“We’re In An Era Of Food Insecurity”

With absolute numbers of hungry pushing past a billion for the first time, the global food and financial crises have ushered in an era of unprecedented food insecurity, the head of the World Food Programme warned this week in Washington.

WASHINGTON – The risk of hunger, heightened by increasing threats from climate change and the scarcity of land and water, is the “new normal”, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of WFP, warned a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Relations (CSIS) in Washington on Tuesday.

Observing that many of the drivers behind the 2008 food crisis still exist, she said volatility of food prices and food supply are likely to persist.

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Download audio and video of Josette Sheeran speaking at the Ending Poverty and Hunger panel discussion at the CSIS website.

“The food crisis was not a one-off phenomenon, but a wake-up call that exposed the fault lines from the village on up to the national and international levels. We will see some of those fault lines reappearing …” Sheeran said during the “Ending Hunger and Poverty” discussion.

She said the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – which seeks to halve the proportion of hunger and poverty by 2015 – is fundamental to achieve every other MDG. “MDG One has been in reverse since the (outbreak of) the high food price crisis in 2008,” Sheeran said. “We need political leadership to turn that around.” 

New consensus

Defining the current global crisis as an opportunity, however, she said she believed that world had realized that long-term sustainable solutions to hunger were needed, as well as immediate emergency measures. She cited as examples of this new consensus the G8’s L’Aquila commitment to $20 billion in agricultural development assistance, the Obama Administration’s “Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative” and draft legislation in the US Congress that would expand and streamline US food assistance.

She cited many countries – from Senegal to Brazil – that had demonstrated the leadership to eradicate the worst hunger, through a combination of agricultural production, social safety net protection, trade and market solutions. These countries had deployed safety nets like school meals to catch the most vulnerable before they plunge into absolute crisis, she added.

Time is right

“Today, hunger and food security are not only the business of (development agencies), but of foreign ministers, presidents and Treasury Secretaries,” Sheeran said. “The leadership is in place, the innovations in areas like nutrition are being unleashed, there are innovative partnerships … we’re at a tipping point where (ending hunger) can be done. The time is right for world leaders to sustain their commitment and take it forward.”

She said getting the MDGs back on track to eradicate hunger and the worst poverty also required citizen action – such as WFP’s “billion for a billion,” which has raised US$77,723.86 to fight hunger since November 13 – enough to feed 310,815 people.

“If every person with plenty shared just a dollar or Euro a week with those who do not have enough food, hunger could be overcome,” she said.

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