The crisis the world forgot! It says a great deal about the general instability of our age that the world can misplace entire crises in the shock of the latest alarms. We've been deeply concerned with the global economic crisis which has swept aross the developed world.
But what happened to The Great Global Hunger Crisis? You'll remember how it swept across large parts of Asia and Africa over the past three years, provoking widespread hoarding of rice and grain as well as food riots.
It has since almost entirely disappeared from the news. But not from the real world. In reality, the now largely overlooked food crisis is continuing to devastate much of the poor world and to reverse some of the historic advances over the past dozen or so years in reducing global poverty.
Until fairly recently, hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America were moving into better lives, even joining the middle class. But the lack of investment in agriculture, along with the rapid rise in commodity prices and the ravages of the current recession, has now cast an estimated 90 million people back into abject poverty.
The total now living in such extreme conditions is once again climbing above one billion, the first absolute increase in the hungry and destitute in a generation.
A hungry planet: Indeed, it would be very difficult to exaggerate the gravity of the food crisis. Everyday, 24,000 children die from hunger related diseases — that's one every 3.6 seconds. The world should have enough food, but agriculture has suffered from severe under-investment for over 30 years.
Corn, sugar and petroleum products eat up steadily increasing amounts of prime land. Water is also in short supply, while populations are rising and countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China have been growing richer and adding more (grain-consuming) meat to their diets.
Together these things comprise the burning fuse of the 21st-century food crisis. And now you can add in the fact that food aid from rich donors has also been collapsing in recent months. Of the $20 billion in new aid pledged by developed nations less than 20 per cent has actually been delivered. These countries are reneging on promises as their own economies weaken.
Anti-poverty activists have been trying to nudge the wealthy G20 nations into reversing labour protection rules and spending stimulus money in developing countries. But given the air of barely suppressed panic in the rich world, that approach is unlikely.
For the wealthy nations, the future is too uncertain as the full blast of the economic crisis has yet to hit. That means the poorest countries will continue to receive minimal attention, which can have an impact well beyond their borders.
The UN estimates 27 nations are approaching violent instability as their brief period of food prosperity comes undone. Given these realities, ignoring one crisis for another is not likely to increase the security of an increasingly troubled world.
Adapted from a report by Brian Stewart