Global hunger back on the rise after a decade: WFP chief economist

Global hunger back on the rise after a decade: WFP chief economist

Merve Erdil - MILAN
Global hunger back on the rise after a decade: WFP chief economist

For the first time in a decade, the number of people suffering hunger is back on the rise, according to Arif Husain, chief economist of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), who told daily Hürriyet that the main reason for the dire situation is conflicts.

“I think from 2015 to now the number of people who are hungry on a regular basis, who go to bed hungry each night, has risen from 777 million to 815 million today,” Husain said on the sidelines of a Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation in Milan last week.

“The biggest reason is conflict, is wars. If you took that 815 million, 60 percent of those people live in countries affected by war,” he added.

There are about 155 million children with stunted growth as a result of poor nutrition, the economist said, adding that some 75 percent of minors who live in countries are affected by conflict.

“If you look at the biggest 13 food security crises in the world, 10 of them are driven by conflict. Some 80 percent of WFP’s resources go to help people affected by conflict. So to answer your question, the biggest driver of this rising number is conflict,” he said.


Climate change the second reason

The second main reason behind global hunger is climate change, Husain said.

“One thing we can do is look at how a third of the food we produce is wasted. That costs water, land, and creates greenhouse emissions. They all contribute to climate change, so if we stop waste, if we are careful in terms of our consumer behavior, we will be contributing to stopping climate change. The second part of that is we have to help people adapt. For example, in some places farmers may be used to planting in summer, let’s say in June; but now because of climate change it makes more sense to plant in August. But the farmer doesn’t know so they are still planting in June and they have experiencing crop failure. But somebody has to tell them: ‘Well guys, don’t do it in June because the climate has shifted.’ This is the adaptation, this is teaching,” Husain added.

Speaking of global 2030 goals to beat hunger, he said “first we have to stop the wars, second we have to do everything in our power to give people in the poor areas, rural people, farmers the facilities like access to roads, like electrification, like agroindustry, like facilities of the city so they can generate economic growth and they can have purchasing power. If they have purchasing power then the private sector will come and they will respond. And there will be a partnership between smaller farmers and the private sector companies for the betterment of both.”

The world wastes about $3.5 trillion, 5 percent of global GDP, in lost productivity because of hunger related causes, according to Husain.

“Those people are not healthy so all the cost is associated with that. That is $500 per person,” he said.

“Compare that to the cost of solving the hunger problem, which is $270 billion or only about 8 percent of that number,” he added.

Commenting on governments’ role in cutting waste, Husain believes restrictions never work but the world should focus on consumer behavior and awareness.

“If every time you were throwing something away, you thought in your head ‘Oh no, this could be somebody else’s food,’ then you are not going to throw it away. What matters more is awareness of people, knowing what is the real cost of their action. And if we can make people more aware of that cost then people will stop doing it,” he said.

Husain also stressed the importance of women taking a necessary role, investments being made in children, people in the poorest rural areas should be connected to markets with infrastructure projects and money should be spent on rural economies like villages so they have purchasing power, to which the private sector can then respond.

“We can send people to Mars, but we can’t feed people around the world,” he said.

“What is more basic than air, water, food? We are talking about very basic adequate food and clean water. In my head these are basic human rights,” he added.