6 April 2013

1,000 days before the hunger MDG deadline: Humankind on a drunken boat

1,000 days before the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for December 31, 2015, the least that can be said is that it is awkward to account for what happened, since the MDGs were adopted in September 2000, for one of the major objectives, namely the objective of reducing by half the proportion of the world population suffering from hunger. It is even more difficult to know whether this objective will be achieved by 2015, as 80% of the time Humanity had fixed to achieve it has already passed.

And this because it is as if Humanity were on a drunken boat.

Many plans and a malfunctioning compass

It is not as if plans were missing to get to the fixed target. In fact, it would be too long here to list all the documents, plans and roadmaps that were developed to explain how this objective was to be achieved. Each and everyone has «his or her» plan, and at each major conference or summit some kind of an agreement is reached on a joint programme. Commitments are made, but most are not respected. And business continues as usual.

A comparison of these plans would show that they are quite diverse as they reflect diverging views on the nature of the objective and consequently also on the path to follow. This is a consequence of the many specific interests and objectives each and everyone has, and of the differing understanding they have on the hunger issue itself. There is ample conceptual confusion as can be seen from the many myths on hunger that are found ad nauseam in papers, official statements and exchanges on the Web.The main confusion probably is that which states that increasing production to satisfy demand of the 9 billion people who will be living on the planet by 2050 would solve the hunger issue. As if producing more would automatically reduce the number of hungry. It this were true, hunger would already be solved, as today there is enough food to feed adequately the whole world population. But, if this is not the issue, then shouldn’t other solutions be found and shouldn’t «produce more» be removed from the centre stage and replaced by others?

What about the compass then? It is practically impossible to know today where we stand in the fight against hunger, where the boat is on the map and what route it has followed so far. It is indeed almost impossible to know how the number of hungry has evolved since 2000, despite the existing system designed to monitor it. Until the recent change of method of computation used by FAO to estimate this number, published figures showed an increase of the number of hungry after 1996 and a relative stability of the proportion of world population suffering from hunger. The recalculation of these estimates with the new method used by FAO since 2012 shows however slightly decreasing numbers. Moreover, if the assumptions used in the computation are reviewed and if one of them that does not seem very realistic is modified, the result shows figures that are again on the increase... [read] There is therefore no reliable compass. For the time being at least. It is hoped that the yet new method that FAO intends to adopt to measure hunger in the near future and that will be based on a world level survey, will finally offer a more reliable and credible picture of the situation for this MDG. And the boat will have a compass in which passengers can trust...

Drunken and disorganized rowers

It is all the more difficult to know where the boat is now that rowers row in all directions: some forward, others backwards. Some are there just to take care of there little businesses rather than to row. Other prevent their colleagues from rowing,... drunken with power and money, they do as they wish! Confusion may even exist within a particular organization where one will state that one should address absolute poverty, while others say that what should be done is to develop agribusiness. One group believes that food aid or money should be distributed to the poor so that they can eat and live decently, while another wonders whether this is a sustainable solution that safeguards the dignity and autonomy of the population groups involved. Finally there are those who actively grab resources (land, water, genetic, forests and fisheries resources) to make huge profits to the detriment of those very people who should be supported. As it goes, these resources often belong to those people who suffer from hunger and could have used them to graduate from hunger and poverty.  Should it be added here that these poor people are also in their majority excluded from the very development, education and social programmes that are supposed to be designed for them.

Land at last, perhaps...

However, luckily, the passengers in the boat can see the sun peaking out from behind the clouds and could use it to find where they are, if they wish so. There is indeed hope. There are myriads of successful local experiences that demonstrate that it is possible to overcome hunger. They show solutions and directions that should be followed in order to achieve the set objective of hunger reduction. But to follow this direction, there is a need for a captain, a captain with the required authority to impose a good map and coordinate the efforts made by rowers. This authority should be respected and rules not only adopted (there are already many rules and regulations that go in the right direction) but also applied and sanctions imposed on those who violate them. That would require each and everyone to give up some of his or her «sovereignty» and «freedom to undertake» so that this superior and common objective is achieved. In short, it would require good governance that works effectively. The reform of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is a step into the right direction, but is it not yet sufficient for the boat to sober up and become fully conscious, and for all the energies on board to be oriented in the same direction, the proper direction that leads to the eradication of hunger.

1000 days are left to achieve at least this absolutely required result, and then everything else will follow.


Last update:    April 2013

For your comments and reactions: