Preoccupied by the economic crisis, policy makers are warning that hunger is slipping down their list of priorities. But the stumbling world economy is the very reason they should accelerate funding for food security, says Nancy Roman.
>>Global Food Crisis - In Depth
ROME -- Policy makers from Capitol Hill to Westminster Abbey are warning that they will ease off the gas as hunger gives way to the burgeoning economic crisis.
The G8 leaders have so far left hunger off the agenda and the G-20 seems poised to do the same, when, in fact, the economic crisis with which they are so consumed is the very reason they should accelerate funding for food security.
Crisis spilling from Manhattan to Nairobi
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.
- Overseas workers are sending less money home to places like the Philippines, Nicaragua and Kyrgyzstan, where these so-called remittances make up as much of 20 percent of the GDP.
- 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 destroying the export market.
- Foreign direct investment is drying up as lending institutions jealously guard their capital.
These kinds of dramas are beginning to play out around the world we work in, leading to poverty – and if we aren’t proactive - wasted human potential and civil unrest.
Poverty breeds hunger
The pattern is familiar. Poverty breeds 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 millions of adults whose bodies are less able to fight disease, and whose minds linger far behind their full potential.
Moreover, when food and water are absent, populations begin to move in search of both, increasing the chances for civil unrest.
So at the World Food Programme, we are trying to think of how to streamline food to places where we prevent malnutrition and stabilize populations – even as we think about medium term solutions to hunger. That may mean expanding school feeding as a social safety net in certain countries like Haiti; or employing cash and vouchers as we are in Burkina-Faso, or helping governments with their own programs as we are in Honduras. All these things require funding. They require time. They require attention.
G-20 and hunger
The G-20 is poised to meet next month in London, where they will tackle the cutting edge issues of our day. To be sure, central banking policies, stimulus packages and tax policies will be among them as they grasp at economic straws to rescue a global economy that may well be beyond rescue. The killer irony here is that while it is hard for any government to reverse a downward global spiral, they have a good shot to do something about hunger. For US$3 billion they could feed every hungry school child. For $6 billion they could fund the World Food Programme’s full body of work. For $30 billion they could address a bale of medium and longer-term agricultural issues.
These are difficult days and crisis sometimes crowds out common sense. But let’s do what we can to make sure that the global financial crisis doesn’t give birth to a more tragic human crisis.
That’s what the G-20 should talk about.