The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Hunger Reduction – An Under-Performing MDG target in Asia and the Pacific

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on October 26, 2010

The UN MDG summit (20-22 September 2010) reviewed the progress achieved since the MDG project was initiated ten years ago. In 2000, world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration which envisions eight benchmarks for human development, namely the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs include the eradication of poverty and hunger, provision of primary education, elimination of gender disparity, improvement in child and maternal health, etc. Achieving these would contribute to ensuring human security in all aspects.

Hunger eradication has been placed with poverty reduction as the first goal among others, which indicates that reducing hunger is a starting base for the advancement of other goals. It is pledged in the Declaration to halve the proportion of hungry people by 2015. So far, the overall progress in this respect is not sufficient to reduce the prevalence of hunger by half. Asia and the Pacific is progressing very slowly. Without extra efforts, it is probably unable to achieve the target. The under-performance of the region can be explained by the insufficient attention to hunger reduction in the MDG discourse and the prevalence of protracted conflicts in the region.

As noted in a report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), hunger is often ignored in discussions of MDG1, just as it has been invisible on the development agenda. Furthermore, due to the close correlation between poverty and hunger, hunger is conflated into a general discussion of poverty. The lack of focus on hunger has resulted in negligence to the specific needs for hunger reduction in the MDGs solutions.

Traditionally, economic development, education, and gender equality have been considered critical in hunger reduction. However, the three variables are not sufficient for explaining what is happening in Asia and the Pacific. Despite the 2008 financial crisis, the region has been able to maintain robust economic development, registering a regional growth rate of over 6%. However, hunger eradication has not demonstrated corresponding momentum. It is still home to the largest number of hungry people among regions in the world, which amounts to 578 million.

One important factor which is missing in the explanation is protracted armed conflict. Many countries in this region have been in protracted armed conflicts. Since 2005, Asia has replaced Africa to become the region that has witnessed the highest number of armed conflicts. Protracted conflicts contribute to the prevalence of hunger by inflicting serious impacts on food availability, accessibility, and affordability. Firstly, armed conflicts disrupt food systems and thus result in acute food shortage. The negative impact of armed conflicts may last even after the end of conflicts, due to destroyed irrigation system and transportation infrastructure. Secondly, conflicts reduce people’s access to food. Hunger is also used a weapon to submits opponents. Land and water resources are contaminated to force people leave or discourage their return.

Furthermore, hunger can also cause violence and conflict. For instance, during the 2007-08 food crisis, violent protests were reported in Uzbekistan. Thus, the realization of the target for hunger reduction and conflict prevention and resolution are mutually reinforcing.


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