Developing strategies to end hunger
 

World Food Day 2014: A Clearer Look at Climate Change

  Photo for World Food Day 2014

This year's World Food Day focuses on supporting and strengthening the 500 million smallholders growing food in developing countries, including Joao, a maize farmer in Mozambique. Photo by Kate Raisz.

Over the past few years, most lists of global problems have come to include climate change -- along with older concerns such as hunger, poverty, limited resources, and population growth. It often appears to be simply another challenge on the list. But although our mission of ending hunger requires facing and overcoming a number of challenges, climate change is different from other problems.

We can't make an "apples to apples" comparison between climate change and longstanding human problems. Climate change is much more like an apple tree than simply an apple among other apples. If we don't find ways to prevent further damage to Earth's climate and to mitigate the impacts that poor communities in particular have already been suffering for years, it will not matter nearly as much what we do about individual apples. Responding effectively to the dangers of climate change (improving the health of the tree, if you will) is a precondition for responding effectively to any other development challenge.

As we mark World Food Day (and, bracketing today, the three-day Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa), I've been thinking about the concept that language shapes our reality. What people think about the importance and urgency of climate change depends partly on how we talk about it. For example, when the administration launched its Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture last month, it said that climate change poses "a range of unprecedented threats to the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people..." [emphasis added]. By definition, "unprecedented" can only be used once for any given category of events -- otherwise, it's just hyperbole. It's a word that should catch people's attention, information overload notwithstanding.

The evidence shows that human activity is causing the changes in the world's climate that are now so readily observable. Climate change must be an urgent global priority for the foreseeable future if we are to contain the damage we have already caused to the planet that sustains us.

One pressing need is for communities to be able to access data on climate issues specific to them, so that they can make informed decisions at the local level. This is a relatively neglected middle ground between global- and continent-level data, and a myriad of anecdotal accounts from people who are witnessing climate change firsthand.

Three U.S. agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), are making available higher-resolution elevation datasets based on information collected by sensors on the U.S. space shuttle. Datasets for Africa have been released and are available at the USGS’s Earth Explorer website. Datasets for Latin America are to follow in the coming months. 

Designed "to empower local authorities to better plan for the impacts of severe environmental changes," the data resolves to 30 meters (compared to the 90 meters that was the clearest previously available) and will be used to "improve environmental monitoring, climate change research including sea-level rise impact assessments, and local decision support."

Of course, better data alone will not enable local leaders to solve a global problem with roots in faraway developed countries. But equally obviously, informed decision-making requires information. Climate change is enormously complex. Distilling what is happening in particular locations will help support country ownership of a global problem.

Michele Learner

 

Teenage Wives Are Girls Too

Photo for 2014 Day of the Girl

Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

Two years ago, on the eve of the first-ever United Nations Day of the Girl, 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was in the hospital. We reported here on Institute Notes on her courageous advocacy for girls' education in Pakistan -- advocacy that so angered conservative Taliban forces that, in a now world-famous act of barbarism, they shot her in the head at point-blank range.

Tomorrow, October 11, we celebrate the third Day of the Girl. Things have changed. Malala Yousafzai has just been named a a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Her work has galvanized support for adolescent girls denied the right to go to school. World outrage greeted the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by another reactionary armed group, Boko Haram. The global rate of girls' enrollment in secondary school is catching up to boys' enrollment, at between 97 and 98 girls for every 100 boys.

Also in recent years, there has been an intensified global campaign against child marriage, an all-too-common form of gender-based violence. An unwitting activist even younger than Malala published a book about her story, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Media coverage of girls who have fled marriage has become more frequent. Numerous education and advocacy campaigns have helped communities understand that the poverty that often leads them to arrange for their young girls to marry much older men is only being perpetuated by child marriage, and have supported them in finding alternatives.

Poor communities cannot afford the waste of human potential when a 13-year-old becomes a mother rather than studying algebra in a junior high school. She has a much higher chance of dying in childbirth --as a girl under 15, her risk is five times that of a woman older than 18. She and her surviving children are far more likely to be malnourished than women who married as adults. As we have said many times here on Institute Notes and in our other materials, education for girls is the factor that has made the biggest difference to child malnutrition -- it has helped more than having more food available.

They don't seem to get much attention, even on the Day of the Girl, but girls of 13, 14, 15 who are married are girls just as much as their peers who are closing those secondary school enrollment gaps. Very few (estimates are 2 percent) continue to attend school once they are married, and even they drop out once they become pregnant. Prevention of child marriage is, of course, an urgent necessity. So are efforts to help married girls and young women who were married as children regain hope for a better life.

