Developing strategies to end hunger

12 posts from September 2008

The U.S. Financial Meltdown and Poor Countries

The full ramifications of the financial crisis on the US economy are yet to manifest themselves, but it’s pretty clear that one effect in the near term will be to exacerbate an economic downturn that was already underway. But what does the meltdown of the American financial sector portend for developing countries? The impact will certainly vary from one country to another, but the overall outlook isn’t good.

Liliana Rojas-Suarez, of the Center for Global Development, in a Sept. 22 blog post, predicts that the U.S. financial crisis will mean a combination of slower growth and rising inequality in the developing world – not exactly what we need on top of an already severe food price crisis and increasing global poverty.

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Climate Change -- Adapt or Die

That is the title of an article in the Sept. 11 issue of The Economist, that focuses on the growing urgency – and appreciation of that urgency on the part of global leaders – of dealing with the effects of climate change, particularly in poor countries. For too long, environmentalists have focused on preventing climate change rather than adapting to it. That is changing; priorities appear to be shifting.

Two things have changed attitudes. One is evidence that global warming is happening faster than expected. According to a story in the Sept. 26 Washington Post, carbon is building up in the atmosphere faster than predicted. And Manish Bapna of the World Resources Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC, believes "it is already too late to avert dangerous consequences, so we must learn to adapt."

Second, it is becoming increasingly clear that climate change hits two specific groups of people disproportionately and unfairly. They are the poorest of the poor and those living in island states: 1 billion people in 100 countries. The first impact of global warming has been on the very things the poorest depend on most: dry-land agriculture, tropical forests, subsistence fishing. Global warming erodes coastlines, spreads pests and water-borne diseases and produces more erratic weather patterns. Kirk Smith, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, calls climate change the world’s biggest regressive tax: the poorest pay for the behavior of the rich. The following map depicts the cumulative carbon emissions of the global community from 1950 to 2000. The contribution of the poorest countries can be seen to be miniscule, yet they are the ones that will bear the brunt.

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Making Progress Toward the MDGs - Part 2

In addition to the MDG 2008 Report, the MDG Gap Task Force recently came out with a report on MDG 8, entitled Delivering on the Global Partnership for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The MDG Gap Task Force was created to improve the monitoring of MDG 8 and leverage inter-agency coordination.  While there are existing platforms for inter-agency coordination for MDGs 1-7, the monitoring of the global partnership in MDG 8 has been poorly coordinated, making it difficult to measure the progress of international commitments.  This particular report represents the efforts of the task force to address the delivery gap between global commitments and their actual delivery in the developing world.

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Making Progress Toward the MDGs

Ahead of the UN High Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, the global body has released its annual Millennium Development Goals Report 2008.  The report emphasizes that while progress has been made on the MDGs overall, this progress is threatened by rising global food and fuel prices as well as global economic downturn.

Here is an overview of key findings from the report:

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Accra Aftermath

In early September I blogged on the upcoming Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (More Effective and Efficient Aid - A Realistic Goal?) in Accra, Ghana, September 2-4. The goals for the forum were to review progress relative to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, adopted at the 2005 High Level Forum, and to adopt measures designed to bring about quicker and more complete compliance. The dust has now settled and it’s possible to take a measure of how closely the assembled dignitaries in Accra came to achieving those goals.

The Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) is the statement approved by the assembled ministers of both developing and developed countries, committing themselves to accelerate and deepen the implementation of the Paris Declaration. There are some positive features:

  • Donors agreed to strengthen and use developing country systems “to the maximum extent possible,” with commitments to provide 66 percent of aid in the form of program-based disbursements, and to channel 50 percent or more of government-to-government assistance through recipient country systems;
  • Donors agreed to reduce the fragmentation of aid, with a commitment to start a dialogue on international division of labor across countries by June 2009;
  • Donors agreed to deepen their engagement with civil society organizations;
  • Donors agreed to increase the medium-term predictability of aid, and to make amounts and implementation procedures more transparent.

For their part, developing country governments agreed to take on stronger leadership of their own development policies, to broaden country-level dialogue on development and to strengthen their own leadership and management capacity. So far, so good.   

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FAO: Hunger Increased by 75 million in 2007

Late yesterday the FAO released new estimates of the number of hungry people around the world. Given the rise in food prices experienced over the last several years (and most dramatically since the beginning of 2008), the news is not surprising, but it is troubling. In 2007, the number of hungry people increased by 75 million. FAO estimates that 923 million people suffer from hunger.


The report makes the sobering observation that "with the number of chronically hungry people in the world now higher than during the baseline period [1990-1992], the World Food Summit target of reducing that number by half by the year 2015 may be unreachable."


Make Poverty an Issue

Yesterday marked the conclusion of the faith community's Week of Action on poverty. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups around the country spent the last week engaging their communities in education and advocacy to raise awareness about poverty. The coalition of faith groups, Fighting Poverty With Faith, is working to make poverty an issue in the fall elections.

Their efforts couldn't come at a better time. Both hunger and poverty are on the rise in the United States, drafting 4.5 million more Americans into their ranks since the start of the decade. The policies in place over the course of this decade have contributed to growing inequality, with uneven distribution of recent economic gains widening the gulf between rich and poor. Not since the Great Depression has the top one percent of U.S. households held such a large share of our nation's income.

