Hunger's Perfect Storm Is Back

11/22/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

The perfect storm for the world's most vulnerable is back -- and with a vengeance. Now bad weather and soaring food prices have been joined by a financial crisis sucking the economic life out of poor communities -- and urgent hunger is the result.

In Kenya, the cattle have already started dying. Their fly-covered carcasses litter the landscape. Soon it will be the children.

In Guatemala, children have already started dying. In rural areas, tens of thousands of families can no longer afford to eat. Malnutrition rates are rising among the very young, and poverty has become a killer. The president just made a plea for help, calling it a national calamity.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was created to be a safety net for the world. Completely voluntarily funded, we should be cyclical with needs. When times are good we shrink, but when times are hard -- such as during last year's food price crisis -- we grow to help nations feed their most vulnerable.

Today, with the global financial crisis compounding the food crisis, with conflicts from Pakistan to Somalia forcing millions from their homes, with El Nino droughts and floods destroying crops we should be ramping up operations to save the dying. Instead we are making painful decisions about where to cut rations and programmes because we are dealing with an unprecedented $3 billion gap in funding.

Next month WFP will start reducing food rations to almost four million people in Kenya. In Guatemala, our nutrition programme supporting mothers and children is hanging by a thread.

The sun never sets on the hungry. This year more than one billion people -- more than ever before in history -- will not get enough to eat. From Africa to Asia, and from the Middle East to the Americas, millions depend on WFP for food. Hunger is on the march, but the funds to address it have shrunk.

Last year when soaring food prices put food out of reach for tens of millions, resulting in food riots in 30 countries, the world responded to an urgent need and generously contributed more than $5 billion dollars to WFP. The riots were quelled and lives were saved.

Two months ago G8 leaders, decided to invest in a food secure world and pledged an historic $20 billion. That was the right decision at the right time. But people starving today cannot wait for food that will be grown tomorrow. Food security solutions must be comprehensive. We need to grow more through increased agricultural production and we also need to ensure that everyone can obtain adequate nutrition.

We also know much more today about food and nutrition today than we ever did before. Battling hunger is about so much more than saving lives.

Instead of counting the dead, we should be measuring the impact of nutritional interventions that improve the health and well-being of the living. Foods that are highly-fortified with vitamins and minerals and that are delivered to children at critical moments of development can have an enormous impact.

Not only does providing nutritious food to the very young save lives, it also contributes to the economic growth of developing countries by helping to build a fit and mentally astute work force for the next generation.

You can measure the results in percentage points added to GDP. Helping nations feed their hungry is a good investment for a productive, safe world.

The timing of this investment is critical. An intervention now will reap dividends for millions whose lives will otherwise be curtailed, or unfulfilled. Children, who are stunted by 2 years of age, remain stunted for life. Their health is compromised, their mental development and productivity undermined.

A hungry world is a dangerous world. And the world is hungry right now. Let's not wait for more riots to erupt and people to die to realize that we are losing a generation to hunger and malnutrition.