18 posts categorized "SDGs"

Africa’s Hunger Challenge

May 20, 2016

African_smallholder_farmerAfrica is the most undernourished region in the world. Even in the best of years, the continent is unable to feed itself. Despite decades of massive development aid aimed at making African countries food self-sufficient, more Africans go hungry today than did thirty years ago. And while the main culprit is a fast-growing population that has outstripped the continent's ability to produce more food, a number of other factors also contribute to growing hunger there.

The current population of Africa is 1.2 billion, twice what it was in 1985 — and it is projected to double again by 2050, surpassing the populations of both China and India by 2023. At the current rate of growth, Africans will comprise half the world's population by 2035.

Higher population densities increase pressure on the land, reducing farm sizes, soil fertility, and the quality of pastures. Today, one in four Africans, or nearly three hundred million people, are hungry, their lives impaired by poor diets. A fast-growing population combined with stagnant food production only means more hungry people in the future unable to enjoy healthy and productive lives.

Another contributing factor to hunger on the continent is rapid urbanization. While most Africans still live in rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture, urbanization on the continent is occurring at an unprecedented rate — indeed, half of Africa's population will be living in towns or cities by 2030. Unfortunately, these new urban dwellers will only exacerbate the rapid expansion of impoverished slums on the continent.

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[Review] The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century

May 10, 2016

To critique a critic: that is the task before me. In The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century, David Rieff offers an erudite and well-researched analysis of the problem of world hunger and the challenges associated with international development. While occasionally dense, his book both exposes the contradictions of the philanthrocapitalist dogma currently in vogue and challenges readers to reexamine the causes of growing development inequality among countries.

Bookcover-the-reproach-of-hungerIn outlook, Rieff, whose previous books include Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (1997), A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (2003), and At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (2006), is unapologetically pessimistic. "Hunger and poverty are inseparable," he writes, "and despite the many real successes in poverty reduction in many parts of the Global South, it is highly unlikely that these gains will be sustainable if rises in the price of staple food significantly outstrip the rise in incomes of the poor as a result of sound development policies." Due to the 2007-08 global economic crisis, recent extreme weather events, commodities speculation, and the diversion of corn to ethanol production, he notes, there is a "new normal" for global food production characterized by high prices and surging demand. And "[i]f significant changes to the global food system are not made, a crisis of absolute global food supply could occur sometime between 2030 and 2050…when the world's population will have risen…to nine or perhaps even ten billion."

Central to Rieff's critique is what he sees as philanthrocapitalism's unquestioning adherence to the secular faith of progress first promoted by eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, subsequently nurtured by Gilded Age capitalists, exalted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and promoted today by their neoliberal acolytes. The intellectual embodiment of this hope, says Rieff, can be found in the thought and work of Bill and Melinda Gates, the development economics of Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, and political scientist Francis Fukuyama's triumphalist "end of history" thesis that capitalism and democracy were inevitable following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

While Rieff seems to delight in putting a few dents in Sachs's worldview, his real aim here is to carve out space for a thoughtful critique of the historical, economic, and social forces underpinning international development as it is presently understood and practiced. To that end, he frequently challenges the "impatient optimism" advocated by the Gateses as well as their foundation's technocratic approach to the problems of global poverty and hunger. Similarly, he has little patience for those who insist that the line between the public and private sectors has been "blurred" — a trope, he says, that disingenuously ignores the ideological underpinnings of the neoliberal system, resulting in impoverished dialogue and the dismissal of intellectual alternatives.

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Paris and the Way Forward: A Conversation With the UN Foundation's Reid Detchon

April 22, 2016

It's been an unsettling couple of months for people who worry about the climate. As Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis write in the Washington Post, "The first three months of 2016 have been the hottest ever recorded, and by a large margin. Greenland's massive ice sheet melted more this spring than researchers have ever seen. Warming seas are turning once-majestic coral reefs into ghostly underwater graveyards. And scientists are warning that sea levels could rise far faster than anyone expected by the end of the century, with severe impacts for coastal communities around the globe." Throw in the monsoon-like rains that have swamped Houston and the record heat baking the Pacific Northwest, and you're probably starting to think maybe it's time our elected officials took action. (Or not.)

In December, representatives from a hundred and ninety-five countries convened in Paris for the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), an annual gathering under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where they negotiated the so-called Paris Agreement, a non-binding pact to slow and, ultimately, reverse the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. On April 22, Earth Day, the agreement will be opened for signing by countries that support it.

For most people, what that means — in terms of its impact, if any, on their lives and the future of the planet — is a mystery. To help shed light on these issues, PND spoke with Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate strategy at the United Nations Foundation, about the agreement, the significance of the signing ceremony, and whether the global community can slow and reverse emissions of greenhouse gases before it's too late.

From June 1999 through December 2001, Detchon served as director of special projects in Washington, D.C., for the Turner Foundation, managing a portfolio of grants aimed at increasing the effectiveness of environmental advocacy and encouraging federal action to avert global climate change. Before that, he spent six years at the Podesta Group, a government relations and public affairs firm in Washington, D.C., and from 1989 to 1993 he served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for conservation and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. Detchon also worked for five years in the U.S. Senate, advising Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) on energy and environmental issues and serving as his legislative director, and was the principal speechwriter for Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Headshot_reid_detchonPhilanthropy News Digest: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on April 22, where they will have the opportunity to sign an agreement that was reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last December. Before we get into the details of the agreement, what does the UN hope to accomplish at the ceremony on the 22nd?

Reid Detchon: The significance of April 22 really goes back to the Paris Agree­ment itself. And what's so remarkable about that is that previous disagreements fell away, and the agreement was signed by virtually every country on the planet. For each country to agree to participate and make a nationally determined contribution to limit climate change over the coming years — that consensus is, I think, the larger significance of Paris, and bodes well for the process going for­ward.

So, on April 22, as you noted, there will be a signing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. And it's expected that a larger number of countries will sign the agreement, in a single day, than has ever happened with any previous treaty or agreement. Again, it's an indication of the universality of the agreement and of the excitement and momentum that was created in Paris, and we need to carry that forward into the implementation phase. The signing ceremony is the first step in that process, and I expect it will be a great launch pad for future action.

PND: Will President Obama be in New York on the 22nd to sign the agreement? And which other world leaders of note will be there?

RD: The United States will be represented by Secretary of State Kerry. That's my understanding. And we've heard that Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of China will be present as well. As you probably know, the U.S. and China issued a statement ten days ago reaffirming their support for the climate agreement and their intention to move forward with implementation of the agreement.

Among heads of state, I believe the presidents of the current and upcoming COPs  — that is, French president François Hollande and Mohammed VI of Morocco — will be in New York for the ceremony, and I believe there will be at least forty other heads of state there, principally from developing countries and the small island states. But, of course, we'll have to see.

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