Here’s Tom Arnold of Concern Worldwide on fighting global hunger
Question: What is the most acute problem you confront?
Arnold: Hunger is the ultimate expression of poverty, and that’s why there are still almost, at this stage, a billion people suffering from hunger everyday, and that hunger is a combination of acute malnutrition, but that’s of small proportion. I mean, that’s less than 10%. And the really serious problem is chronic malnutrition. About 90% of about a billion people are suffering from chronic malnutrition, and it’s about people being caught in a desperate poverty trap and they’re not, at the moment, able to get out of it, and I think the challenge is to see, find ways of both dealing with the immediate problem and also then helping people out of these poverty traps they are stuck in. We’re very focused on the whole area of acute malnutrition, and we were very instrumental in developing a different approach to dealing with that, called Community Therapeutic Care, which has been adopted last year by the UN as Best Practice, but we’re also dealing with a whole area of chronic malnutrition, and that’s where we’re trying to really break the cycle, and that cycle involves women who, pregnant mothers who are underweight and badly nourished producing children who are underweight, and particularly in the first two years of life, if children are not properly nourished, there’s already stunting comes in there and there’s a huge proportion of the children in the countries we work in are affected by stunting, and that means mental and physical stunting, which is irreversible. So, really, that’s a key focus as well. And then, at the other end of the scale, as we, people, we’re really trying to find pathways out of hunger for people, people, you know, who if we can improve their livelihoods, if we can get them earning that little bit extra amount of income, then, you know, they can grow their own food and they can really help themselves out of hunger.
Question: What is the impact of climate change?
Arnold: Many of the countries we work in are working in very fragile climates, and particularly areas like the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia and Northern Kenya, Darfur, Chad – all of these are very vulnerable bases where climatic change and, you know, we’re facing into more of this, are making the farmers’ livelihoods much more vulnerable. Rains that don’t come on time or that come irregularly, and sometimes come too much rain, shorter growing seasons, all of these things. So, we’re looking at, you know, different ways of how we can help that, and some of that will involve looking at pastoralist lifestyles, because many of these areas in those environments are dealing in the pastoralist setting and finding solution their problems is certainly one of the things we’re doing. To deal with hunger on a long term and sustainable way, it’s a lot more than about either increasing agricultural production or tackling the immediate problems of malnutrition. It really is about trying to look at this in a holistic way. Obviously, health has a very critical role to play in terms of what some of the methods in the whole area of child survival, so making sure that mothers are properly, perhaps [good health] in small children are properly both nourished and some of the elementary causes… I mean, when you look at it, and we have close to 10 million children a year die under the age of 5. Ten million children under the age of 5 die every year. And more than half of that is caused through a combination of malnutrition and easily preventable diseases, so if we’re to make the biggest, quickest impact, that’s where we have to start. And then, when you get into education, if you take a longer term perspective here, one of the critical things is educating girls, and that has been shown again and again to, in development terms, to give about the highest return you can get. So, dealing with hunger has to be done in an integrated way, tackling the immediate food problem but also investing in education and health.
Question: What are the obstacles to stopping hunger?
Arnold: I think there remains the issue of keeping a very clear focus on it at both national and international level. I mean, and having policies in place to deal with it, because policy matters here and political will to provide the resources to fund policy change. But, you know, we have, we had in Ireland recently something called, we had the Irish Hunger Task Force, which was asking the question, you know, what can Ireland, as a country, do to really make an impact on the problem of world hunger? And we came up with two core priorities. The first one was dealing with tackling nutrition of the mother and child under two years of age, putting a great deal more emphasis on that and a great deal more focus on that. And the second one was putting a much greater emphasis on improving the productivity of small scale African farmers, and that’s a role for governments in Africa to really change policy on, but also, they need the support of the international community to come in and basically fund improved policy to do that.