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As Thanksgiving approaches, we think not only of food, family, and gratitude for what we have, but also of the need for peace before we can enjoy any of the rest. Unlike national Thanksgiving celebrations of the past, for several years now we have also been acutely aware of the need to protect the health of the planet in the face of climate change. The ability to grow crops and ensure adequate supplies of clean water are also essential to human life, and we celebrate these at Thanksgiving as well.
Bread for the World Institute continues to emphasize that conflict and climate change are behind most of today’s global hunger and malnutrition. In this issue, we ask how the federal government can help Puerto Rico. The two major hurricanes of the past several weeks struck in a context of already high levels of hunger and food insecurity among these U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico’s pre-hurricane hunger rates were not only much higher than the national average, but also much higher than even the hungriest of the 50 states. This issue also looks at conflict on a political and social level in the United States. Is it related to growing income inequality, and can social protection programs help ease it?
In the past several weeks, many stakeholders in the international community met in New York for the U.N. General Assembly and in Washington, DC, for the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings, as they do every year at this time. On the agenda were a myriad of global challenges—climate change; income and wealth inequality; the near-famine conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen; the future of work; mobilizing local communities to work toward the Global Goals, including ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition; and more. It was great to see a focus on investing in people and building resilience.
The importance of good nutrition as being foundational was reflected in the General Assembly speech of President Emmanuel Macron of France, in which he said of France’s global development priorities: “The second priority is to invest in health, in the fight to eradicate major pandemics and malnutrition, because there is no hope when people cannot be trained or treated.”
The importance of nutrition was also the focus of several side events of the two gatherings — for example, Investing in the Early Years, focused on early childhood development and held during UNGA, and the Human Capacity Summit at the World Bank Annual Meeting. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also launched its Goalkeepers Report at UNGA; this report highlighted the impressive progress against stunting in Peru. This issue of Institute Insights includes more on UNGA and more on nutrition, specifically progress made at the Committee on World Food Security’s 44th session in October.
Conflict and climate change are formidable barriers to ending hunger, but there is growing international recognition of the need to both find and implement effective solutions. And more attention to improving nutrition, particularly for babies and toddlers, is something we can all be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
By Cynthia Woodside
Thankfully, people in the United States, unlike those in countries such as South Sudan and Syria, are not enduring civil war. But neither is the United States free from conflict or from violence. Some of it is longstanding, such as our high murder rate compared with other developed countries, while other forms are sometimes at high levels and other times fade from the headlines, such as our bitterly polarized political environment or hate crimes against racial and religious minorities.
The causes of these and other types of conflict and violence are, not surprisingly in a country as large and diverse as the United States, numerous and complex. One contributing factor that has become more significant recently is the continuing rise in economic inequality — inequality of both income and wealth. It is said that in capitalism, some degree of inequality is inevitable. Just how much depends on which economist you ask, but “winners” and “losers” may be innate to capitalism. Even if this is true, Americans must decide how much inequality is acceptable in the kind of society we want to live in — the kind without hunger.
Societies can take, and have taken, action to reduce the gulf between winners and losers. In turn, this will reduce conflict. During economic boom times, even the “losers” will usually enjoy at least modest economic gains. While wealthy people are reaching higher heights, the rest of the country can still be making progress toward goals such as purchasing a home, sending their children to college, or simply making ends meet.
The “America, we have a problem” becomes far more obvious when economic gains go mostly to the wealthiest and even the slow progress at the bottom stalls. That is where we are now. The incomes of many Americans have been stagnant for a generation, while the few at the top — particularly the 0.1 percent with the highest incomes — continue to get wealthier.
In such situations, people naturally search for who or what is responsible when they can’t get ahead or even pay their bills, and the returns on their hard work appear to be going to those already at the top or to some other group of people. Often, the blame falls on government institutions and/or on those “others” — people from other countries, other races, other ethnicities, other religions. The search for someone to blame too often leads to divisions, conflict, and sometimes violence.
One way the United States tries to ease the negative impacts of our economic system on those who end up at the bottom is through the federal government’s social protection programs. The basis for social protection is a straightforward belief that in our country, success should not be determined by the zip code where a person is born. Everyone should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and pursue their dreams.
Programs that are universal, or available to everyone, are broadly popular — after all, nearly everyone can get behind fulfilling potential and chasing dreams. Examples of universal programs include Social Security and Medicare for older Americans and free public K-12 education for children and teens.
