World Food Day 2014: 442 days left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals

by Torben Due | World Food Programme
Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:49 GMT

A street vendor waits for customers outside closed shops in Jerusalem's Old City June 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A world without hunger isn’t possible without India leading the way

State of Food Insecurity in the World

One of the targets set out under the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 is to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger in the world. Not only have several countries achieved this target but it is possible to reach it globally, too.

UN estimates show that in the last decade the number of hungry people in the world has decreased by more than 100 million. This World Food Day it is important to start with cognizance that much has been done. And then noting that notwithstanding this progress, one in nine people in the world continue to not have enough to eat today. 

Not getting enough food or not getting the right kind of food causes malnutrition. Even if people get enough to eat, they will become malnourished if the food they eat does not provide the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals to meet their daily requirements. 

Malnutrition’s economic costs to an individual and a country are substantial: ending child under-nutrition could increase a developing country’s GDP by 16.5 percent. Improving nutrition is not only an issue of welfare and human rights but also of economics and national growth.

India has 190 million hungry people

India’s hunger situation has much improved (the country has reduced the proportion of hungry people by about 35 percent since 1990) but nevertheless India carries a considerable weight of the global hunger problem. Further the malnutrition situation continues to remain critical with one of every three malnourished children in the world living in India. 

An indicator for chronic malnutrition is stunting, wherein an individual has low height for his/her age. Regrettably chronic malnutrition cannot generally be reversed; prevention is the only cure. Almost half of the children in India under the age of five are stunted. 

Deficiencies in essential nutrients are unacceptably high across income levels in India. This is a result not just of lack of enough food but also the right kind of food, clean drinking water, knowledge about nutrition and good eating practices. 

This scenario demonstrates that not only is the problem dire but also that it is multi-faceted and not just one a matter of poverty. 

The Indian Government has taken responsibility for food security with the National Food Security Act and some of the world’s largest food-based social safety nets such as the Targeted Public Distribution System as essential means to address hunger. However effective implementation for maximum impact of these safety nets continues to be a challenge. 

Zero Hunger Challenge

The World Food Programme (WFP) has committed to the United Nations Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge which calls for ending hunger in our lifetime.  In India, WFP is assisting the government with state-of-the-art technologies that enable efficient implementation and maximum nutritional impact of existing food-based safety nets. 

To effectively weed out hunger and malnutrition, significant change is needed in the response efforts, from access to enough food to enough of the right kind of food. More collaboration is needed amongst efforts to tackle hunger, prevent disease, provide safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and education. Stronger political will needs to be demonstrated right from policy-making through to effective implementation to the last mile to make hunger and malnutrition a reality of the past. 

Zero Hunger is a challenge that India cannot afford not to meet, for its own people and because the dream of a world without hunger isn’t possible without India leading the way.

Torben Due is the Country Director of the United Nations World Food Programme in India.