The unstable world we all share will be on American minds this year as they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. Concern will run high for the safety of children, relatives and friends serving in faraway turbulent parts of the globe. And, as many Americans savour the abundance on their tables this Thanksgiving day, less fortunate people who go hungry every day of every year should not be forgotten.
This week, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released its annual food insecurity and hunger report, showing that the number of hungry people in developing countries has increased by 18 million since the mid-1990s. The total number is still 19 million fewer than in 1990-1992, reflecting important progress made by a few countries, but in a few large developing countries the reduction in the number of hungry people has essentially reversed - because of armed conflicts in some cases, or population growth or economic crisis in others.
Nevertheless, at the current rate of hunger reduction, the 1996 World Food Summit goal of cutting hunger in half by 2015 will not be met before 2150. To meet the goal more quickly, annual reductions would have to be increased to 26 million people a year, more than 12 times the current rate of 2.1 million a year.
Worldwide, there are 842 million people going hungry, including 34 million in countries in transition, 10 million in industrialized countries, and the vast majority - 798 million - in developing countries. That number is about equivalent to the entire populations of North America and Europe: two continents of hungry people.
These troubling indicators signal a setback in the war against hunger. There are good reasons, however, for hope. The FAO report shows that, in 19 developing countries, the number of chronically hungry people dropped by more than 80 million between 1990 and 2001.
The list of successful countries spans all developing regions, with one country in the Near East, five in Asia and the Pacific, six in Latin America and the Caribbean and seven in sub-Saharan Africa. It includes both large and relatively prosperous countries such as Brazil and China, where levels of under-nourishment were moderate at the outset, and smaller countries where hunger was more widespread such as Chad, Guinea, Namibia and Sri Lanka.
In general, countries that succeeded in reducing hunger were characterized by higher levels of economic and social development and better than average growth in the agricultural sector. They also exhibited slower population growth and lower levels of HIV/AIDS.
No handouts please! Self-reliance will result from fair trade rules, sovereignty, and self-representation.
The real question is: If we know the basic parameters of success, why do we allow hundreds of millions of people to go hungry in a world that produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet?
To put it bluntly, the problem is a lack of political will. Most hungry people live in rural areas of the developing world, far from the centres of power. They are forgotten by the media in developed countries.
Except when war, or a natural calamity, briefly focuses global attention and compassion, little is said and less is done to end the suffering of the world’s hungry.
Clearly, there is a need for leadership; a need to focus political will and resources on the problem of global hunger. A growing number are doing just that. Now it is time for the international community to follow through on the commitments made at the World Food Summit.
The task ahead of us is to create an alliance against hunger that will mobilize national and global commitment, based not on a plea for charity, but on a demand for justice. Allowing 842 million people to suffer the ravages of hunger is not only a calamity; it is also a threat to economic growth, political stability, and ultimately to peace: all too often, a hungry man is an angry man.
May future Thanksgivings be celebrated in a world in which every child, woman and man have enough to eat.
Jacques Diouf is the director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Article courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer