This post is part of the international Blog Action Day.
It takes a lot for a famine to be declared. According to the United Nations, it happens under three conditions:
- 20% of the population having fewer than 2100 kilocalories of food available per day,
- More than 30% of children being acutely malnourished, and
- More than two people per every 10,000 die every day.
In the World Food Day Message given by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the focus was on the accessibility of food, and the impact of political instability and price volatility. This is an important reminder that along with international aid to relieve famines, we should also focus on policies to prevent famine in the future.
Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asserts 'the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger'. The cruel reality is, this right has been undermined by political instability and failed governments. In Somalia, famine relief and the day-to-day operations of international humanitarian agencies are affected by the struggle between the government and the insurgent group Al-Shabaab. Political instability cripples the development of sustainable agricultural policies. Without these policies, the population is extremely vulnerable to the insecurities caused by natural disasters. Droughts or floods alone don’t have to lead to famines. It is time for governments to step up to their responsibilities.
Establishing effective preventive agricultural policies is essential to improving food security. One such policy is effective water sources management. Successful irrigation projects in Ethiopia helped to alleviate food shortages and encourage self-sufficiency. In Kenya, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is working with farmers to develop capacities for the better harvesting and conservation of rainwater. Sometimes the most basic infrastructure reform can make a huge difference. By strengthening delivery networks, food produced will become accessible to more people. Implemented effectively, these measures are steps towards building the populations’ resilience against disasters.
Considering their potential in ensuring food security, you would think these policies deserve more attention. Unfortunately, these disaster risk reduction measures accounts for only 0.5% of official global aid. This lack of attention is almost counterintuitive, because these policies are much more cost-effective than disaster relief measures.
It is estimated that women produce between 60% and 80% of the food in most developing countries. However, less than 2% of land is owned by women. Promoting equal opportunities for women to own land and gain access to resources to produce food is critical. So is ensuring their access to education and an equal level of income. Women’s purchasing power and their ability to make decisions in the house are important aspects in achieving long-term food security.
World population affected by hunger in 2010
A big challenge in ensuring food accessibility is reducing the sheer amount of food that is wasted before consumption. Up to 37% of food harvested is wasted due to insufficient processing, storage and transport. In a world where nearly 1 billion people are affected by hunger and malnutrition, this is simply unacceptable. Other than developing scientific solutions to increase production, it is equally critical to tackle these distributional problems.
Preventive measures are largely neglected in global aid. Thanks to an array of short-sighted policies and a global media that only focuses on disasters after they’ve occurred, the daily struggle with food insecurity is too often pushed to the background. In the midst of global efforts to relieve the famine in the Horn of Africa, we should call attention to establishing sustainable and preventive policies, so that we never have to use the phrase 'too little, too late'.