Means-tested programs, meaning those only available to people living in or near poverty, enjoy less popular support. They have also had varying levels of success. Two programs that are “entitlements,” meaning that if people meet the eligibility requirements, they receive benefits, are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Both have been highly successful for many years in lifting millions of individuals and families out of poverty.
In contrast, the benefits of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the cash assistance program usually known as “welfare,” have diminished over time. In 1996, federal policymakers changed TANF from an entitlement program to a block grant, meaning that if people qualify, they only get benefits while a set funding amount lasts. By 2015, only 23 out of 100 families living below the poverty line received any cash assistance, down from 68 families when TANF was first enacted in 1996. The poverty line is currently $24,600 a year for a family of four in most states and slightly more in Alaska and Hawaii.
Another critical program in the U.S. social protection system is Medicaid, a lifeline connecting people living in poverty to medical care. Medicaid is currently an entitlement, but some members of Congress continue to push proposals to make it a block grant.
As successful as SNAP and the EITC are in helping to lift people out of poverty, the U.S. social protection system is significantly weaker than those of other industrialized nations. Without the universal social programs they offer, these more egalitarian nations would have a broader gap between their economic winners and losers — and would very likely experience more conflict and violence. Using the U.S.-adopted Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap to create a more robust system of support could help ease not only the struggle to make ends meet, but the fear and frustration levels of those being left behind — and potentially our country’s high levels of conflict and violence as well.
Cynthia Woodside is senior domestic policy advisor with Bread for the World Institute.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin
In our 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, Bread for the World Institute explores how climate change contributes to hunger. The recent natural disasters in the Caribbean, Texas, and Florida have displaced families and destroyed homes. The things needed for people to access sufficient nutritious food--available cash, stable jobs, grocery stores, etc. — have been compromised.
Perhaps the most lasting damage was in Puerto Rico, where 3.4 million U.S. citizens face a humanitarian crisis.
Hunger in Puerto Rico before Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck was approaching 50 percent — nearly four times as high as hunger on the U.S. mainland. Food insecurity among children was also far higher than in the 50 states. As of mid-October, with continuing shortages of clean water, food, power, and electricity in the aftermath of the hurricanes, Bread for the World Institute believes that about 80 percent of the population, regardless of income, suffers from food insecurity.
Climate change makes communities vulnerable to food insecurity. Four out of five people who are hungry live in areas susceptible to natural disaster. Natural disasters force many people to leave their homes and livelihoods for uncertain prospects elsewhere.
Places such as Puerto Rico that already had high hunger rates are more vulnerable to deeper levels of hunger when a disaster strikes. This is largely because of both a lack of funds and a lack of adequate infrastructure to respond effectively to a large-scale natural disaster. Combined with the economic struggles Puerto Ricans have faced in recent years, including a major debt crisis, these conditions create a perfect storm. It will be difficult for Puerto Ricans to overcome these barriers to the extent necessary to move forward from here.
What now? How should the U.S. government respond to widespread hunger and food insecurity in Puerto Rico?
Aid delivery has been slow so far. One reason is that, because of the Jones Act, supplies imported by sea must originate from or be shipped through the continental United States. This lengthens the time it takes for supplies to arrive and increases prices. But in an emergency such as this, there is simply not enough time or money to comply with such restrictions. More flexibility is essential in order to spare people from hunger and other needless suffering.
The photos and videos of Puerto Rico are devastating. Residents are struggling to access basic necessities. As of mid-October, at least 48 people have died as a result of the hurricanes. While it will take years to recover fully from the damage, sufficient emergency relief will at least help avert a humanitarian crisis among our fellow Americans. Food, clean water, medications and health care, shelter, and electricity are top priorities.
In late October, Congress approved $36.5 billion in emergency relief funding for Puerto Rico and other areas affected by hurricanes and wildfire, but it is unclear how much of this amount would be designated specifically for Puerto Rico. Also, it appears that the funds could be used only for relief operations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and for flood insurance. It would be useful to allocate some funding to additional federal agencies who could assist the recovery effort. These could potentially include the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Small Business Administration (SBA).
The bottom line is that Americans are going hungry, and the federal government should ensure that the assistance they need reaches them as quickly as possible.
Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor for policy and programs, specific populations, with Bread for the World Institute.
By Faustine Wabwire
In September, the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) took place in New York. Representatives from several sectors of the global community — government leaders, civil society, and the business community — gathered to deliberate how to accelerate progress on the Global Goals.