Very often, they are the most isolated from their communities. One way to reach them is through the health sector as they come in during complications of pregnancy and childbirth and afterwards -- for example, with conditions caused by giving birth at an age when a person's body is not yet mature, such as obstretric fistula. Another time when community services can reconnect with married girls is when the teenagers bring their babies and young children in for vaccinations and medical care.

Programs can build on those contacts to put girls in touch with other community services and with each other in support and self-help groups, as well as with programs such as bridge schools that allow them to resume their education to some degree. These efforts exist, but are far more rare than they should be given the world's tens of millions of child wives. On this Day of the Girl, the world should recommit to helping teenagers whose lives, though marred by child marriage, are not over. Barriers can be removed so that they may yet take their places as empowered contributors to their societies.

Michele Learner

 

Child Migration Decreases, But Poverty and Violence Do Not

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Central American child migrants are less likely to be in the U.S. headlines these days, but that doesn’t mean children are not still struggling to get to the United States. It’s just that fewer are reaching the U.S.-Mexico border than during this past June and July.

Almost 60,000 Central American child migrants have arrived so far in 2014, but in recent weeks the number who cross the border has dropped dramatically. The Border Patrol reported that the number of child migrants was 60 percent lower in August than during the height of the migration earlier in the summer.

With the lower numbers comes the key question: Why?

There are probably multiple causes. One may be the weather. There is a seasonal pattern of unauthorized migration to the southwestern United States: the migration of Central Americans through Mexico traditionally drops during the summer because of the extremely hot temperatures in the desert that straddles part of the U.S. –Mexico border. Reports also indicate that heavy rains and flooding along the Mexican-Guatemala border may have deterred some migrants from making the journey in the late summer.

For its part, the Department of Homeland Security claimed that its increased and quickened deportations of adult migrants reinforced the message to Central Americans that unauthorized migrants arriving in the United States will not be given refuge and deterred some from leaving home. The U.S. government also claimed that its public relations campaign in Central America, which advised people considering migration not to risk the difficult journey to the United States, contributed to the decline in unauthorized migrants at the border — although this was questioned by experts who noted the failure of similar past efforts.

Perhaps the most important factor in the decreasing number of Central Americans reaching the border is a crackdown on illegal migration in Mexico. Immigration authorities have stepped up their efforts to interdict and deport Central Americans heading across Mexico to the United States. As a National Public Radio (NPR) report stated, “Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has begun arresting and deporting tens of thousands of Central Americans long before they reach the U.S. border.”

Traditionally, the Mexican government has not stopped Central American migrants en route to the United States, but migrants now report more immigration checkpoints in Mexico’s interior, and the Mexican government announced that it would heavily reinforce its southern border with Central America. NPR quoted one Mexican expert, "We are now the servants of the [United States] in this role."

What does this new role of Mexico as a sort of “buffer state” for the United States in interdicting unauthorized migrants mean for Central Americans trying to reach the United States?

Mexican analyst Sergio Aguayo said that migrants are still fleeing Central America and that the root causes -- poverty, exploitation, and violence -- remain. "It is not a simple issue that can be solved by closing the doors of Mexico or convincing them not to come."

The problem can hardly be considered solved just because it has dropped off U.S. news reports. The first wave of the child migrant crisis has abated without signs of improvement in the poverty and violence that are driving children to flee. In future posts, we’ll examine some of the long-term policy options that Bread for the World supports to improve conditions in Central America so that its people – whether adults or children – are not compelled to leave their homes to survive.

 

Andrew Wainer

Children’s Mortality Cut By Half

A new report, issued by UNICEF along with other U.N. agencies and the World Bank, highlights a dramatic decrease in child mortality. Since 1990, the number of children under age 5 who die each year has been cut in half: from 12.7 million then to 6.3 million now. This is a remarkable achievement that amounts to saving 17,000 lives every day.

Looking at it another way, the rate of decline in child mortality is falling three times faster than previously projected. As a result, 100 million children are alive who would have died if the death rate had remained at 1990 levels—including 24 million newborns that would not have made it more than a few weeks.

UNICEF pic 091914

Girls playing in Angola, which still has the world’s highest rate of under-5 mortality. Young children there are 25 times more likely to die than those born in the United States.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1773/Nesbitt

The report, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, says that the child deaths over the past 20 years were largely preventable. There were large geographical disparities: where a child was born made a big difference as to whether he or she survived.

