By Miguel Barreto*
The world is changing and so is the face of hunger. Due to the persistent social inequalities in society, this new face affects every country regardless of their level of development. In middle-income countries large pockets of poverty (or "islands of wealth") coexist in the midst of economic progress and the populations that lack access to nutritious food and basic services, become more vulnerable.
This new face of hunger is not only rural, but peri-urban. It is a phenomenon that can be clearly perceived in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the most impoverished families precariously establish themselves on hills and streams near urban areas. This situation increases their vulnerability to landslides and natural disasters, while lacking basic services.
But the paradox is that roughly three-quarters of the impoverished persons and stunted children living in these terrible conditions actually live in middle-income countries where they are almost invisible as are the risks and consequences of their fragile lives.
Without neglecting the poorest of the most impoverished nations, 36 percent of the 90 million people the World Food Programme assists, are now to be found in middle-income countries, and it appears that this trend will continue rising.
The data is clear. For example, WFP recently launched a map on the food security, disaster and climate change at risk areas of the Andean region. If we want to build productive and stable societies, we cannot leave anyone behind, so we must focus on the sustainable development of people’s capabilities beginning in early childhood and pay attention to the most vulnerable communities, regardless of their location.
The key to sustainable development is building resilience, changing lives by strengthening capacities. Reducing the causes of hunger which create an inheritance of food insecurity that is passed down from generation to generation.
Resilience building initiatives are not new to us. Many believe that WFP is an agency that delivers food in response to emergencies. Certainly, over the years we have saved lives through such emergency responses and continue to do so. But when possible, we work to end the hunger cycle. This is done through sustainability and resilience projects; aiding communities grow their own food, because food has been and is a crucial catalyst for development.
To stand up against social inequity requires political will, and a social pact. This also implies efficient, legitimate and long term programmes that do not answer to any commercial or political appetites, and have the full buy in of the local communities. It means working with synergy to promote integral nutrition and prevention programmes starting from gestation; manage school meals programmes that encourage children to attend school, strengthening gender equality, and promoting family and school farming.
This also means establishing programmes that generate assets, giving smallholders the capability and the opportunity to connect to the private markets and social programmes, and avoid being displaced within their city. We also support activities that promote resilience in areas that are recurrently affected by natural disasters, including the development of watersheds and reforestation projects.
That is why resilience is the vaccine against the new face of hunger.
If hunger is the most perverse expression of poverty, integral care for the most vulnerable and creating community resilience must be just as much of a priority as any other educational or health policy. This is not only an ethical commitment. In order to overcome the societal insecurities facing us, it is fundamental to reduce the migration, giving more people the opportunity to capitalize on ways to progress and develop economically.
In our region alone, 47 million people go to bed hungry every night. As proposed at the World Economic Forum in Davos by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the “Zero Hunger Challenge” for all civil society governments, businesses, unions and the scientific community begins with convincing ourselves that it is possible to eradicate this scourge during our lifetime.
*Miguel Barreto is UN World Food Programme Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.