It’s official. There are now more overweight people in the world than undernourished. According to the World Health Organisation, in 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight. I am one of them. Ok, I prefer to think of it as pleasantly plump, but however I describe it, I find it disturbing that in a world with such plenty 868 million people don’t have enough to eat.
Statistics like this are not only disturbing; they drive many to despair, to throw their hands in the air and sigh at the intractability of the problem. They have the opposite effect on me. They drive me to action, because I believe the situation can change.
Take undernourishment. In 1990 there were just on a billion hungry people in the world. In the 20 years since then the world population has grown by 1.5 billion, mostly in poorer countries, yet the number of undernourished people has declined by more than 100 million. And the trends are all in the right direction, whether you’re thinking income poverty, child mortality, or kids in school,.
I was in Cambodia a few months back. We flew up to Siem Reap, home to the amazing Angkor Watt temples. As we drove from the airport to the hotel we travelled on great roads, into a regional city with many hotels, restaurants, shops and a sense of vibrancy. Our taxi driver explained that when he was a boy this had been a rural war zone. He recalled sitting terrified in a makeshift bunker in his yard as bullets flew above him. He spoke of poverty and hunger. Now he was excited about the future. The hotels, the roads, and the tourist industry had all been built when the civil war ended in 1997. It was almost incomprehensible that so much had changed in just 15 years. It made me realise just how quickly change can come.
Eighteen months earlier I met a farmer in a village further north who had tried a new method of rice farming and in the space of a single season saw his crop yield increase by 400%. This took him from poverty to sustainability and changed his life. Almost every household in the village told a similar story.
Im:”proved farming techniques, better infrastructure, better public services and better jobs translate into improved lives, less poverty, and greater food security.
This is why I’ve signed up to the Micah Challenge Finish the Race campaign. Developing countries are making and implementing plans to improve the lives of their people, and with our assistance they can do so much more. A few years back a task force led by Nobel laureate Jeff Sachs suggested developing countries have about two thirds of the resources they require to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. This means they need the world’s industrialised nations to make up the other third. Given how rich we are it’s not a lot of money – if we and other industrialised nations raise our aid budget to just 0.7% of our national income it will be enough.
I dream of a day when we won’t have a world with 1.5 billion overweight people and 868 million hungry people. I’m not sure how we’ll do on the overweight issue, but there is not one good reason the trend towards fewer hungry people shouldn’t continue and even accelerate toward zero. That’s why we need to finish the race.