Together, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were the homes of 80 percent of those who died. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 11 children die before their fifth birthday. That is 15 times the death rate in high-income countries, where an average of one in 159 children don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Moving forward, the most important area in which to focus health and nutrition interventions is the first month of a child’s life, which is called the neonatal period. Two million infants die within a week of birth. Some effective and low-cost interventions for both mothers and children are available. These could make a big difference, but sometimes this needs to be communicated to pregnant women, their husbands, their families, and their communities. For example, breastfeeding within an hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 percent—but less than half of newborns around the world have that opportunity.

The “Promise Renewed” of the report title has two goals. The first is to keep the promises of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 — to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and MDG 5 – to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths in this time period.  The second goal is to keep moving forward, beyond 2015, until no child or mother dies from preventable causes. In 2012, nearly 180 governments pledged to scale up efforts and speed up the decline in preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths.

The Institute has written extensively about the MDGs, most recently in a blog about another recent report, the 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World,  whichconfirms that the goal of halving hunger that is part of MDG 1 is within reach. What’s clear in both reports is that despite recent successes, a concerted effort focused on MDG goals and targets must be sustained. Further country-led development efforts in nutrition, health, and agriculture are key to achieving the goals.

The U.S. contribution to the MDGs is largely made through two USAID programs, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and Feed the Future (FtF).  Congress has enacted legislation on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR (part of GHI), through which nutrition funding is authorized. FtF currently lacks formal authorization through legislation, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering versions of the Global Food Security Act, which will make FtF part of U.S. law.

U.S. efforts in international agricultural development and nutrition largely focus on the 1,000 Days, the “window of opportunity” between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.  Leading economists agree that development assistance investments here yield a very high rate of return. More importantly, these investments save mothers’ and children’s lives.

Scott Bleggi

 

Three Charts, Three Important Stats from New Poverty Numbers

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released its most recent data on U.S. income, poverty, and health care for 2013. The data reflected the first drop in the nation’s poverty rate since 2006, from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013. The poverty rate among children fell more significantly, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent—its first decline since 2000. Thanks to job market growth, 2.8 million more people had full-time, year-round employment in 2013 than in 2012, enabling them to better support their families in 2013.

Beyond the topline national poverty rates for various groups, the data can tell us a great deal more.  Here are three graphics that help explain where the limited growth from the economic recovery is focused, which groups are noticing gains, and which groups still aren’t.

1. Poverty Falls for Every Major Racial/Ethnic Group for First Time Since 2006

Poverty Rates at Recession High, 2012, and 2013 by Race and Ethnicity

2013 was the first year since 2006 that the poverty rate fell across the racial/ethnic board. While the drop was not statistically significant for all groups except Hispanics, this is important news because it signals that the gains from economic growth are finally beginning to be felt by all—a sign of a more sustainable and equitably shared recovery. It should not have taken this long for this to happen, and we can make statistically significant advances against poverty across all groups if Congress and the President make decisive investments in human capital development, job creation, and better wages.

2. Top 10 Percent Gains, Everyone Else Loses

Percent Change in Real Income, 2010-2013, by Income Percentiles

This graphic helps us appreciate even the small poverty rate decline reported for 2013, because in reality, the vast majority of the working population earned less real income that year than they did after the Great Recession. Almost all of the benefits of economic growth since the recession have been captured by those who need them least—the top 10 percent of income earners. This is part of a much greater income inequality story, in motion since the 1970s. Without a robust policy response from our leaders, we will remain on the track of prosperity for a few, not for all. 

3. The Gender Gap Continues to Slowly Narrow

Amount Earned by Women for Every Dollar Earned by Men, 1960-2013

Women’s earnings relative to men’s grew by another percentage point in 2013, advancing the long, slow march to wage equality another step. Women now earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, up from 77 cents in 2012. The gender wage gap has been closing since women started to enter the workforce at an increasing rate in the 1960s. While differences in education and training account for some of the wage gap, much more is due to gender discrimination.

Most of the numbers released yesterday showed nominal improvements for America’s working class and those facing poverty and hunger in 2013, but we should be encouraged by them. We know that with the right steps we can make dramatic progress toward not only reducing, but ending hunger and poverty in the United States by 2030. But 2013 was a dismal year for Congressional action on any of those steps. If anything, inaction through the sequester, the government shutdown and persistent austerity proposals threatened to reverse progress that year.   

If we can sustain economic growth and poverty reduction even through complete Congressional inaction, imagine where we could be if our policy makers were to get serious about ending hunger and poverty.

Read more about the steps Congress and the president must take to end hunger in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Derek Schwabe

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