With much of the world facing the twin threats of poor harvest and high food prices due to severe droughts and deficit rainfall, the hunger summit at the end of the London Olympics did not come a day soon. For a country reeling under the worst recession and crippling austerity in its post-war history, Britain’s stance on Overseas Development Assistance must seem paradoxical at home and perhaps even paternalistic. But the picture looks rather different for people in Sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of South Asia. Here, it is one of promises of international aid that largely remain on paper and politicians and policymakers who refuse to learn from past mistakes. Many European countries have cut back on aid under the weight of austerity, whereas Britain is on course to fulfil its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on ODA. The global development community, while criticising the stringent conditionalities linked to aid, has broadly welcomed Britain’s initiatives at the vaccines summit in 2011 and the family planning summit in June. The momentum on some of these important issues of human wellbeing is expected to create a platform for Britain’s presidency of the G8 countries next year.
Hunger summit co-hosts Britain and Brazil zeroed in on a priority befitting the sporting season. They have agreed a target to achieve reductions in stunted development due to malnourishment by 17 million by the time of the 2016 games. Given its importance on a range of health indicators, besides the adverse impact on children’s intellectual development and learning outcomes, the wider significance of tackling chronic malnutrition cannot be overstated. But then, its causal links to the spikes in the prices of cereals, pulses and meat, themselves connected to distortions in the cultivation of crops and commodity speculation, cannot also be overlooked. Thus, tackling malnutrition or any other impediment to basic health depends on the adoption of a more comprehensive approach to the many dimensions of the global food crisis. They include combating climate change, the search for renewable energy and giving a fresh impetus to agriculture. The terrible social and political upheavals caused in more than 20 countries during the 2007-2008 manifestations of the global crisis and subsequent episodes hold important lessons. First, a fire-fighting attitude towards food crises will only see the world stumble from one crisis to the next. The other is that the lack of a concerted and long-term effort will push nations to adopt beggar-thy-neighbour policies that further aggravate the overall situation.