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Where we stand on MDG goal 1: ending hunger

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The UN issued a report today on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Originally set in 2000, the MDGs are objectives for reducing hunger, poverty and disease while lifting standards of living in developing countries.

Where do we stand on the first of these goals: ending world hunger? By 2015 the MDG's plan was to at least cut in half the percentage of people suffering from hunger. Yes, there has been some progress. The report states:

The proportion of undernourished people in developing regions has decreased from 24 per cent in 1990–1992 to 14 per cent in 2011–2013...In 2012, a quarter of all children under the age of five years were estimated to be stunted—having inadequate height for their age. This represents a significant decline since 1990 when 40 per cent of young children were stunted."

But as the report admits, there is such a long way to go. There are still 842 million people worldwide who live in hunger. There are 162 million young children that are still suffering from chronic undernutrition. Will MDG number one meet its interim target? The report warns,

Progress has slowed down in the past decade. Meeting the target of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger by 2015 will require immediate additional effort, especially in countries which have made little headway."

The success of the MDG's depends on the capabilities and commitment of governments, aid agencies and others to carry out programs to fight hunger. Many experts say the capability exists to wipe out hunger. That is true. However, funding is often low for food security programs. More political will is needed to invest in strategies to eradicate hunger.

Tragically, conflict and other disasters also stand in the way of enacting plans to increase food production. This is especially true now.

As the UN report notes, there were 32,000 people a day who were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2013. Conflicts have continued or new ones have emerged in 2014. We have not seen this many refugees globally since the end of World War Two.

That means hunger will increase, and families will be driven further into poverty. Children will struggle to get an education under extremely difficult living circumstances. The despair of hunger and poverty can even fuel future conflict.

Emergency relief will be crucial in the coming months to fight off hunger and malnutrition among war victims. Longer-term plans to build food supplies will have to be put aside in many instances. Catholic Relief Services, for example, had to shift its South Sudan food security program toward emergency aid once the fighting erupted.

Once some stability can return to conflict areas, hopefully food production initiatives can resume. Funding from the international community will be crucial. Agencies like the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the largest hunger relief organization, rely entirely on voluntary funding. The food security they promote is essential for peacebuilding and getting the MDGs back on track in many countries. However, if the WFP is low on funding they cannot carry out all the plans necessary for helping governments tackle hunger.

Ertharin Cousin, the director of WFP, stresses that "eliminating hunger and chronic malnutrition unlocks the door to every single development objective, whether it is poverty eradication, education, health, equity or economic growth." Ending hunger is a goal that has to be achieved, no matter how many obstacles.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says, "more needs to be done to accelerate progress" toward achieving the MDGs. He says, "We need bolder and focused action where significant gaps and disparities exist."

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