DEVELOPMENT: Asia Wants To Abolish Hunger and Poverty

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By Ashok KumarCredit: FAO

BANGKOK – Asia-Pacific region has bumpy roads to traverse before it achieves ‘zero hunger’ and ‘zero poverty’. But it is gearing up for 'food security for all' backed by 'concerted efforts' to achieve Zero Hunger by 2025 when global population is estimated to surpass the 8 billion mark.

The 'Zero Hunger Challenge' – highlighting that hunger can be eliminated in our lifetimes – was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June 2002 at Rio to commemorate and review the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992.

This requires comprehensive efforts to ensure that every man, woman and child enjoy their Right to Adequate Food; women are empowered; priority is given to family farming; and food systems everywhere are sustainable and resilient.

The challenge of Zero Hunger implies: 100% access to adequate food all year round; Zero stunted children less than 2 years; All food systems are sustainable; 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income; and Zero loss or waste of food.

In particular, eliminating hunger involves investments in agriculture, rural development, decent work, social protection and equality of opportunity.

Zero Hunger Challenge is of particular relevance to Asia, which is the most populous continent, with its 4.2 billion inhabitants accounting for over 60% of the global population. The two most-populated countries alone, China (1,361,210,000) and India (1,236,750,000), together constitute about 37% of the world population. Located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres, Asia covers 8.7% of the Earth’s total surface area and comprises 30% of its land area.

Asia’s boundaries define four-fifths of the eastern side of Eurasia. It is located to the east of the Suez Canal, the Ural River, and the Ural Mountains, and south of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean and on the north by the Arctic Ocean.

Asia’s growth rate is very high for the modern era and has quadrupled during the last 100 years. Asia’s wealth of natural resources, ecological variability, and biological diversity put it in a great position to support such a high growth rate. But Asia’s population growth and quickly growing economic development efforts are threatening the region’s rich and limited resources through their expansion and intensification of agriculture, uncontrolled growth of industrialization, destruction of natural habitats, and urban sprawl.

While undernourishment (not having enough to eat) in Asia dropped from 24 to 14 percent over the past three decades, "concrete and immediate joint actions are urgently needed to achieve the UN Secretary-General’s Zero Hunger Challenge," a regional review meeting found on November 18,

The absolute number of hungry people in Asia-Pacific remains unacceptably high and casts a shadow on food security and malnutrition as well as sustainability and feeding future generations, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

FAO’s regional chief, Hiroyuki Konuma, elaborated on three global concerns: “hidden hunger” or micronutrient malnutrition affecting 2 billion people with serious public health consequences; over-nutrition with 1.4 billion people overweight; and massive food losses and waste, estimated at over 30 percent of food production.

A statement by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) emphasised that peace and security largely depend on meeting the basic human right to food.

“The existence of hunger and malnutrition is a manifestation of the breakdown of the social contract. This is a root cause of migration, human trafficking and other social upheavals,” said Amisuzzaman Chowdhury, director of ESCAP’s macroeconomic policy and development division.

Joint Efforts

Led by the UN Regional Thematic Working Group on Poverty and Hunger, chaired by FAO and co-chaired by ESCAP and UNDP (UN Development Programme), a multi-stakeholders consultation in Bangkok reviewed a draft regional guiding framework outlining sets of outcomes and outputs to be achieved at national level to reach the Zero Hunger goal in Asia-Pacific.

“Today’s work will be presented at the side-lines of the 17 to 20 December 2013 ministerial level meeting on economic integration convened by ESCAP,” said Konuma, “and guiding future steps for implementing the Zero Hunger Challenge by countries in the region.”

The consultation was attended by some 40 participants, representing civil society constituencies (fishers, farmers, consumers, landless, rural workers, pastoralists, women, youth, urban poor, human rights/right to food), non-governmental organizations and networks, and key development partners, academics and UN organisations.

The importance of the review is also underlined by the fact that Asian populations will continue to grow for many decades to come which will lead to increasing pressure on the region’s natural resources.

Based on historical growth rates and national calculations, it is estimated that between 2000 and 2050 the national populations will grow in every country of East, Southeast, and South and Central Asia except for Japan and Kazakhstan. Populations will double or nearly double in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Laos. Growth rates will also be particularly high in India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Much of the population growth projected for the next few decades will occur in countries that are least capable of coping with additional stress on land, water, and other natural resources. According to a recent studies, countries where population is projected to grow fastest have some of the lowest income levels in the world. These countries already rank high in terms of environmental stress.

Asia has the second largest nominal GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of all continents, after Europe, but the largest when measured in purchasing power parity. As of 2011, the largest economies in Asia are China, Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia. Based on Global Office Locations 2011, Asia dominated the office locations with 4 of top 5 were in Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai. Around 68 percent of international firms have offices in Hong Kong.

Unfinished business

Meanwhile a new UN report in September 2013 said: “Zero poverty, better quality education and accountable government top the agenda for Asia and the Pacific as countries look to the future and their ‘unfinished business’ with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the Asia-Pacific region has made progress in pulling millions out of poverty, it remains off track in such basic areas as hunger, health and sanitation.

The latest assessment of regional progress towards the MDGs, ‘Asia-Pacific Aspirations: Perspectives for a Post-2015 Development Agenda’ is a clear picture of how far the region has come, and serves as a stark wake-up call for what lies ahead.

The report, jointly published by the ESCAP, UNDP and the Asian Development Bank, comes at a critical point when one final push is needed to achieve the MDGs in less than 1,000 days. The report identifies the areas needing accelerated actions and draws attention to emerging challenges.

“Despite remarkable improvements in the lives of millions, progress has been uneven, and we need to accelerate MDGs achievement until we live in a world free of extreme poverty and discrimination,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Dr. Noeleen Heyzer.

“Inclusive growth and greater access to social services for the poor and the most disadvantaged will be necessary to overcome rising regional inequalities in income and in access to services. Countries in the region need to create more decent and productive jobs and expand social protection,” she said.

"Moving forward, the next phase of the development agenda needs to drive transformative change – enabling global and national institutions to pursue people-centred development based on economic prosperity, social equity and environmental responsibility,” she added.

“Basic inequities still persist in the Asia-Pacific region despite its remarkable record of pulling people out of poverty. The time is now for the region to tackle some of its serious areas of inequality: in education, health, food consumption, housing and safe drinking water,” said Nicholas Rosellini, Deputy Director, UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. [IDN-InDepthNews – November 21, 2013]

Image credit: FAO

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