On September 15, just before UNGA began, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its flagship report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. The report paints a sobering picture: after steadily declining for more than a decade, world hunger appears to be on the rise again, affecting 815 million people in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. This is 11 percent of the global population. It is still less than the estimated 900 million in 2000, and this progress was made even though the population increased in the meantime. The increase of 38 million people over the previous year is largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks.
The report’s findings are consistent with Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities. We emphasize that conflict is one of the most significant remaining barriers to ending hunger and malnutrition. Achieving food security is a complex process because there are many “moving parts.” It requires a holistic approach that encompasses preventing and treating all forms of malnutrition, raising the productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, building the resilience of food production systems, ensuring the use of natural resources in sustainable ways that preserve biodiversity, and more.
For many participating nations, UNGA was an opportunity to emphasize the urgency of the problem of climate change and the damage it has caused in their communities. They raised the question of how the global community can rally to respond to emergencies, support recovery plans, and build resilience for the future.
The world faces enormous challenges today, from the devastation of livelihoods by hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, to the new data showing a spike in world hunger in 2016. How can we ensure that there is progress toward the Global Goals and that their guiding principle — ensuring that no one is left behind — is honored in the process?
There is overwhelming evidence of the need to strengthen the local capacity of country systems and communities for resilience. Yet the focus — and funding — remains primarily on meeting emergency needs. Of course, efforts to meet urgent needs, in situations with children’s lives at immediate risk, are a high priority. The resources they require far outweigh commitments and action on longer-term investments in key sectors such as agriculture — and these are vital to ending the cycle of emergencies and enabling people to build lasting food security.
Currently, more attention and resources are needed to address the root causes of conflict — and thus of hunger. The declaration of famine in parts of South Sudan between February and June of 2017, and the continuing near-famine conditions in Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen as well as South Sudan, mean that the international community and national governments have not invested sufficiently in long-term development.
An important step forward would be to support programs that help bridge the gap that arises when short-term humanitarian relief workers have left for the next emergency, but few people are well-nourished and food secure. Another key ingredient in “ending hunger for good” is inclusive peace-building initiatives that can ultimately bring an end to the destructiveness of war and enable communities to plan for the future.
The international community has a responsibility to help address the root causes of conflict and commit to bold action on climate change. Preventing conflict and galvanizing diplomacy for peace are essential to achieving the broader development gains of a Zero-Hunger world. This is why, in his first U.N. General Assembly as Secretary-General, António Guterres issued a call to action for the international community: to move from “a world in pieces” to “a world at peace.”
Faustine Wabwire is senior international policy advisor with Bread for the World Institute.
By Jordan Teague
The Committee on World Food Security, the main and most inclusive international intergovernmental platform for stakeholders to work toward food security and nutrition, met for its 44th session in October. At each CFS meeting, the governments of U.N. member states, both low-income and high-income countries, come together with U.N. agencies, the private sector, and civil society. In addition to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil society participants include social movements, indigenous peoples, and those most affected by hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. All of these actors learn from each other and agree on frameworks, principles, and voluntary guidelines to accelerate progress toward fulfilling the CFS mission: food security and nutrition for all.
For the third time in CFS history, CFS44 dedicated an entire day to the topic of nutrition. In recent years, CFS, like the rest of the global community, has increasingly understood the importance of nutrition for human and economic development. Nutrition has increasingly been a part of CFS work, but in the coming year, CFS will step up its involvement. Under the framework of the Decade of Action on Nutrition, it will develop a more substantive nutrition work stream and formulate specific major policy outcomes.
The start of this work comes with the launch of the report from the High Level Panel of Experts on Nutrition and Food Systems. The report explores how food systems influence people’s dietary choices and nutritional outcomes. It also offers examples of effective policies and programs around the world — ways of influencing food systems to produce and distribute, and influencing people to consume, nutritious food in a sustainable manner.
The report offers a set of overarching recommendations, particularly focused on several specific parts of the food system: supply chains, food environments, and consumers. Many of the recommendations are similar to ones that Bread for the World Institute has been advocating for some time:
In addition, the HLPE report recommends a focus on how trade and investment agreements impact food environments and diets; conflicts of interest; and the quality of food environments.
The next steps for CFS on nutrition are to develop its nutrition work stream through a highly inclusive consultative process and then to draft guidelines or policies on nutrition to be debated and approved at next year’s CFS, the 45th session. The products developed are intended to serve as a guide for all stakeholders to use when planning and implementing efforts on nutrition, and they should contribute to progress under the Decade of Action on Nutrition.
Jordan Teague is international policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.
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