World Food Day is observed each year on 16 October, the day on which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was founded in 1945 in Quebec, Canada. It was an important step forward in man’s perpetual struggle against hunger and malnutrition since the dawn of civilization. FAO was conceived as a platform and mechanism through which its member countries could deal with the problems of food supply and hunger.
The objectives of World Food Day are to:
- encourage attention to agricultural food production and to stimulate national, bilateral, multilateral and non-governmental efforts to this end;
- encourage economic and technical cooperation among developing countries;
- encourage the participation of rural people, particularly women and the least privileged categories, in decisions and activities influencing their living conditions;
- heighten public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world;
- promote the transfer of technologies to the developing world; and
- strengthen international and national solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty and draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development.
Over the years, the world has made tremendous progress in the fight against hunger. Since 1990, the number of hungry people in the world has fallen by over 200 million while the global population has grown. Yet, 795 million people will still go to bed hungry every night, and another 1.2 billion people are not getting the nutritious food they need to survive and thrive.
Not having enough or the right food to eat affects the physical and cognitive development of children, negatively impacting their ability to learn and to become productive members of their communities. Hunger and malnutrition trap people in poverty. Malnutrition also plays a role in nearly half the deaths of children under the age of five by weakening their immune systems and making them more vulnerable to life-threatening diseases.
There’s currently enough food to feed everyone in the world, but it’s just not distributed fairly and efficiently. Recently, 193 world leaders made a historic commitment to 17 Global Goals to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change. One of these goals aims to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in all forms by 2030. Achieving this goal all starts with farmers. Smallholder farmers have the power to feed their communities and countries, but they are too often affected by poverty and lack of resources.
The majority of people who live on less than $2 a day depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Empowering smallholder farmers is key to ensuring everyone has access to nutritious food and at the same it can lift millions of people out of poverty. Yet the future of poor farmers is threatened by climate change. Three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihood on agriculture or other rural activities. Creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods, is a crucial component of any plan to end world hunger.
Pakistan too faces the problem of rising hunger. According to a report of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Pakistan remains at the bottom of the Global Hunger Index, standing at 106 among 119 developing countries, as the nation faces serious hunger problems and lags behind India and even most of the African states. The Washington-based IFPRI organization has released its fresh Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2017, which shows that Pakistan is facing serious hunger problem and the situation could become “alarming” in the coming years. According to the report, 22% population is undernourished in Pakistan which continues to raise concerns with its score on the high end of the “serious” category.
The 2017 report ranks 119 countries in the developing world, nearly half of which have “extremely alarming”, “alarming” or “serious” hunger levels. South Asia with 30.9 score has the highest levels of hunger, followed closely by Africa south of the Sahara 29.4. At 32.6, Pakistan has the second highest hunger score – only Afghanistan has worse – in all of Asia. Pakistan’s next door neighbour, India, has the third highest score of 31.4 in Asia, and is ranked at 100 overall. Afghanistan is ranked at 107 with a 33.3 score. Countries like Ethiopia, Angola, Uganda and Rwanda fared better than Pakistan, underscoring growing inequality in the country despite official claims that Pakistan was on course to join top 25 economies of the world. The GHI score is a multidimensional index composed of four indicators—proportion of undernourished in the population, prevalence of child mortality, child stunting, and child wasting (low weight for height). On the severity scale, a GHI score of less than 10 means “low” prevalence of hunger while a score of more than 50 implies an “extremely alarming” situation.
The report says that about one-fifth of Pakistan’s total population is undernourished. This should be a matter of concern for policymakers. Instead of improving the situation, the government has delayed releasing the data on some social indicators like the employment status. The most alarming figure is child stunting, as 45% children are facing the problem of impaired body growth due to poor nutrition. This ratio was 40.3% during 2006 to 2010 period. According to the GHI report, slightly above one out of every ten children of under five years of age were suffering from wasting –low weight for their height, but it was down from 12.8% during 2006-2010. The child mortality rate remained at 8.1% under the age of five – down from 9.6%, according to the report.
While referring to the results of various studies conducted between 2011 and 2016, the IFPRI said that between 2013 and 2015, Sindh suffered from a severe drought, particularly the Thar Desert region that covers much of one district, Umerkot. In the most recent Human Development Index for Pakistan, Tharparkar was ranked in the bottom category. An in-depth assessment in 2015 concluded that virtually the entire population of Thar was living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day. Thar has received fewer resources to stimulate its development than other parts of the country. By way of contrast, the richest districts in Pakistan receive five times more public funds on average than the poorest. Clearly, the government needs to change its priorities.
The PML-N government had launched two programmes –first the Millennium Development Goals and then Prime Minister’s Global Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme — and allocated billions of rupees for improving social indicators across the country. It allocated Rs50 billion for these programmes in last two budgets. Ironically, the Rs30 billion funds that are placed under the head of the PM’s Global SDGs Achievement Programme during fiscal year 2017-18 are spent on parliamentarians’ schemes like village electrification and provision of gas facilities.