Hunger isn’t just a health or poverty issue, it’s an education and productivity issue too. Photo: Getty
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Relief, resilience and reform: Labour’s strategy to fight hunger

The shadow Dfid secretary Jim Murphy on Labour's three Rs for fighting world hunger.

Thirty years on from the Ethiopian famine, this week’s launch of the Global Hunger Index , reminds us that hunger hasn’t gone away.

The importance of winning this fight hardly needs stating. Access to food is a human right, starvation is a killer; under-nourishment and malnutrition destroy lives and hold back entire nations. That injustice alone provides a clear moral responsibility to act, and with nutrient deficiencies creating a knock on global cost of reaching $2 trillion a year in lost output there is an economic imperative as well.

Hunger, of course does not occur at random and defeating hunger will not be an accident. It occurs where things have gone badly wrong – things we have the power to change, and ending hunger will be a choice. In the end it will come down to strategic planning and political will. After all, as it is often said that there is enough food in the world, but it’s just concentrated in the wrong places, and whilst the solution therefore might be simple, it isn’t easy. If a fairer share for everyone was straight forward we would have done it, but hunger – and hidden hunger – is far more complicated. 

And this report helps explain why – in a sea of steady progress around the world, some states stand out against the tide. States like Swaziland – home to the worst HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world, where one in four are infected, which has seen hunger soar since 1990, and those like Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for whom we are unable to even gather the data. These states have been home to disease, violence, poor governance. Not so very different to the dominant themes of this month’s nightly news.

Today, the terror of Ebola and the terrorists of ISIL cast a long shadow over global affairs. Here at home we tend to concentrate on the threat of these killers arriving on our shores, and that is understandable, but we must never forget that any threat than hangs over us is a daily reality for those already in harm’s way. And beyond the immediate tragedy of the most direct victims, is a slow motion car crash of crumbling infrastructure, decaying communities and broken lives.

In Syria today we see this at its most striking. A civil war, a breakdown of governance, an end to the rule of law and the most basic of public services and civic rights. The return of polio, hunger and poverty on a scale not seen in decades. Those trapped within Syria’s civil war today are not just at risk of malnutrition, violence and disease. They are left utterly powerless. Just like food there is no shortage, but it is unfairly concentrated in the hands of too few, and kept from the grip of too many.

For Labour, power – and empowerment – is what development is about. And at the heart of that idea is the connection between all of those wrongs we in development seek to right, from climate change to disease, violence and hunger. From Syria to Sierra Leone, the problems we seek to address cannot be picked off one at a time. After all, hunger isn’t just a health issue, or a poverty issue, it’s an education issue and a productivity issue as well. It’s a problem of powerlessness. The causes are interlinked, and the consequences are interlinked. So our response must be too.

The next Labour government will operate a three point response to hunger – relief for today, resilience for tomorrow, and reform for the future. First, in a world where the impact of climate change is becoming a daily reality for millions of the world’s poor, whilst the global population continues to rise, localised emergencies will continue to arise, and when they do, the UK – alongside the international community – must be on hand to lend our support.

Second, is resilience, an idea with one simple truth is at its core – prevention is better than cure. As an occasional marathon runner I know the old adage that when you are thirsty it is already too late. When urgent need arises we are already too late – the same is true of conflict and hunger.

The solution is to make changes now to avert catastrophe in the future. Concern’s work on resilience in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa has shown the difference this can make. The millions who aren’t trapped by hunger because of the work done by schemes like these might not make the news but in their own quiet way, these are the sensations of development, and resilience is why.

And finally, as in all areas of development, long-term system reform is our priority. That’s how you get to the root cause of those power imbalances we seek to address. Dealing with the disease rather than treating the symptoms means taking on the rules of the game that leave one in 9 to go to bed hungry whilst almost half the world’s food is thrown away.

That’s why Labour led the world in dropping the debt, and trebled aid setting the course to donate 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income to Official Development Assistance, and it’s why we have pledged that the next Labour government will double UK support aimed at helping developing countries improve their tax base and provide more for their own citizens through a stronger exchequer.

Further, we understand that with action on climate we risk reversing all the gains we have made in development over the past three decades so Labour will work with international partners to bring about a meaningful agreement to finally bring climate change under control. And finally within the Sustainable Development Goals, we will argue for an ambitious and achievable goal on hunger, backed up by strong attendant targets

We need to beat hunger today, tomorrow and forever. Ending hunger by 2030 won’t be easy and I can’t pretend that I have all the answers. But through a UK strategy based around reform, resilience and relief I am confident we can play our part.

Jim Murphy is Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and shadow secretary of state for international development

Jim Murphy is the former Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and leader of Scottish Labour 2014-15.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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