A selection of UN TV programmes, webcasts and video clips on issues in the news

Friday, 23 December 2011

Almost a billion hungry and malnourished: Challenges of a failing global food system

World Disasters Report 2011


International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

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World Disasters Report 2011 - Focus on hunger and malnutrition

This year’s World Disasters Report focuses on the growing crisis of hunger and malnutrition. Smallholder farmers who produce half the world’s food are among the almost 1 billion people who go to bed hungry every night. Millions of children suffer the irreversible effects of undernutrition. Increasing food insecurity weakens people’s resilience to disasters and disease, and people everywhere are experiencing the increasing volatility of food prices.

This report analyses the causes and impacts of such vulnerability at community, national and international levels – during and after emergencies, and from a longer-term perspective. It examines the challenges of the globalized nature of food-related vulnerabilities, and the need for a cross-disciplinary approach. The report acknowledges the complexities involved, that the issues of global food security, hunger and malnutrition go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system, from international trade to climate change, from water scarcity to scientific innovation. What political action is needed to reform a failing global food system unlikely to provide sufficient food for a population projected to rise to 9 billion by 2050?

The World Disasters Report 2011 features:

* Reworking the global food system
* Stunted lives: the disaster of undernutrition
* Continued price instability questions reliance on global food markets
* Achieving livelihood stability through agriculture and social protection
* Responding to food insecurity and malnutrition in crises
* Getting it right – united against hunger: a manifesto for change

Plus a section on reforms needed in the humanitarian sector to prepare for more mega-disasters such as those experienced in 2010–2011 and for the range of complex disasters likely to occur in the future.
Plus photos, tables, graphics and index.

Published annually since 1993, the World Disasters Report brings together the latest trends, facts and analysis of contemporary crises – whether ‘natural’
or man-made, quick onset or chronic.

Informe Mundial sobre Desastres 2011 - Resumen

The global food system is failing almost 1 billion hungry and malnourished people. What can and should be done to overcome this?

For decades, images of starving people have stirred the world’s conscience. Less visible have been the millions who experience chronic hunger – today, nearly 1 billion or almost one in seven people worldwide.
How can we deny that there is a huge ongoing crisis when a world that currently produces enough food to feed everyone fails to do so – partly due to increasing inequalities, food and land becoming tradable commodities or commodities being sold to the highest bidder and thus violating everyone’s fundamental right to sufficient nutritious food?

Across the globe, it is the poor, the majority living in rural areas but increasing numbers in urban areas, who experience hunger. They are also the powerless, those without the means to withstand the effects of climate change, increasing food and energy prices, and the negative impacts of agribusiness, the global marketplace and unfair terms of trade (whether at local, national or international level). In some countries where hunger is endemic, governments struggle to provide the range of services needed to prevent hunger and malnutrition – social protection, adequate potable water and sanitation, infrastructure, education, support for women and, most importantly, employment and empowerment.

To a large extent, today’s food crisis has caught the world by surprise. For some decades there was a slow decline in the number of hungry people. Agriculture has never been high on the development agenda; in real terms, the share of overseas development aid to agriculture fell from just 18 per cent in the 1980s to less than 4 per cent in 2007. The numbers of hungry and malnourished people began to rise in the mid-1990s and then soared during the 2008 food price crisis. There are dire predictions of the number of hungry people increasing to well over 1 billion as many staple food prices continue to rise.

One of the targets of the first Millennium Development Goal is to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. In many countries, there is little hope of meeting this rather modest goal without an investment of around US$ 75 billion in agriculture and social protection.

The flipside of the coin is overnutrition. Well over 1 billion people in low- and middle-income as well as in high-income countries are overweight or obese. 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 death is heart disease.

This edition of the World Disasters Report 2011 highlights that the issues of global food security, hunger and malnutrition go to the core of virtually all the major components and functions of the international system, from international trade to climate change, from water scarcity to scientific innovation.

We must tackle hunger and malnutrition – and fast. Given the likelihood of the global population increasing by 3 billion by 2050, experts predict there may not be enough food to feed everyone. Hunger and malnutrition (both under- and overnutrition) are as much a threat to the world’s health as any disease.
National governments must acknowledge the right to food by implementing effective hunger prevention programmes. They need to increase investments in agriculture in a way that is fair, equitable and sustainable.
Both governments and donors should promote the participation of local farmers and acknowledge their wisdom and experience. More than half the number of people who go to bed hungry every night are women, and in many countries, at least 50 per cent are small farmers who are too often ignored and unsupported. Recent research estimates that productivity on farms would increase by up to 20 per cent if gender discrimination were to be eradicated.

Improving agricultural practices is only one of the solutions to prevent hunger. More global action is needed to tackle fundamental and related issues such as poverty and inequality; climate change and its effects on lower crop yields, land degradation and desertification; and the depletion of, and growing competition for, 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 biofuel rather than food production, and the acquisition of land in low-income countries by financial speculators.

Some might argue that all this is idealistic. However, this report features very concrete examples of good practice in agriculture and research, social movements empowering people, the use of new technologies and, at a global level, a more determined approach to prevent hunger and improve nutrition. The risk is that such improvements will be reversed because governments (both rich and poor) fail to tackle vested interests, fail to confront the major threats confronting the world over the next few decades and fail to protect and empower their most vulnerable citizens.

Decisive and sustained actions will be key for a world free of hunger and malnutrition. It is possible.

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