By J Nastranis
Ahead of the World Food Day on October 16 and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17, the United Nations Is warning that the world is not on track to end hunger and poverty by 2030 – and hence missing the deadline for achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September 2015.
“This is especially troubling because eradicating poverty and hunger, the first and second Sustainable Development Goals, are key to and a prerequisite for meeting all the other goals,” says Máximo Torero, Chief Economist and Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
As a development economist, he adds, he cannot overemphasize the interlinkages between these goals. Zero hunger, for example, integrates and links food security, nutrition and sustainable, climate-resilient agriculture.
“Nowhere is the need for breaking down the silos as urgent as around the SDGs. This means doubling down on the efforts to spur progress towards goal 1 and 2, especially in countries that are struggling,” continues Torero.
The UN points out that globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty – on US $1.90 a day – has dropped massively, from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015. But the pace of poverty reduction is slowing down and current projections suggest that 6% of the world’s population will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030.
Also, achieving the 2030 goal of Zero Hunger, in other words ensuring that nobody goes hungry wherever they are in the world, remains a major challenge. In fact, hunger is on the rise in some parts of the world, and some 821 million people are considered to be “chronically undernourished”. And this despite the fact that enough food is produced today to feed everyone on the planet.
The hunger problem persists: particularly in Africa and South America, where there are new indications that undernourishment and severe food insecurity are on the rise. In Sub-Saharan Africa the number of undernourished people has increased, from some 195 million in 2014, to 237 million in 2017. Poor nutrition causes nearly half of deaths in children under five in the region, some 3.1 million children per year.
On the other hand, rapid economic growth and increased agricultural productivity over the last two decades has contributed to a drop by almost a half in the number of people in the world who aren’t getting enough to eat. The regions such as Central and East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean are making great strides in eradicating extreme hunger. However, that’s against a background of the global population rising by nearly two billion.
According to a recent World Food Programme (WFP) analysis, the causes of increased hunger include environmental degradation and drought – both of which are impacted by climate change – as well as conflict.
The lack of biodiversity in agriculture is also a cause for concern, and is held responsible for homogenous diets which limit access to food, leading to persistent malnutrition and poverty: current agricultural production revolves around just 12 crops, and around 60 per cent of all calories consumed come from just four crops: rice, wheat corn and soy, despite the wealth of potential foodstuffs around the world.
Whilst there is no silver bullet to solving hunger, the World Food Programme has outlined a vision that breaks the issue down into five steps.
- More protection for the most vulnerable. Expanding social protection for the poorest would raise the purchasing power of the poorest two billion, kickstarting local economies
- Improve infrastructure. Ensure consumers and suppliers can more easily buy and sell, by building better roads, storage facilities and extending electrification
- Reduce food waste. Around one third of the food produced each year is loss or wasted, costing the global economy some $1 trillion per year
- Grow a wider variety of crops. Around 60 per cent of all calories consumed come from just four crops: rice, wheat corn and soy. Ensuring food access and availability in the face of climate change will require the production of a wider range of foods.
- Focus on child nutrition. Good health and nutrition in a child’s first 1,000 days is essential to prevent stunting and promote healthy development.
Concerns about persistent poverty and hunger are being aired within days of several high-level meetings at the UN headquarters in New York as the 74th session of the General Assembly (GA) kicked off. On September 23, Secretary-General António Guterres convened the Climate Summit and the UNGA held a one-day high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage.
Following the opening of the general debate, the UNGA convened on September 24-25 the SDG Summit –the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. On September 26, the UNGA held a high-level dialogue on financing for development (FfD), as well as a high-level meeting on the elimination of nuclear weapons.
On September 27, the UNGA held the high-level meeting to review progress made in addressing the priorities of small island developing States (SIDS) through the implementation of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway.
All the themes that drew the focus in these high-level meetings are crucial to translating into action the SDGs – Goal 3, Goal 13, Goal 16 and Goal 17. In fact, as FAO’s Torrero says, “The SDGs are indivisible”.