to be as challenging—if not more challenging—as recovering from a devastating cyclone.
Stephen Mink, an agricultural policy specialist, is a volunteer with Bread for the World Institute.
By Faustine Wabwire
A woman clung tightly to her 6-year-old daughter Arifa, as if to protect her from death itself. Her little girl stared helplessly. Hunger had sapped her flesh and muscle, leaving only her bony frame with veins visible under her thin layer of skin. It was evident from her sunken eyes that Arifa, a child once filled with energy, was hours or perhaps only minutes away from dying of starvation.
During my recent travels, including a conference in Cape Town, South Africa, on “Tackling the Root Causes of Migration,” I absorbed many such painful-to-hear stories from people working in war-torn countries. The heartbreaking experiences of millions of people trapped by conflict strengthened my resolve to urge the administration and Congress to act, so that no more mothers will be driven to say, “We will die anyway, from war or hunger.”
What did Arifa do to turn her country into a battleground, with food now being used as a weapon of war? Nothing.
The current near-famine conditions in Yemen are not due to a lack of food in the country. Rather, Arifa and 1 million other children in Yemen are starving because of constraints on distributing food and, especially, on people’s lack of ability to purchase it.
Since November 6, 2017, a Saudi-led military coalition fighting the armed Houthi movement has blockaded Yemen’s two Red Sea ports, Hodeidah and Saleef. This has had a devastating effect because Yemen imports up to 90 percent of its food.
As World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley explained, "Hodeidah Port is a humanitarian lifeline for millions who are on the brink of famine. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure a consistent flow of life-saving food and supplies to the country."
The world’s largest man-made food security crisis is now unfolding right before our eyes. More than three-quarters of Yemen’s population of 29 million need immediate humanitarian assistance—food, medical supplies, water, shelter, and protection. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) projects that more people are likely to go hungry in 2018 than in 2017—and reports from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) indicate that 8.4 million people are at risk of famine, up from 6.8 million in 2017.
The continuing port blockade means that supplies of essential items such as food, medicine, and fuel are limited, dramatically increasing the number of people who need help. Ongoing conflict and economic decline have steadily eroded both the government’s and families’ ability to cope with the crisis. Preventable diseases, including cholera and diphtheria, have struck an already weakened population in all parts of the country. As the Washington Post reported, “One million people have contracted a disease that we've understood how to treat and contain since John Snow sat by a water pump in 1854.”
But there is hope. Last year, more than 1 million people in Al Hudaydah, Yemen, benefited from improvements in water, sanitation, and hygiene, which are critically important to preventing infections, cholera, and other health problems. These are more dangerous for malnourished people because of their weakened immune systems. The funding came largely from a multi-donor pooled funding source.
There are also technological solutions to help reach people with only days or hours to live. For example, on January 17, 2018, Ambassador Mark Green, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced that USAID was providing funding for four mobile cranes at a central Yemeni seaport. The cranes will reduce the time needed to unload ships from a week to as few as three days,"which means food, medicine, and other necessities will reach people more quickly,” said Green.
These examples show that even in areas where life-threatening hunger took hold some time ago, there are ways to prevent death from starvation and disease. We must ask and answer the question: Can we really stand by as Arifa and 1 million other children die? We must guard against the collective paralysis that can take hold when people in donor countries hear about children in situations such as Arifa’s.
Both examples also show that aid organizations must be able to reach people in need with food, supplies, and medical treatment. Aid workers continue to be denied access to regions where people are trapped and death rates are rising. The United States should lead and coordinate diplomatic efforts with global partners to push the Saudi government to allow an immediate return to full-scale humanitarian operations. All warring parties should help protect humanitarian staff and the facilities that make their work possible, and they should cease any undue interference in the work of humanitarian organizations.
Faustine Wabwire is senior international policy advisor with Bread for the World Institute.
By Jordan Teague
The U.S. government is a global leader in providing food assistance to people living with hunger around the world. The Food for Peace program, which provides a large share of this assistance, reached more than 3 billion hungry people in its first 60 years.
Between 2015 and 2016, climate change and prolonged conflict led to a setback in the fight against global hunger, as the number of chronically malnourished people rose from 777 million to 815 million. Faced with crises such as armed conflict and natural disaster, a record number of people—more than 60 million—have been forced to leave their homes and live as displaced people in their own countries or refugees in other countries. Others remain at home, but ongoing crisis may mean that little food is available and/or soaring prices put food out of reach.
In such situations, U.S. food assistance—whether in-kind food aid shipped from the United States, food purchased in local or regional markets, or vouchers to buy food—saves lives.
At the same time, progress on global nutrition is slowing or, in some cases, reversing. An additional 1 million children experienced wasting, a life-threatening type of acute malnutrition, in 2016 than in 2015. Acute malnutrition is a major concern even among those who survive, because many of the people caught in crises are in the 1,000-day critical window for human nutrition, which runs from pregnancy to age 2. Damage from malnutrition during the 1,000 days is generally irreversible. Therefore, all crisis responses should prioritize providing the right nutrition at the right time to treat children who are already acutely malnourished and to prevent others from becoming malnourished.
While the current U.S. food aid system contains some provisions that allow for local or regional purchase of food or providing food purchase vouchers, it is mainly geared toward shipping in-kind food commodities from the United States to countries in need. In addition, while USAID has made efforts to improve the nutritional quality of these in-kind commodities, simple reforms to the system could enable food aid to reach more women and children, more quickly, with more nutritious foods.
These proposed food aid reforms could reach up to 10 million more women and children with nutritional support and prevent up to 38,000 children from dying of malnutrition, all without increasing funding levels. The United States should strive to get the most nutritional impact from every dollar spent, and food aid reform is one way to do this that can be instituted right away.
For more information, read our new background paper, “Advancing Nutrition through Food Aid Reform.”
Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin
February is Black History Month, a time to reflect and celebrate African American leaders from our past and present. Many of these leaders have fought to end hunger and poverty in the United States and abroad. From famous trailblazers such as Marian Wright Edelman and A. Philip Randolph to faith champions such as Iva Carruthers and Bishop Lawrence Reddick, this month is about lifting up leaders who are committed to ending hunger wherever it exists.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, many black faith leaders came together to work for better jobs, homes, education, health care, and dignity for all low-income people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or region. We know from research that decent jobs, affordable housing, good health care, and quality education are key to families’ ability to rise above food insecurity. Even a half-century ago, the leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign realized that solidarity and an inclusive vision are essential to ending hunger and malnutrition.
With their hard work, they brought together thousands of low-income people from all racial backgrounds and regions across the country—from Appalachia, the South, Native American reservations, and more—to rally against economic hardship. Despite the assassination of Dr. King, the campaign’s leader, they persevered.
Their efforts helped spur progress—for example, we no longer see conditions caused by chronic malnutrition, such as rickets, that affected children in Appalachia in the 1960s. Still, the United States has poverty rates that are far too high for a wealthy country such as ours—and completely unnecessary. We must continue to urge our nation’s decision makers to make ending hunger and extreme poverty a top priority.
The United States has set a goal of ending hunger, in our country and around the world, by 2030. The contributions of Black leaders, at all levels, are especially important to achieving this goal since hunger rates have remained stagnant for many Americans and have increased among some groups, including African Americans (21.5 percent in 2016 to 22.5 percent in 2017).
As we celebrate Black History Month, we encourage everyone to continue to advocate for an end to hunger—for African Americans and for all people. For faith resources to support your work, see our newly-released guide, "In Times Like These ... A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement."
Marlysa D. Gamblin is a domestic advisor for policy and programs for specific populations at Bread for the World Institute.
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