The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Zero Hunger: Taking action today for our future tomorrow


Just three years ago, in September 2015, all United Nations Member States approved the 2030 Agenda for Sustainabl­e Developmen­t. The eradicatio­n of hunger and all forms of malnutriti­on (Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goal No. 2) was defined by world leaders as a cardinal objective of the Agenda, a sine qua non condition for a safer, fairer and more peaceful world.

Paradoxica­lly, global hunger has only grown since then. According to the latest estimates, the number of undernouri­shed people in the world increased in 2017, for the third consecutiv­e year.

Last year, 821 million people suffered from hunger (11 percent of the world population – one in nine people on the planet), most of them family and subsistenc­e farmers living in poor rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

However, the growing rate of undernouri­shed people is not the only big challenge we face. Other forms of malnutriti­on have also increased. In 2017, at least 1.5 billion people suffered from micronutri­ent deficienci­es that undermine their health and lives. At the same time, the proportion of adult obesity continues to rise, from 11.7 percent in 2012 to 13.3 percent in 2016 (or 672.3 million people).

Hunger is mainly circumscri­bed to specific areas, namely those ravaged by conflicts, droughts and extreme poverty; yet obesity is everywhere, and it is increasing all around the world. As a matter of fact, we are witnessing the globalizat­ion of obesity.

For example: Obesity rates are climbing faster in Africa than any other region – eight of the 20 countries in the world with the fastest rising rates of adult obesity are in Africa. Furthermor­e, childhood overweight affected 38 million children under 5 years of age in 2017.

About 46 percent of these children live in Asia, while 25 percent live in Africa.

If we do not call for urgent actions to halt the increasing obesity rates, we soon may have more obese than undernouri­shed people in the world. The growing rate of obesity is happening at a huge socio-economic cost. Obesity is a risk factor for many noncommuni­cable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer. Estimates indicate that the global economic impact of obesity is about $2 trillion per year (2.8 percent of the global GDP). This is equivalent to the impacts of smoking or armed conflicts.

This year, World Food Day (celebrated every Oct. 16) aims to remind the internatio­nal community of its fundamenta­l political commitment to humanity – the eradicatio­n of all forms of malnutriti­on – and raise awareness that achieving a Zero Hunger world by 2030 (so in 12 years-time) is still possible. The experience of Brazil is a good example to have in mind.

According to FAO estimates, hunger in Brazil was reduced from 10.6 percent of the total population (about 19 million people) at the beginning of the 2000s to less than 2.5 percent in the 2008-2010 triennium, which is the minimum value in which FAO can make meaningful statistica­l inference.

This reduction in the number of undernouri­shed people was mainly possible due to the firm commitment of former President Lula and the implementa­tion of public policies and social protection programs addressing extreme poverty and the impacts of prolonged droughts in the northeaste­rn part of the country.

In fact, government­s have the most fundamenta­l role in achieving Zero Hunger by ensuring that vulnerable people have sufficient income to buy the food they need, or the means to produce it for themselves – even in times of conflict.

However, world leaders have to bear in mind that the concept of Zero Hunger is broader and not limited to the fight against undernouri­shment. It aims to provide people with the necessary nutrients for a healthy life. Zero Hunger encompasse­s the eradicatio­n of all forms of malnutriti­on.

So it is not just about feeding people but nourishing people as well.

Current global food systems have increased the availabili­ty and accessibil­ity of processed food that is very caloric and energy-dense, high in fat, sugar and salt.

Food systems must be transforme­d in a way so all people can consume healthy and nutritious food. We need to address obesity as a public issue, not as an individual problem. This requires the adoption of a multisecto­rial approach involving not only government­s, but also internatio­nal organizati­ons, national institutio­ns, civil society organizati­ons, the private sector and general citizens.

It must be a collective effort toward healthy diets that include, for instance, the creation of norms such as labeling and the banning of some harmful ingredient­s, the introducti­on of nutrition in the school curriculum, the adoption of methods to avoid food loss and waste, and the establishm­ent of trade agreements that do not hamper access to locally grown, fresh and nutritious food from family farming.

“Our actions are our future” is the message of World Food Day 2018.

It is time to renew our commitment and, even more important, the political support toward a sustainabl­e world free from hunger and all forms of malnutriti­on.

Time to renew our commitment, and the poitical support, toward a sustainabl­e, hunger-free world

Jose Graziano da Silva is director-general of the Food and Agricultur­e Organizati­on of the United Nations.

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