8 December 2014

More resources are needed to combat hunger in rich countries

As winter sets in in the northern hemisphere, it is time to update our readers on the hunger issue in rich countries.

According to the FAO, there were less than 15 million undernourished people in so-called ‘developed’ countries in 2012-2014, a 6 million decrease since 1990-1992 (minus 28% in 22 years). Beyond the doubts one may have on the reliability of these estimates, there is ample evidence with those organisations that provide food assistance to the needy that hunger has been on the increase in rich countries.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for the British government to take action, as the number of persons visiting food banks to obtain assistance has literally exploded. The Archbishop calls for the government to mobilise £150 million (approximately $235 million) to fund food banks and to revert on its decision no to use European funding to top-up food assistance programmes for the poor. The Most Reverend Justin Welby presents today a report in Parliament to propose an anti-hunger programme for the UK that proposes, among other things, a rise in the minimum wage and the provision of free school meals during school holidays for children from poor families, along with measures to make it harder to strip people of benefits for breaking welfare rules. The British government has initiated a drastic austerity programme since the coming into power of the Conservatives in 2010 and GDP is estimated to have grown by around 3% in the last year. But despite this good economic performance, the number of beneficiaries of food banks has grown from 130,000 in 2011-2012 to more than 900,000 in 2013-2014 according to the Trussell Trust, one of the largest food bank managing organisation. This should temper the enthusiasm of some political leaders on the Continent who do not hesitate to present Great Britain as an example to follow. [read the Daily Mail article]

In fact, the situation is hardly any better on the Continent. In France, although the number of food assistance beneficiaries did not grow as quickly as on the other side of the Channel, the Restos du Coeur have distributed 130 million meals to one million people (compared to 130 million meals and 960,000 people last year, and 115 million meals and 870,000 people in 2011-2013). The Restos received donations of a total value of €84 million (more than $100 million). According to the French General Directorate for Social Cohesion (Direction générale de la cohésion sociale), altogether more than 3 million people benefited of food assistance during last season.

In the United States too, according to the Departement of Agriculture, food assistance increased by 20% since 2010 to reach a maximum number of 47.6 million beneficiaries in 2013  (46,5 million have been recorded as of December 5 for 2014) through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) [see detailed data]. The total cost of this program grew from $250 million in 1969 to almost $74 billion in 2013, its budget doubling between 2008 and 2011. [see detailed data]

These data clearly demonstrate that everywhere in ‘rich’ countries, hunger and poverty are making progress and that controlling the number of undernourished can be achieved only through very costly food assistance programmes.

Until when will it be possible to avoid, in these countries, to see the number of under-nourished persons explode?

In this context, it is good news to read that the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), which had been threatened of interruption a few months ago, has been renewed and will benefit of a total budget of €3.5 billion ($4.3 billion) over the 2014-2020 period. This programme aims, among other things, to assist the 40 million people in Europe who cannot afford a simple meal one day out of two. [read]


Further readings

  1. -Daily Mail, State must back food banks, says Welby: Archbishop of Canterbury steps into austerity row with radical report

  2. -Website of Restos du Coeur (in French only)

  3. -Website of the Trussell Trust

- Website of the European Federation of Food Banks 

  1., According to FAO, WFP and IFAD, the MDG on hunger can still be achieved : truth or wishful thinking?


Last update:    December 2014

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