Can the World Meet its Promise to Halve Hunger by 2015?

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A new report released by Oxfam this week has some good news and some bad news for the state of world hunger. The good news: last year, the FAO recorded the first significant dent in world hunger in 15 years, with a decrease from a record 1.02 billion people going hungry in 2009 after the global food crisis down to 925 million this year.

The bad news: 925 million people on the planet are still hungry, a fact that represents what is quickly shaping up to be a basic failure on the part of nations who met ten years ago to establish the UN Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, world leaders committed, among many other lofty things, to halving world hunger by 2015. In the decade since, the percentage of the world’s hungry, including last year’s improvement, has decreased less than 1%, from from 14% in 2000 to 13.5% today. If the 2000 goal is to be met, there’s another 49.5% to go in the next five years.

That’s a lot of room for improvement. Unfortunately, this year has sparked fears of a second, if lesser, global food crisis after the devastating events of 2008. With the drought and wildfires in Russia and the floods in Pakistan, the world’s spate of weird weather is already taking its toll on global food prices. Russia announced a wheat export ban in August, causing wheat prices to go up, and how the upcoming wheat harvest plays out in Pakistan’s flooded agricultural belt will also affect prices toward the end of the year.

Why are so many people still without access to adequate food on a planet more than capable of producing enough for its inhabitants? According to the Oxfam report, “Halving Hunger: Still Possible,” the basic culprits are industrialized nations’ sheer lack of commitment of funds to help tackle the problem, and a disorganized use of the relatively little money that has been set aside. After the G8 summit in July 2009, nations committed $22 billion to agriculture and food security, but according to Oxfam, only $4 billion of that is new money.

But as its name suggests, the Oxfam report takes the rather sunny view that it’s not too late for the world to meet its MDG hunger goal by 2015, citing the examples of Malawi, where increasing farmers’ subsidies has pulled the African nation off the food aid dole, and Vietnam, where poverty and hunger have both been reduced by 40% between 1993 and 2006.

To see this kind of success replicated on a broader scale, Oxfam specifically recommends:

Based on data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Oxfam estimates that an annual increase of $75bn is needed to achieve the MDG target on hunger. Donors should provide $37.5bn as overseas  development aid, with developing countries contributing the other half from national budgets. An additional $100bn a year by 2020 is needed to help developing countries adapt to climate change —including supporting agricultural adaptation — and reduce their emissions.

The report was released as a red flag to leaders meeting next week in New York, at the behest of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to see what can be done to get this MDG, along with other straggling goals including maternal health and water sanitation, on track. With poverty reduction and economic stability in Africa as two bright spots of the program, there is proof that improvement is possible. If not in the next five years, someday.