A report by United Nations Development Programme says one in four sub-Saharan Africans, about 214 million people put together, goes hungry every day and warns that countries in the region cannot sustain current levels of economic growth without reaching out to their most marginalized inhabitants.
The UNDP Africa Human Development Report 2012:Towards a Food Secure Future, released on Tuesday, says “15 million of these vulnerable people live in the drought-struck, semi-arid belt of Sahel, which stretches across West and Central Africa. There, malnutrition is threatening the lives of one million children”.
The report also states that more than a million children in the Sahel region are at risk of dying because they don't have enough to eat
Many sub-Saharan African countries have Gini index measures between 0.35 and 0.6. The Gini index is a measure of income inequality used by some economists. A score of “1” on the index indicates perfect inequality (hypothetically all of the wealth is concentrated). A score of “0” indicates perfect equality (hypothetically, all wealth is shared equally among the population).
Niger, for example, has a Gini index of about 0.35, Mali has a Gini coefficient of about 0.33 and Mauritania has an income inequality level of about 0.41. All three countries are affected by the current hunger crisis in the Sahel.
In Africa, growth in economy, education and life expectancy have not been met with stabilization in food security for all. Inequalities continue to put the future of many children and families at risk.
“Across sub-Saharan Africa, rural infrastructure has deteriorated, farming has languished, gender and other inequalities have deepened and food systems have stagnated,” says the UNDP report.
Uneven human development continues to be influenced by the inequitable distribution of land and productive resources based on gender, ethnicity and geographical location. These power imbalances trap women and children in the poverty cycle, the report states.
Women’s lack of control over land resources is one example of how power structures have impeded food security. But if women had the same access to resources as men, UN estimates show that they could produce enough food to lift 100-150 million more people out of a state of hunger.
The UNDP’s report calls for improved food security through such measures as investments in agricultural productivity, better nutrition, social safety nets to build resilience to crises, gender equality and empowerment programmes for poor rural-dwellers.
The 2012 Human Development Report for Africa explores why dehumanizing hunger remains pervasive in the region, despite abundant agricultural resources, a favorable growing climate, and rapid economic growth rates. It also emphasizes that food security – the ability to consistently acquire enough calories and nutrients for a healthy and productive life - is essential for human development.
To boost food security, it argues for action in four interrelated areas: agricultural productivity, nutrition, access to food, and empowerment of the rural poor. It asserts that increasing agricultural productivity in sustainable ways can bolster food production and economic opportunities, thereby improving food availability and increasing purchasing power.
Meanwhile another report by a group of African experts explores another dimension of making sure that economic growth more equitable.
There are 70 million more youth younger than 14 than there were ten years ago, according to the African Progress Panel, which last week released its fifth annual progress report: Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing Opportunities in Times of Global Change. Underscoring the coming “demographic shift” is this large youth bulge, who will need education, jobs and opportunities. If current and future economies cannot provide this, there may be some negative consequences.
“A demographic disaster marked by rising levels of youth unemployment, social dislocation and hunger,” could be preventable with more equitable growth, the Panel's report indicates.
Tackling food security and income inequality will be essential to meeting such Millennium Development Goals as halving global poverty and reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. In developing countries, about 600 million children live on less than $1 per day, while a child dies of starvation every 3.6 seconds, says the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).