Hunger: a human rights violation?

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According to the World Food Programme, the world produces enough to feed the entire global population of 7 billion people yet one in eight on the planet still battle a war against hunger every single day. To put this into figures, that is 821 million people in the world (and possibly more) that go hungry daily with over 950 million people suffering from chronic malnutrition as a result of this. Why does food insecurity still exist if the right to adequate food is a basic human right?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a historic document adopted by the United Nations General stating a list of rights which belong to every single person. Article 25 reads “Food and Shelter for All”, guaranteeing that all individuals have the right to food, freedom from hunger and access to food that is safe and nutritious. In the 21st Century where standards of living are higher and advances in technology have sky-rocketed, hunger should not exist and the fact that it does is undoubtedly a flagrant disregard for basic human rights. But the reality is, hunger does still exist and we all have a responsibility and duty to protect the rights and freedoms of those who are most vulnerable in society.

Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for human rights stated that interventions must be put in place to confront the reasons why food crisis hurts some groups more than others and to help clarify the imbalances in society that trigger the food crisis in the first place.

Non-profit organisations such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme, Save the Children, World Vision and The Food and Agricultural Organisation all make tremendous and relentless efforts to fight hunger daily with the mutual aim of ensuring that all people at all times have the access to safe and nutritious food, regardless of their age, ethnicity, gender or where they live.

However, despite a range of diverse interventions that have continuously been implemented to tackle malnutrition in developing countries, progress with hunger remains incredibly slow due to several factors that make its rapid improvements difficult. Persistent effort from the global health community is required to ensure that everyone has access to and enough food for their lifespan, however, this is only achievable with mutual effort from all parts of society, not just non-profit organisations.

Why is it so difficult to achieve zero hunger? Hunger is extremely complex to analyse, however, in developing parts of the world, although varied in nature, is mainly a direct outcome of interrelated factors (e.g. environment, economics, education, agriculture, war and climate) that lead to a continuous cycle, which condemns families to periods or a lifespan of hunger and malnutrition.

In general, public perception of victims of food insecurity assume that food acquisition is an individuals responsibility, therefore neglecting to consider that actual lack of availability of food and its access for many, removes individual blame and is rather an issue with societal  structures. Like every adult has the right to do a job and to receive a fair wage for their work, the jobs must be there in the first place for people to exercise their rights. This is the same for the acquisition to safe and nutritious food; if more people viewed hunger as a violation of human rights then we would understand that patterns of discrimination and neglect to others, prevents the most vulnerable from claiming their rightful access to the food that is produced for the world to eat. If we can understand this then the appropriate interventions, besides those involving simply food fortification (the addition of nutrients to staple foods) for example, (although beneficial) that directly address the repercussions of hunger and starvation, especially for those already living in these situations.

In a world where enough food is produced to feed twice the current population of 7 billion, hunger is not an inevitable state and therefore should not exist. If the world is rich in food then hunger is a violation of human rights if people cannot access it. All parts of society have a duty to work together to protect these rights achieving zero hunger worldwide.

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