Hunger: a national security threat.

Author:Suleri, Abid Qaiyum

Although the term food security was coined only 16 years ago, humanity has been striving against famine and hunger since ancient times. Agreement at the 1996 World Food Summit, based on the concept that food security exists "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life", gave a new vision to efforts against hunger and malnutrition. According to this definition, food insecurity is multidimensional, and affects people at the global, regional, national, subnational and household levels. It presents itself in various forms, such as chronic, acute, and transient. In addition, in order to be food secure, there are different requirements for men, women, children and the elderly.

A new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of timebound targets with a deadline of 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), was expected to give new impetus to the cause of food security. However, 12 years down the road, the progress on target 1.0 of MDG 1--to halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger--is still bleak and stymied in most regions. Stunting and wasting prevails in developing countries, where one in four children are underweight.

The causes behind this alarming phenomenon vary in each case. There are three prerequisites that determine whether food security exists: the physical availability of food through production, import, aid, intracountry transfer; socioeconomic and cultural access to food; and food assimilation.

Physical availability to food at both the macro and micro levels can become affected negatively due to a lack of local production, natural and man-made disasters, seasonal variations, water shortage, weak infrastructure, insufficient storage capacities, hoarding, or even legal problems. Socioeconomic access to food, however, can be affected adversely due to poverty, lack of resources, climate change, disasters, political instability, and loss of livelihood opportunities. Furthermore, a lack of a consistent supply of subsidized food items, due to a reduced fiscal cushion, low literacy rates, social norms such as gender discrimination, and a lack of awareness about the benefits of maintaining a balanced diet, can impact negatively the distribution of resources within the family.

The factors that hamper food assimilation, on the other hand, include a lack of clean drinking water, inadequate health...

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