July Hunger Notes: Conflict and Hunger, the Global Food Security bill, and Misleading hunger statistics?

Lane Vanderslice, Hunger Notes editor

Conflict and Hunger

Hunger Notes runs many articles on conflict, and why we do so may not be always clearly apparent, as the articles do not mention hunger specifically, or barely do so.  For example we just published three articles on South Sudan, and people’s hunger was mentioned, but not highlighted. But we do know that conflict is a very important source of hunger, and that is why we do it.  The recent article by the FAO and the World Food Program Protracted conflicts causing alarming spikes in severe hunger points out the hunger that conflict has caused in 17 countries.  Their estimate for South Sudan is that 4.8 million people – some 40 percent of the population – are in need of urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance.  The countries with the largest number of hungry people are Yemen, where 14 million people – over half the population – are now in a state of hunger crisis , and Syria, where 8.7 million people – 37 percent of the pre-conflict population – need urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance.  The article mentions briefs for each of the 17 countries, but does not provide them -we will check with FAO and see if they can be made available.

The Global Food Security bill

Good news this month was the passage by the House and Senate and signing into law by President Obama of the Global Food Security bill.  The law authorizes the Feed the Future initiative, which the United States Agency for International Development has carried out since  2009 when food prices spiked .  A principal idea is to help rural families increase their food production, thus reducing malnutrition and increasing their incomes.  See our articles about Feed the Future in our U.S. and opinion sections, and visit the Feed the Future website.

Hunger statistics

The True Extent of Hunger: What the FAO Isn’t Telling You discusses the way in which the FAO’s statistics on global food security ended up providing a relatively favorable view of progress in reducing hunger.  This report, by Food First, is based on an article by J. Hickel, which is not widely available.

In 2015, the final report of the Millennium Development goals said: “Projections indicate a drop of almost half in the proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions, from 23.3% in 1990–1992 to 12.9% in 2014–2016. This is very close to the MDG hunger target.”

The paper discusses how this came about, with a few key points mentioned here.    First, the original world-wide goal, set out at the 1996 World Food Summit, when 840 million people were food insecure according to FAO statistics at that time, was to reduce the total number of hungry people by half.  The 2000 Millennium Development Goals changed the goal to reducing the proportion–not the absolute amount–by half, and made it apply not to the world’s population as a whole, but only developing countries. These and other adjustments meant that the ending hunger goal was only for only 296 million, not 420 million.    Further, the period was extended back from 2000, when the goals were established, to 1990.  This allowed more time in which to achieve the goals, and also allowed for inclusion of the substantial progress made in reducing hunger in China  during the 1990s.  This has somewhat obscured the fact that half of all developing countries have seen an increase in the number of hungry people since 1990 , even according to the FAO’s definition.


Lane Vanderslice is the editor of Hunger Notes

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