Tackling hunger hindered by conflict, environmental disasters

More than half the world’s population will suffer from some form of malnutrition by 2030 if greater action isn’t taken, global leaders are warning.

“About one in three persons globally suffers from at least one form of malnutrition, be it hunger, micronutrient deficiencies or overweight and obesity,” Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva told G7 health ministers Nov. 6 during a meeting in Geneva. Malnutrition is a key item on this year’s ministerial agenda.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every person on this planet has access to food that is safe, sufficient and nutritious,” he said.

World leaders had hoped to end world hunger by 2030, a daunting task that appears highly unlikely given the current state of food security internationally.

In its recent report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world, the United Nations’ FAO said 815 million people, or about 11 percent of the world’s population, went hungry last year.

That’s up from 777 million in 2015, in part because of increased global conflict often located in rural agricultural areas, which has strained food supplies already affected by ongoing droughts.

“Over the past 10 years, the number of violent conflicts around the world has increased significantly, in particular in countries already facing food insecurity, hitting rural communities the hardest and having a negative impact on food production and availability,” the FAO report said.

The latest malnutrition figures come as farmers around the world try to figure out how they will manage to feed a global population expected to balloon to 10 billion people by 2050.

It’s a challenging task — one that will likely become even more difficult given the rising number of conflicts in agriculturally dependent parts of the world.

Non-state conflicts (such as those between two organized armed groups of which neither is the government or a state) have jumped 125 percent since 2010, while state based conflicts have increased 60 percent over the same time period.

It’s this violence, coupled with ongoing environmental disasters, that has spurred the global migration crisis.

It’s a matter that dominated the G7 agriculture ministers meeting in Italy in October, where officials tried to figure out the best way to feed those fleeing.

However, food security concerns are not limited to countries grappling with conflict, the FAO warned.

The growth of some 155 million children younger than five (or 22 percent of the reference population) has been stunted because of poor nutrition in some regions.

Another 40 million children, or six percent of the population, are overweight. In 2014, 600 million adults around the world were considered obese.

“Undernutrition, overweight and their associated non-communicable diseases now co-exist in many regions, countries and even households” the FAO said, a situation that results in a complicated situation for policy makers.

Here in Canada, data from Food Banks Canada shows 863,492 people relied on their local food bank in March 2016, with eight in 10 Canadian provinces reporting an increase in food bank use.

Conditions have also “deteriorated in some peaceful settings, particularly those affected by economic slowdowns,” the FAO warned, while falling commodity prices have hit export figures and sent revenues declining.

“Thus food availability has been affected through reduced import capacity, while access to food has deteriorated in part due to reduced fiscal potential to protect poor households against rising domestic food prices.”

Then there’s the ongoing challenges created by climate change. In new UN data released Nov. 6, experts warned 2017 is likely to be one of the three hottest years on record. Meanwhile, rainfall on the Canadian Prairies was lower the average, the UN said.

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