The Role of Hunger in World Security

Commentary | May 30, 2012

While Memorial Day in the United States often serves as the unofficial start of summer, a day celebrated with barbecues and picnics, this past Monday it also coincided with World Hunger Day. The idea behind World Hunger Day is to bring attention to the millions of people around the world, over one billion, who see the onset of summer not as a celebration but as another season in which they will struggle to endure the blight of severe hunger.

Chronic hunger has real implications for both the developed and developing world. For those that suffer from it, it is all that matters, and to those not directly affected by it, hunger is a destabilizing force on a regional and global scale.

Hunger is an extreme symptom of food insecurity, and earlier this month EastWest Institute President John Mroz addressed the issue when he gave a talk titled “Stepping Up to the New Global Realities.” Mroz explained how the inability to access sufficient food, along with the inaccessibility of sufficient energy and water, are key factors leading to political tension and social unrest around the globe.

The World Bank has noted that as food prices spiked in 2010-2011 48 million people were kept under, or sank below, the poverty line. Volatile commodity prices mean that many of those people face food scarcity, making it even more difficult for them to better their lot.

The overarching predicament is not a Malthusian dilemma in which population outstrips resources, but instead a problem of logistics. The problem is not that there is simply too little food in the world to feed everyone. What is missing are linkages that would allow those in areas of abject poverty to gain access to the life-sustaining components necessary to flourish—food, water and energy.

This issue was addressed just before the recent G8 summit as U.S. President Barack Obama joined public and private groups and individuals at the 3rd Annual Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security. The meeting was hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and explored ways to sustainably alleviate the issues of poverty which are exacerbated by food scarcity.

Speaking to an audience of nearly 50 international organizations and companies, Obama announced his New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a public-private partnership intended to tackle the issue of food insecurity through a confluence of private sector capital and public initiatives. These efforts will be aimed at agricultural development through micro-finance, education, health care efforts, infrastructure improvements and indigenous economic growth.

The international relief agency Oxfam is supportive of the initiative, but says it puts too much emphasis on private contributions to alleviate poverty to the exclusion of previously pledged government efforts to develop stronger and more substantive public programs.

Obama has stressed that food security is a moral, economic and security imperative. At the EastWest Institute our efforts, like the Economic Security Initiative and Affordable World Security Conference, seek to address this issue by working toward coordinated policies that can provide better access to food, water and energy to regions of the world that need them the most.