If we are to reduce hunger and poverty, everyone must do their part, starting at the top. Congress and the administration must reallocate federal resources to reverse the shameful trend of growing hunger and poverty. Yet ending hunger and poverty requires not just that we change course, but that we stay the course. Setting a national goal to reduce hunger and poverty in a specific time-frame will keep us focused on the target and provide a means by which to measure progress.

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Not All Economies Are Gloom and Doom

Burgeoning Economies, By the Numbers

2%:  an optimistic economy growth rate this year
6%:  the average in Africa

$39,000,000,000: foreign investment to Africa

18: stock exchanges in Africa, up from 5.

15%: annual return rates since 2000 for the African stock exchanges
144%: record year return rate

$230,000,000: invested in Rwanda’s tourism sector from Dubai World

63,000: new jobs created in Uganda by the private sector
30%: of population in Uganda living on less than $1 day
50%: decrease in those living in extreme poverty in Uganda in the last decade

300,000,000:  Africans considered a new segment of sub-Saharan Africa, “upwardly mobile, low-to middle-income consumers”

18:  Target-style superstore, Nakumatt, chains being built in sub-Saharan Africa
$350,000,000: Nakumatt’s annual sales for this year
$1,000,000,000: expected annual sales in the next decade.

Investors are looking for the “next India” and it seems that they need to look no further than Africa. Two recent Washington Post articles, “Foreign Investors Recognize Allure of Sub-Saharan Africa” and “In Africa, a New Middle-Income Consumerism” by Stephanie McCrummen highlight an emergence of foreign investment and individual financial gains in Africa.

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Growing Unemployment Reaffirms Need for Economic Relief Package

New data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the economy suffered its eighth straight month of job losses. The unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent in August, just the latest evidence of the economy's onslaught on low-income families.

With lost jobs, stagnant wages, and higher food and energy costs, poor families are being hit from all sides. Congress had promised to consider economic relief legislation after returning from their annual August recess. But with target adjournment set for September 26, members have less than three weeks to complete the nation's business for the year before returning home to campaign for the November elections.

Congress acted in February to give rebates to most American households and to provide tax incentives for businesses, but it failed to keep its moral obligation to help the most vulnerable among us. Unfortunately the situation has only worsened since that time, and many poor families are living on the edge of crisis. Consider these alarming facts:

  • Unemployment is now at its highest level since September 2003, and one in five unemployed workers has been looking for a job for more than six months.
  • Hourly earnings are up 3.6 percent from last year, not even close to keeping pace with overall inflation, which is at 5.6 percent.
  • Food prices continue their sharp rise, with the cost of groceries now 7.1 percent higher than a year ago.
  • The number of people seeking assistance from the Food Stamp Program is nearing a record high. In June 2008, the number of households participating in the program was up 8.2 percent from the year before.
  • While gas prices have fallen slightly in recent weeks, a gallon of gas still costs about $1 more than it did a year ago. The median household is now spending 11.5 percent of its income on gasoline, up from 4.6 percent of its income five years ago.

Congress must not adjourn without enacting an economic relief package targeted at low-income households. Vulnerable families cannot afford to wait until Congress returns next January before receiving much needed help.

Specifically, Congress must provide a temporary boost in food stamps so that benefit levels, which have not kept pace with food inflation, reflect the actual price of groceries. In addition, nutrition programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) require additional funding to absorb higher food costs and meet rising need. Finally, Congress should include a further extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits and an increase in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Climate Change: The US Government Begins to Climb on Board

Last week the State Department delivered its report to Congress, required by the Omnibus Appropriations bill passed last December, on the adaptation needs of developing countries and US government’s plans regarding adaptation. As such, the report puts the administration on record as acknowledging what has already has accepted by other developed countries: That developing countries will be most severely effected by climate change; that these impacts will occur across a broad range of sectors; and that the costs of adaptation – i.e., making the changes in human and natural systems which would moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities arising from climate change – will overwhelm the current development assistance resource flows.

The report contains a broad-brush overview of some of the climate impacts faced by developing countries and inventories on-going USG programs that do address adaptation needs; e.g., the Asia Flood Network, development of hurricane hazard maps for the Caribbean, understanding health effects of climate change and predicting disease dynamics, an assessment of mangrove systems in Asia, and support to CGIAR (the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) on agricultural adaptation.  However, most of these are relatively small, research efforts, with a total FY 2008 budget of approximately $27 million.

The report begs the question of how the full costs of adaptation, which it estimates at between $10 and $50 billion annually, will be met, noting simply that, “The scale of the potential cost suggests that adaptation efforts should leverage funds dedicated to development assistance, and that the donor community alone cannot take responsibility for adaptation in the developing world.” The report makes no reference, for instance, to the Clean Development Mechanism, which could generate significant resources for adaptation. The responsibility of donors, according to the report, should be “to provide tools, information and assistance to developing countries so they can entrain the resources of the private sector as well as donors to build resilient futures.” True enough, up to a point -- developing countries will have to bear a major share of the cost. But as the parties responsible for the predicament in the first place, don’t rich countries have a greater responsibility to help poor countries adapt?

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