As the coronavirus pandemic continues to require the world to protect its most vulnerable people, the reality of undernourishment faces more than 820 million people in the world. This increases vulnerability in our one human family.
Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, reflects on the current state of food security.
What do you see as the state of hunger and food security in the world today?
Dr Kurian: Though for decades, the world was making progress in the fight against hunger, the number of undernourished people is on the rise again. More than 820 million people, one in nine, are going hungry. The combination of moderate and severe levels of food insecurity brings the estimated total to 26.4 percent of the world population, amounting to about 2 billion people. A combination of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles has also sent obesity rates soaring, not only in developed countries, but also low-income countries, where hunger and obesity often coexist. Now over 670 million adults and 120 million girls and boys (5-19 years) are obese, and over 40 million children under 5 are overweight. Obesity and other forms of malnutrition affect nearly one in three people.
How are the churches mobilizing to end hunger in Africa and the world?
Dr Kurian: Faith communities and our leaders are vital in overcoming hunger and promoting justice in Africa. Faith communities are most often the most relevant, trusted networks and messengers in every society. They have a constant and uninterrupted presence, even in the most remote community. If hunger is to be overcome, faith communities need to be taken into confidence and be working with the governments, international agencies and the broader society.
They are active in organising, and accompanying communities, to face the ongoing challenges, to keep the communities in the rural and remote areas sustainable and dynamic. They are actively assisting communities in facing hunger and loss of livelihood. Faith communities contribute to the strength, solidarity, hope and resilience. Our faith in God and in Jesus Christ connects us across the world and strengthening the sense of ubuntu, and being part of one body - in God, is the most dynamic feature that connects communities.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
What are some of the challenges of ending hunger? Is climate change a key factor?
Dr Kurian: The situation of food in Africa has to be seen in the context of climate change, existing injustices and inequities, ongoing epidemics, and the current pandemic of COVID-19, sweeping the world.
The pandemic-associated collapse of the global economic markets is leading to the steep fall of the prices of commodities, which will further impoverish African economies. In addition, if the COVID-19 pandemic is to hit Africa, it could have a further profound impact on the food security and livelihoods of the most impoverished communities. Many of our vulnerable or displaced populations, live in cramped conditions, with a shortage of recources, in water supplies and can ill afford to stay at home when sick or to maintain social distance, if they have to provide food for their families.
Climate change is also precipitating massive shifts in rain patterns, bringing unseasonal rains, frequent droughts, and more devastating and recurrent storms such as Cyclone Idai last year.
There is also an evident connection between climate change and the unprecedented locust crisis that is currently devastating the crops of the Horn of Africa and East Africa. Warmer seas mean more cyclones are generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts, leading to the worst outbreak in 25 years and could lead to famine in a region already struggling with food insecurity.
We need to work together to ensure that we find solutions to hunger in Africa and the world.
But as the current events clearly show us, the world is interconnected. Hunger and disease in one region of the world will ultimately have a profound impact far away. We are deeply interconnected, and we are the ‘keeper of our sister and brother.’
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4).
We have to take collective responsibility to take care of the world, and limit climate change. We have to contribute to preparedness to facing disasters and pandemics. We need to ensure that each farmer can live in their homestead with dignity, having access to a full and quality life.
Church action against hunger in Africa reemphasized as report shows under-nutrition (WCC press release of 19 March 2020)