The number of hungry people in the world is close to 1 billion and rising.
As the G-20 leaders in London grapple with the world’s many and multiplying problems, we hear rumblings that the Obama administration just might put hunger on the agenda -- where it should be.
Whether or not this happens, the leaders who turn up at 10 Downing Street must understand that the economic crisis is just beginning to spill from the streets of Manhattan, where it has already wreaked havoc, to the streets of Nairobi and Mumbai. >>The Global Food Crisis In Depth
For example, overseas workers are sending less money home to places like the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan, where these 'remittances' make up as much as 20 percent of GDP.
Meanwhile, commodity prices are plummeting, destroying the export markets in countries like Zambia where copper prices have fallen 50 percent, pushing tens of thousands out of work. And foreign direct investment is drying up as lending institutions jealously guard their capital.
As the economic crisis systematically kills jobs, it reduces the income of those in the developing world who have them. If we fail to act, the resulting poverty will breed hunger. Hunger breeds malnutrition, which in turns breeds stunting. Without resources and political will, we will share a future world with millions of malnourished children who have grown into adults whose bodies are less able to fight disease, and whose minds linger far behind their full potential.
We are waiting to see whether the hot new G-20 will be any more effectual (and less self-interested) than the G-8 has been in defining and then tackling global challenges.
Feed hungry school children
The global economic crisis is a lot for the G-20 to take on (or a G-8, 12 or 50 or any other G-combination). But the G-20 could do the world a service by anticipating problems that will flow from it and tackling those:
- For US$3 billion they could feed every hungry school child – building a social safety net.
- For $6 billion they could fund the urgent most hunger needs worldwide.
- For $30 billion they could address a bale of medium and longer-term agricultural issues.
Simply by talking about it, they could put political momentum behind ending hunger.
Next wave of hunger
Among the problems with democracy is that it struggles to find political will until crisis is upon it. We have some lead time here where we can get ahead of the next wave of hunger. I’m betting that Obama has the courage to force the issue.