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October 17, 2012

What does World Food Day mean to the malnourished?

This is an AHRC Statement.



Having to repeat oneself year after year and keeping hope alive against all odds, what can be more melancholic than this? Only the fact that one does it counting the bodies of those who perished because of our failure in keeping the promises made to them. Observing World Food Day (WFD) annually provides us with one such occasion of gloom.
The statistics says it all. Though the number of the hungry of this world has breached the one billion mark long ago, more than a 100 million were added to the list last year according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). It is not tough to identify those responsible for so many more people falling prey to absolute poverty imperilling their food security. The increase has come in the face of governments across the world, pegged on by the neoliberal economic regimes, cutting down heavily on investments in agriculture and official developmental assistance as noted by Dr. José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the FAO.
The consequences of these cut downs had been catastrophic to say the least. Just to give an example, year 2011 witnessed 14004 farmers committing suicide in India alone as per the data of the country’s National Crime Records Bureau. The situation there has been so grim that that Mr. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, the President of India, has to acknowledge in his acceptance speech that there is "no humiliation more abusive than hunger." Not only this, he was right about the reasons causing hunger in his country which touts itself as the ‘largest democracy of the world’ and hopes to become a superpower by 2020. President Mukharjee knows that "trickle-down theories," as espoused by the current economic regime dominating the world, "do not address the legitimate aspirations of the poor."
The data from Global Hunger Index (GHI) put out by the International Food and Policy Research Institute shows that the South Asia, with a regional GHI score at 22.5, emerged as the biggest defaulter. Situation is not any better in most parts of the world barring Southeast Asia. Even there, the situation is not even with instance of hunger soaring up in the Philippines to an extent that there are more undernourished people in the Philippines now than there were in 1990-1992. Indeed, one also has to assume that the consolidated data available from that region is close to truth. That apart, data from countries like North Korea is simply not available.
Further, at least 30 countries across the world have witnessed food riots. Despite Haiti being the worst sufferer of these food riots, the problem is not limited to any particular area. The situation, unfortunately, is more likely to worsen than improve in Asian states where governments are rolling back on agricultural subsidies and heavily cutting down state expenditure on social welfare schemes under the current neoliberal regime.
In that, the global theme for the WFD, proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) and globally accepted, 'Agricultural cooperatives - key to feeding the world' is an acute uphill task to be realised. In fact the present day government polices across the world, upon which the FAO has failed to prevail upon, renders the theme almost meaningless.
The impact of this is visible already. For example the GHI data shows that with its score going up to 20.3 from last year's 19.9, hunger in Nepal has gone up from what it was in 2011. Similar are concerns in Pakistan with unmistakable evidence of growing food scarcity and the consequent rise in prices have gravely affected access to food and nutrition not just for the poor but also for the middle-income segment of the population.
The WFD, seen in this context, provides an opportunity to look at the pitiable conditions more than millions of undernourished people who are condemned to live in and make resolute attempts to demolish the structures that produce and sustain food insecurity for the impoverished masses. It provides an opportunity to step up concerted efforts to force governments into taking stock of the situations on the ground and make them work to save people out of the vicious cycle of extreme poverty and hunger.
The essence of food insecurity is riveted to the concept of justice. Poverty, malnutrition, starvation and deaths from starvation are rife in countries where the justice processes have been reduced to what resembles a market place. Poverty that is resulted from the absence of livelihood options also reflects the absence of a consultative process in policy and decision-making in the countries.
The fight against hunger would remain a cause worth pursuing even if there is a single human being goes to bed hungry and we are dealing with a world where there are more than a billion people condemned to such fate. As it is, it could soon be a lost cause, if nothing more is done to prevent the downward spiral of the GHI.
For information and comments: Mr. Avinash Pandey, Programme Coordinator Right to Food Progamme Telephone: + 852 - 26986 339, Email: avinash.pandey@ahrc.asia
Picture courtesy: A malnourished Dalit girl in Aiyer Tolla of Varansi District, Uttar Pradesh state, India. Bijo Francis, South Asia Desk, AHRC

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