THE BLOG

The New Conservative Government Needs to Prioritise Ending the Injustice of Hunger

17/05/2015 19:32 BST | Updated 17/05/2016 10:59 BST

As the post-election dust settles and MPs start to move into their new offices in Whitehall, I want the Department for International Development (DFID) to prioritise the injustice of hunger and undernutrition; a leading cause of child mortality accounting for one-third of all deaths of children under five.

You might ask why hunger should be prioritised over other development issues. The answer is that tackling hunger is key to helping people lift themselves out of poverty. With events this year and next that will frame the way the world deals with the causes and effects of poverty over the next 15-20 years, we need Justine Greening, Secretary of State at DFID, to make sure hunger is at the centre of these discussions.

If the UK government is committed to eradicating poverty by 2030, we need it to:

Get serious about nutrition. According to the World Health Organisation, deficiencies of iron, vitamin A, and zinc rank among the top ten leading causes of death through disease in developing countries. To end this type of hunger we need to make sure people not only have enough food but that they have the right type of food.

Despite the international community pledging £2.7billion at the Nutrition for Growth conference in 2013 to tackle undernutrition over the next seven years (which was a great start) more money is needed. £5.7billion is required per year to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in low income countries, so the world is falling short by some way.

The Brazilian Government committed to hosting a global nutrition event alongside the 2016 Olympics. We are hoping that this will provide an opportunity for progress to be reviewed, and new commitments to be made. The UK is in a good position to maintain its leadership on nutrition and I would like to see a high level representative from the UK government take a renewed commitment to tackle undernutrition to the event in Rio. The event is the perfect opportunity for the Conservative government to detail how they will meet their manifesto promise of improving nutrition for 50million people.

Build people's resilience and take action on climate change. One of the central reasons it is so hard for people to escape hunger and the poverty it causes is their exposure, time and again, to recurring disasters. For example, many of the farmers we work with are unable to predict changing weather patterns, and when their crops are destroyed they have no other means to earn a living or re-start the one they have lost. The result is they, and their families, go hungry.

We need to focus our actions towards tackling the root causes of recurrent crises, rather than just dealing with their consequences through humanitarian response. Building communities' resilience to disasters not only saves lives, but is a good investment. DFID's own research in Ethiopia shows that for every £1 spent on building a community's resilience to prevent food crises, £8 is saved in future emergency response.

The UK government has already made impressive commitments to supporting resilience and climate change adaptation. The United Nations Climate Change negotiations offers an opportunity for the UK government to use its influence to help deliver a deal that enables poor countries to adapt to climate change and cope with the loss and damage caused, and which sustainably and fairly reduces global emissions.

Continue to champion women and girls. Despite the efforts of DFID and other agencies the picture for women and girls is still disheartening. In particular we need to do more to address women's vulnerability to food insecurity.

Women are more likely to suffer damage to their livelihoods, at greater threat of gender-based violence and more likely to lose their lives in the aftermath of a disaster. Traditional gender roles mean that women and girls often have limited access to productive resources, education and decision-making. Practices such as early marriage, polygamy and female genital mutilation, which are practiced in some areas, also contribute to female vulnerability.

Gender inequality is not inevitable and change is possible but we need to ensure internationally that continued resources, interventions and lobbying are exerted for this change to materialise.

So, 2015 is a year of opportunity for the Secretary of State to further DFID's reputation as a global development leader. The finalisation of the Sustainable Development Goals in September will shortly be followed by the UN Climate Change negotiations in December. Will Justine Greening and the UK government help shape the development agenda and lead by example so that we see a world without hunger by 2030? I think the British public would see that as a worthwhile investment.