Who can enjoy any of the basic human rights guaranteed to them by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 through the United Nations General Assembly resolution 217, if they face chronic hunger, or even worse, starvation? The answer to the question is simple. The rights guaranteed by the UDHR to peoples of all nations would be nothing more than a cruel joke on them.
Sadly, this is the truth that millions of hungry souls in the world encounter meal by meal, day by day, month by month, even 67 years after the declaration and 19 years after the recognition by the world community. This is the realizing of everyone’s right of access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food. It is the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. This concept was put forth on November 13 1996, in Rome, at the World Food Summit called by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The world has seen progress since then and equally spectacular failures to achieve a planet free of hunger. As the FAO itself notes in its State of Food Insecurity in the World report (SOFI) for 2015; 72 developing countries out of 129 it was monitoring for the Millennium Development Goals targets, have achieved them. But, we still see globally more than 793 million people who remain undernourished. The numbers have come down from 960 million, but is this acceptable?
A regional breakdown of hunger statistics makes things even more worrying. It tears apart claims of economic development and growth being the best weapons for eradicating hunger. India, for instance, is one of worst offenders in failing its hungry citizens. However, it maintained its spectacular annual growth rate of over 7 percent for almost all of the decade gone by-even when the rest of the world was on the brink of an economic break down not seen since the 1970 Oil Shock. The same period has also seen other countries not doing that well when dealing with hunger on the economic front. Bangladesh was much better.
The reasons behind the prevalence of chronic hunger are as varied as the countries and communities in which it is endemic. Armed conflicts and insurgencies raging in Africa have pushed millions more into starvation in an Africa that has always been beset with hunger. India has seen the same without having such violence except in a few border areas. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, did not suffer much food insecurity despite three decades of civil war. In the case of food scarcity- it threatens the food security of millions across the world but millions of others in India go hungry despite food grains rotting in government warehouses.
However, there is one commonality among all those countries who have failed to arrest hunger and starvation. It appears that almost all of their public institutions are either completely defunct or just pretending to be functioning. This denies their hungry citizenry of any attempt at seeking redress. The rot in the public institutions of these countries runs too deep-from their justice to their social welfare institutions-with the end result remaining the same. The end result is brilliantly summarized by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros in their book The Locust Effect. They say countries remain stuck in the cycle of poverty because of the failure of the justice system, law enforcement and the government in saving the poor from day to day violence, slavery or forced labor. Governments, and the world community, might have a thousand schemes ready to fight hunger. The question is worth asking, what would they be on the ground fighting against bullies? Often in connivance with law enforcers than not, stealing all the benefits from the intended beneficiaries who have no justice system to seek redress against such theft.
“Hunger is more than a lack of food—it is a terrible injustice,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the World Food Day, albeit in a very different context. It cannot be further than the truth. It is a terrible injustice that public institutions, which can eradicate hunger, do not work for the hungry people and most of them have no justice institutions in which to turn. A massive reengineering and rebuilding of these public institutions is the key to eradicate hunger.