While Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in New York trying to galvanise leaders into achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the world is in the grip of a food crisis which threatens to derail progress towards all eight of the poverty goals, warns ActionAid.
In 2000 the world committed to halve the numbers of hungry people by 2015, along with other promises aimed at promoting poverty reduction, education, maternal health, gender equality and combating child mortality, Aids and other diseases. Some progress has been made, but maternal mortality – the goal most off track – has barely improved, and hunger is getting worse not better as the food crisis bites.
The cost of staple foods has risen by an average of 80 per cent in two years. As a result 100 million more people have joined the ranks of the hungry, and a further 750 million are newly at risk of chronic hunger. ActionAid calculates that as many as 1.7 billion people, or a quarter of the world’s population, may now lack basic food security.
In a new report, Failing the Rural Poor, ActionAid shows that over the past twenty years, rich countries have contributed to the current food crisis and aggravated the slow progress on the Millennium Development Goals by slashing aid to agriculture.
Dr Claire Melamed, ActionAid’s head of policy, said that while money pledged in New York may help solve the immediate food crisis, donors must now redirect aid towards poor farmers to prevent a future, even more damaging, food crisis.
"Thanks to Gordon Brown, world leaders are in New York discussing how to end poverty and hunger. But if they are serious about achieving the millennium goals and solving the food crisis they must refocus their aid efforts on solving the problems of the majority of the world’s poor people who are small farmers in poor countries.
"Not only has the quantity of aid to agriculture fallen dramatically, it has been spent on the wrong things. It has not prioritised reducing hunger – the 10 countries that account for 69 per cent of the world’s hungry receive only 20 per cent of all agricultural aid," Dr Melamed said.
The amount of aid to agriculture has declined steeply over the past two decades and what aid has been given has failed to target those who need it most – the poor and hungry. It has also been badly administered and coordinated, as donors themselves admit. As a proportion of all aid, agricultural aid now amounts to just 3.4% compared to 16.8% in 1980.
ActionAid also believes it is no coincidence that maternal mortality, which is the most off-track goal, is also the one that depends most heavily on improving the status of women. 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with women continuing to die of pregnancy-related causes at the rate of one a minute. ActionAid says that women’s rights must be put at the centre of efforts to strengthen health systems and provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health services.