In less than a month, the world will turn its attention to ten of its most powerful leaders as they announce the actions they will take to address the greatest global challenges we face today.
The 47th annual G7 summit will unite leading democracies – including the G7 nations, and guests India, Australia and South Korea – to take international action on some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including climate change, economic issues and health emergencies. Much of this year’s discourse will focus on the coronavirus pandemic, with the UK committing to use its presidency to “build back better from Covid, promote recovery and strengthen resilience to future pandemics”.
At Concern, we’ve seen first-hand that one of the most powerful ways to build stronger and more resilient communities is by tackling hunger and malnutrition.
After over 50 years of tackling the root causes of poverty in the world’s poorest places, we know that individuals with well-nourished bodies and minds are better equipped to fight illness in the first place and recover from its impact without having to take drastic steps that undermine their health, livelihoods or safety. Despite the overwhelming physical and mental benefits of having regular and reliable access to nutritious food, world hunger has slowly been on the rise since 2014 and almost 690 million people around the world faced hunger in 2019.
While this was driven largely by conflict, climate change and economic inequalities, Covid-19 has exacerbated an already precarious situation in many fragile countries. Supply chains for nutritious foods – and access to them – have been severely impacted by the pandemic. As a result, the pandemic is predicted to double the number of acutely food insecure people from 135 million to 265 million. Children will be severely affected; an additional nine million are predicted to have childhood wasting, and three million are predicted to have stunted growth.
Latest figures by the UN also reveal that there are currently 20 hunger hot spots where severe food crises, resulting in malnutrition and loss of livelihoods, are pushing people over the edge. Yemen, South Sudan and parts of northern Nigeria are dangerously close to famine. Many other countries are facing widespread and acute food insecurity, such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have the largest number of food insecure people that has ever been recorded in any country – almost 22 million. Every day, this situation continues to worsen with no sign of a timely intervention.
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Behind each of these staggering numbers are individuals, for whom survival – and a life free from hunger – is next to impossible unless the world’s leaders commit to taking immediate and substantial action.
The UK’s prioritisation of famine prevention through this year’s G7 is therefore welcome and needed. It comes on top of an existing G7 commitment to lift 500 million people in low-income and vulnerable countries out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. But right now, this commitment is at a serious risk of not being achieved, and commitments alone are not enough.
The G7 Summit, Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Year of Action and UN Food Systems Summit are significant opportunities this year for leaders of all nations to prove that they are moving beyond commitment and taking urgent and necessary action against this colossal societal, moral and economic injustice. Leaders must strive to save lives, not only through immediate humanitarian assistance and their Covid-19 response, but by building stronger and more resilient communities in the long-term through addressing the root causes of hunger and malnutrition.
Through the C7 (the civil society wing of the G7), civil society in the UK is calling on the UK government to work with the G7 leaders to take immediate action to prevent the looming food and nutrition crises, and scale up financial support to prevent the risk of famine. They are urging G7 leaders to prevent and treat undernutrition, diet-related chronic diseases and nutrient deficiencies by integrating nutrition and treatments into health systems so they are available to all. And finally, they are calling on global leaders to accelerate efforts to build sustainable and climate resilient food systems, ensuring local communities and organisations are central to making any decisions.
We have no time to waste if we are truly committed to ending hunger and malnutrition in the next decade. The question is – are the G7 leaders ready to put their money where their mouths are and match their ambition to action?