The Ripon Forum

Volume 43, No. 3

Summer 2009 Issue

Hunger is on the March

By on December 3, 2015

Josette Sheeran, on 2007 visit to the Sudan.


Hunger is on the march, fueled by the food and financial crisis, which has added more than 100 million people to the ranks of the malnourished.

Today, for the first time in 40 years, more than one billion people are hungry; one out of every six people on earth does not get enough food to sustain a healthy life. Every six seconds a child dies from hunger.

No strategy will end hunger unless it both secures individual access to affordable nutrition as well as increases world wide production. Food security may be the single most critical issue of our time. Malnutrition permanently stunts bodies and minds in children under two. We are in danger of losing a generation.

Today, for the first time in 40 years, more than one billion people are hungry…

Ending hunger is not only about growing more food. Last year, we had enough to feed the world. But skyrocketing food and fuel prices drove desperately hungry people to riot in more than 30 countries. Hunger can lead to dangerous destabilization. Without food people riot, migrate or die. None of these are acceptable options.

As economist Amartya Sen, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the causes and cures for famine, demonstrated famine is a result of lack of access to food saying, “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being enough to eat.”

The World Food Program last year reached 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable. With food prices higher than a year ago in 50 developing world countries, and the economic crisis hitting the incomes of the world’s poorest people, we see a compounding crisis of urgent hunger.

In each nation, region and community access to food was cut off for a variety of reasons – conflict in regions from Pakistan to Somalia forced millions from their land, long-term drought in sub-Saharan Africa left once productive lands barren, global economic forces in financial capitals far from their shores made food unaffordable.

A half century ago, the world created institutions, including the World Food Program, designed to be counter-cyclical, to expand – not contract – when times are bad. WFP is the safety net for the world’s most vulnerable. Even with a doubling of contributions to WFP last year, global food aid supplies are at a 20 year low – just when they are needed the most. At this moment of dramatically growing need, it is vital that we continue to ensure access to food to those who have no other solution. We need to tap into the knowledge of how to leverage food aid into food assistance – how to work with nations so they inherit targeted nutrition safety net programs toward food self-sufficiency.

The world knows how to solve hunger. Over the last two centuries many nations have done just that. Just a few generations ago Ireland was ravaged by famine. Twenty years ago China received more of WFP’s food than any other country. Today they provide resources for our work in other countries. Brazil is busting the hunger curve by creating sustainable safety net programs for its people that cost less than .5 percent of its GDP.

It’s false logic to choose between an investment in agriculture or an investment in individual food access. As we help small farmers get more from their land, we also need to build a world where every person has affordable access to adequate nutrition.

The United States has written the book on combating hunger at home with agricultural production combined with food safety nets, such as school lunches. This country is a leader in food fortification and nutritional knowledge. We urge the United States to put the hungry individual, along with the small holder farmer, at the center of its food security call to action.

If we do this right, today’s investment in nutrition could be the end of food aid tomorrow. RF

Josette Sheeran is the Executive Director of the World Food Programme. She previously served as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush.

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