Poverty Eradication is a distant dream
Despite all the efforts mentioned above, we have not just miserably failed in curbing poverty in any of its forms or achieving food security and ending hunger; we have also shoved the masses, who were already struggling against destitution, into deeper chasms of impoverishment and famine. The latest report of SDGs made public in 2022, estimates that while in 2019, some 641 million people lived below the income of 1.90 dollars a day, the year 2021 witnessed the numbers soaring to 684 million.
A similar report on the second SDG of Zero Hunger finds that about one in 10 people worldwide are suffering from hunger and nearly one in three people lack regular access to adequate food. Almost half the countries in the world have suffered from soaring food prices in 2020 and 149 million children under age 5 still suffer from stunting. In addition to this, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 reaffirms the bleak situation mentioned above. The GHI states that Central Africa faced “alarming” and South Asia “serious” hunger with scores of 43 and 24.7, respectively. And in a rank-wise study of 116 countries, Central Africa was ranked 114, while Pakistan, India and Afghanistan were ranked 92, 101 and 103, respectively. According to a report by the United Nations on food security, the Earth produces more food than is required to feed everyone. Still some 815 million people around the world face starvation, the highest figure being from Asia.
Unfortunately, poverty and food shortages cannot be studied in isolation, since almost every natural or manmade disaster exacerbates the severity of the food crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, pushed some 90 million people in the Asia-Pacific region into extreme poverty, estimated in a report titled “Building Forward Together: Towards an Inclusive and Resilient Asia and the Pacific,” jointly released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP). The World Bank, in one of its reports, states that the rate of poverty around the globe was on the decline with consistency for the last 25 years till the disruption caused by Covid-19 eclipsed everything. The report suggests that over 150 million people live on less than 3.2 dollars per day, and are prone to fall into the chasm of extreme poverty. This impact becomes worse when multidimensional poverty is considered. Covid-19 added an alarming 245 million people to the already soaring figures of 1.3 billion multidimensional poor in the Asia-Pacific region, reversing the poverty alleviation figures back to, at least, nine years. The World Bank reported similar effects in Pakistan where economic progress remained below par, averaging 1.3 percent for the financial years 2021 and 2022.
In addition to the above argument, as the Global Network’s 2022 global report on food crisis suggests, clashes and wars are significant drivers of food shortage worldwide. The Ukraine crisis – taking a manmade crisis as an instance in this argument – too has triggered food shortages for the poorest people in the world. Ukraine and the Russian Federation are responsible jointly for 30 percent of global exports of wheat and 20 percent of those of maize. While 47 million people have already suffered from a shortage of wheat worldwide, the Russia-Ukraine war and the resulting sanctions – by US, EU, G7 and others – on Russia have exacerbated the situation, which would push the world further away from achieving the zero hunger targets set in the SDGs.
Pakistan, an impoverished nation facing food shortage crisis up to an existential level, is the third largest importer of wheat from Ukraine. Pakistan imported 60 percent of its wheat consumed in 2020-2021, thus signifying the importance of the Ukraine-Russia war on food security in Pakistan. In addition to this, the effect of the current flash floods in Pakistan on food security knows no bounds. While the failure of government is already crystal clear concerning relief efforts, and figures of deaths due to half of the state land being flooded keep on pouring in, the real impact is yet to be estimated in terms of millions of people being pushed below the poverty line and even more starving and suffering from acute food shortage. We were already performing below par in terms of food security. Sindh and Balochistan, for instance, were facing “high food insecurity”, IPC’s Acute Food Insecurity Analysis 2021-2022 asserts. The reasons include, but are not limited to, the increasing intensity of recurring heatwaves in the region, high food and fuel prices, and epidemics and the pandemic of Covid-19. And lately, since the floods have done more than destroying the crops and livestock, it will only aggravate existing food insecurity and dietary challenges; thus, worsening the already bleak conditions of malnutrition, under-nutrition, and starvation levels in Pakistan. Since this flood in its scale has already surpassed the super floods of 2010, it will likely destroy the opportunities for agriculture for at least a year. Since the lower terrains of Sindh and Balochistan are still under water, while growing times for Rabi season are already on the horizon, this impact shall, via damage to the major crop of cotton, will impact textiles, thereby disrupting the already struggling national economy.
Thus, poverty and food crisis are dilemmas that get worse with each passing day, since they are interconnected to and exacerbated by almost all natural and manmade disasters. Hence, we cannot end hunger unless the issues that undermine food security are addressed. This makes it imperative to reserve a certain percentage of disaster rehabilitation or resilience funds, for instance, climate change resilience fund; for a sustained nutritional strategy. The governmental, as well as inter-governmental response towards poverty and malnutrition eradication strategies, cannot be ‘one size fits all’ type of solution. The first two SDGs have to be part and parcel of the national food policies of every country. Then, a multi-sectorial strategy that is customized according to the terrain, level of impact and stage of required intervention is inevitable, and that too with the cooperation of both private and public sectors. The strategy should not only look for timely relief to the food- impoverished masses, but long-term nutritional support is also equally imperative. There needs to be a universal charter regarding exports of staple crops and even if the global body has to resort to sanctions, it should compensate for the losses incurred in the supply of crops like wheat, at least to those who are affected by the supply and price crises.
In addition to this, while new technology needs to be introduced in agriculture, it is imperative that patterns of production, as well as consumption, be re-assessed. We have to invest in sustainable agricultural development. Global targets set by the United Nations as well as the efforts put therein need to be redefined; for instance, as suggested by the annual SDG report 2021, to reduce stunting in children by 50 percent by 2030, the annual rate of decline has to increase two folds, i.e. 2.1 percent to 3.9 percent per year. Above all, it requires human intervention. It is a strategy by humans and for humans, as go the words of Nelson Mandela that “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is manmade and can be removed by the actions of human beings.
The United Nations celebrates international day for the eradication of poverty on October 17th each year. The global body, despite all the loopholes mentioned so far, tries to sensitize the indifferent masses toward the deprived and starving humanity. We must not forget that saving humanity from starvation is not possible without the leadership of the strong and the engagement of all. This October 17th, the world has to reaffirm its commitment to ending this vicious cycle of persistent poverty while still maintaining respect for people and the planet we are living on.
The writer is a student of LLB at Pakistan College of Law, Lahore