Hungry For Change
By Bruce Duncan CsSr
Our generation is one of the most fortunate in human history in terms of being well fed and nourished. Generations of people who have worked resolutely to increase food production and yields can be thanked.
But the battle is far from over. Many millions still suffer and die from hunger each year. Despite recent successes with international efforts to reduce starvation around the globe, our ancient enemy has been fighting back, and ‘hunger’ is on the upward march again.
This should be of special concern for Christians who are reminded of God’s words in the Last Judgment scene in Matthew’s gospel about how intensely and personally God identifies with the hungry, thirsty or naked.
Undaunted by the challenge of feeding an increasing global population, international networks have been working not just to reduce the extent of hunger, but to eliminate it entirely. These efforts took shape in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were endorsed by every country in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000. The first goal was to reduce the extent of extreme poverty and hunger by half by 2015.
The MDGs helped save millions of lives and improved the lives of many more. According to a 2015 UN report on the MDGs, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1990, but by 2015 that proportion had dropped to 14 per cent.
Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, and by 2016 to 795 million. Further, the numbers of undernourished people in developing regions fell by almost half.
The Vatican had worked closely with the various forums designing the SDGs. Leading international experts shaping the SDGs, including the eminent economists Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph E Stiglitz, were also advising Pope Francis and his team writing his encyclical, Laudato Si’, particularly on issues of sustainability, climate change and global poverty and hunger.
It was no coincidence that Pope Francis addressed the UN General Assembly in September, 2015 immediately before the UN Summit endorsed the SDGs. He strongly supported the SDGs as “an important sign of hope” for the future of the world.
The Sustainable Development goals reworked the MDGs into a more complex pattern of 17 goals, and broadened their scope. Goal number one focused on eliminating extreme poverty, and overcoming hunger became a distinct goal, number two.
Learning from the experience of the MDGs, the SDGs were firstly expanded to include all nations, not just the developing countries. Secondly, they included new goals on sustainability and the environment, especially in light of the growing alarm about climate change. And thirdly, another goal was introduced to improve social and economic equality in all countries.
However, despite enough food being produced, it was not always available in many areas, or people were too poor to buy enough nutritious food. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World reported that by 2017 it was clear that the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, one in every nine people in the world.
Malnutrition is manifested in many ways, and is not just a matter of filling one’s belly. Food needs to be adequate, appropriate for various ages, nutritious and secure. Poor access to healthy food can result in low birthweight, stunting children’s growth, and anaemia in women of childbearing age. It is also linked to overweight in school girls and obesity among women.
Wasting, or low weight for height, affects more than 50 million children under five, including almost 10 per cent of children in Asia, increasing the risk of death or illness. Paradoxically, more than 38 million children under five are overweight, increasing their risk of heart disease and diabetes in later life.
As well as military conflicts, climate change is also damaging food security. More frequent and extreme weather events, floods and droughts, are destroying essential crops in many countries. These weather events are among the leading causes of worsening global hunger and food crises.
Pope Francis has continued to highlight the plight of the poor and hungry, trying to mobilise greater personal and political concern and action. On World Food Day in October, Francis wrote to the Director General of the FAO, lamenting that international solidarity to resolve food shortages seemed to be cooling.
“The struggle against hunger urgently demands generous financing, the abolition of trade barriers and, above all, greater resilience in the face of climate change, economic crises and warfare,” said Pope Francis. He said if we distance ourselves from the poor, we distance ourselves from Christ. He quoted the prophet Isaiah 58: 6-7 as God’s call to us “to break every yoke … to share bread with the hungry and bring the homeless and poor into the house.”
Along with the scientific consensus, church leader worldwide are calling for urgency in addressing climate change and keeping global warming to below 1.5oC, sharply reducing emissions from fossil fuels, transitioning to renewable energy and rethinking agriculture, especially promoting agroecology.
Adjusting for inflation, Australian aid budgets have been cut each year for the five years since 2013-14 in real terms, from $5.51 billion to $4.16 billion, almost 25 per cent, even though most of it actually spent on goods and services in Australia.
Further details can be obtained from one of the leading aid and development organisations in the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), including Caritas or Catholic Earthcare, or one of the networks responding to climate change and global warming, such as the Global Catholic Climate Movement for ideas and involvement.