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