Undernourishment and world food security remain at the forefront of the many issues currently faced by the World Health Organisation (WHO). At a time when the British Government are informing of an impending obesity crisis in the UK, we have been simultaneously made aware by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisations (FAO) of an unprecedented triple food security threat in the East African regions, and an extreme rise in hunger levels in Yemen and Syria. If the root cause of hunger is not the scarcity of food, is it then the deprivation of global social responsibility?
According to the WHO, 1 in 9 people are hungry and 1 in 8 are obese worldwide. Clearly, this is a multifaceted issue which is not as simple as these antithetical statistics suggest. However, what is certain is that we are facing a global crisis with regards to the accessibility and security of food, as hunger levels and obesity rates are continuing to rise simultaneously. UNICEF have declared that 20 million are currently insecure with food in Yemen, in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The outbreak of COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation in Yemen, and with the widespread food insecurities; Yemenis are particularly susceptible when it comes to a highly contagious virus. The crisis has highlighted the pressing need for philanthropy and support from other nations, but more importantly, that we require a global transformation of our food systems in order to prevent such atrocities being facilitated in the first place.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently stressed the necessity for more sustainable food systems globally in a post-COVID world. The pandemic and worldwide lockdowns led to mass hoarding by consumers, but equally triggered widespread food wastage as a result of enforced closures of the food service and hospitality industries. So, what can we as global citizens do to contribute to a more sustainable change in the current food system? Perhaps, a move towards a more plant-based diet in more economically developed countries could prove to be the key.
That is not to say however, that everybody should immediately adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, as research shows that if the entire US went vegetarian for just one day around 100 billion gallons of water would be saved and the emission of greenhouse gasses would reduce enormously. Therefore, if everyone was to adopt a ‘meat free’ day into their diets once a week, not only would we collectively aid the preservation of our ecosystems, but the breeding of animals for consumption could be lessened and the excess grain made available from this could be transferred to the estimated 820 million people who go to sleep hungry every night, according to WHO.
In circa 50 years, we would appear to have come full circle. The desire to reach outer space, whether government funded in the case of China’s Mars mission, or part-privately funded by NASA/Elon Musk, once again occupies the headlines; whilst unfortunately the pressing humanitarian issues we have been facing on earth remain unresolved. What we can take from COVID-19 is that, we are all ‘in it together’, and if this truly is the case, then we should focus on pooling resources and directing them to finally resolve this health and wellbeing paradox.