PITTSBURGH — One BILLION people struggle with chronic hunger each year, according to Save the Children. Yet food security is likely to play second fiddle to the more sensational issues of the economy and climate change at the G20. People who are hungry are less productive, and more susceptible to illness. How do we expect people to work when they are hungry, or, for that matter, sick?
Civil society has been quietly active in the days leading to the G20 in Pittsburgh this week. Though the global financial crisis and climate change are the headliners for the gathering, poverty eradication, and food security are also underlying themes.
While leaders of the G20 are focused on boosting global economies, the NGO community is highlighting the need to increase assistance to developing economies. Nancy Alexander, the program director for economic governance at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, argues for greater assistance to developing countries that have been disproportionately affected by the financial crisis. Further, she calls for grants and more substantive contributions to organs like the World Food Program, which “doesn’t have enough money to help people” at a time when many countries have the greatest need.
Alexander argues that the G20 is not delivering on all the promises of previous G20s. “Wealthy countries are heading for the exits,” she says, “while poor countries are being left behind in the burning house.” She calls for greater input and integration from the countries that are not part of the G20, and the poorest countries in particular.
Greater consideration for the needs of developing countries is echoed by the ONE Campaign, which is calling for a G20 meeting in Africa. They highlight it in a mural in downtown Pittsburgh painted by local students and artists. Indeed, the AIDS pandemic, coupled with lack of access to adequate maternal and child health services, compound many of the continents’ shaky economies. However, significant investments in the health of women and their children now will pay great economic dividends in both the long and short term. Countries need to put resources into affordable, well-proven health interventions such as childhood immunizations, averting maternal mortality, providing insecticide-treated bed nets.
We know what works. We know what needs to be done. It is unlikely that this G20 will address global health on any level, but I ask representatives at the G20 this: How can we achieve the economic goals set out this week with ONE BILLION hungry people?