What are the challenges in providing food security for all in today’s world?
Unfortunately there are many, but there’s no question the biggest one is conflict. As you probably know by now, 60% of the world’s hungry people live in conflict zones, and conflict is the main cause for the rise in hunger that we’ve seen recently. Two years ago, there were 777 million hungry people, and now there are 821 million hungry people.
The picture is even bleaker than that, I’m sorry to say, when you consider the number of severely hungry people – people who have no idea where their next meal is coming from. In just two years, that has jumped 55%, from 80 million to 124 million.
Two places starkly illustrate our challenge: Yemen and South Sudan. In both places, the extremely high levels of hunger are caused entirely by conflict. As of late 2018, more than eight million Yemenis are on the edge of famine. In South Sudan, it is a little above six million people.
It’s hard to make progress on food security when there’s a war going on. These conflicts destroy economies, making it extremely difficult for people to be able to sustain their families. In Yemen, the riyal has depreciated 180% since 2015. That’s just a stunning figure. And here’s a more ‘real people’ example for South Sudan: when you consider the purchasing power of the average South Sudanese, a simple basic meal of bean stew costs the equivalent of $336. What is it for a New Yorker? A little more than $1.
One other important challenge – all the fighting means it’s more expensive to deliver help to people. It costs us somewhere around 30 cents a day to feed someone, on average, but that cost in Syria is about 50 cents a day.
How is the World Food Programme working to meet those challenges in both its crisis response and its longer-term work?
Our motto is saving lives, changing lives – and fulfilling both ends of that is critical. We are and want to continue to be the best in terms of responding to emergencies – earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts and the crises brought about by conflict. It’s this kind of work that we do in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, areas that last year were all on the brink of famine. But none slipped into famine and, as a result, lives were saved.
It is also critical that humanitarian assistance be more than simply staving off disaster. Every humanitarian dollar is an opportunity to spend for development, to participate in the long-term economic recovery of a region.
For example, in Niger, we have helped develop what are ‘half-moon’ irrigation systems that are helping channel water into the arid soil, allowing crops to grow. The people there can grow their own food and create their own markets.
Across Niger, we’ve rehabilitated more than 80,000 hectares of degraded land in 39 municipalities since 2014. The ultimate aim is to create one million jobs across the region, restore degraded land and generate more farm production. One farmer boasted to us about how he now could buy a more solid house and even buy cattle.
When we do this kind of work, we make communities more stable. That means less unsafe migration and less violent extremism.
How can the G20 leaders at their Buenos Aires Summit help?
We could not save lives or change lives without the help of our donors in the G20. They are already doing a great deal to help. What we need – what the world needs most – is an end to the conflicts. The wars and fighting that are leading to the kind of misery I see on my travels must end, and it will require global leadership to do it. The global goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 is unrealistic unless the conflicts stop.
We are short of resources to truly do the job right, unfortunately. In many areas, we lack the funds to feed everyone who needs it. We need more resources from donor governments, yes, but we also are calling for a greater commitment from the private sector and even from individuals.
With all the wealth in the world today, we should not have the hunger we have. People need to realise this is not just someone else’s problem – this is humanity’s problem.