BOLOGNA, Italy — Women and children are suffering disproportionately as a catastrophic new explosion of hunger sweeps the world, compelling charity and faith leaders to plead Tuesday for governments and charities to respond with aid and new approaches.
The number of people at risk of acute hunger — actively starving to death — has doubled over the past two years to 272 million, Latter-day Saint Charities President Sharon Eubank said Tuesday during a presentation at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna.
“I don’t know if we can appreciate the scope of what that actually represents,” she said.
Conditions threaten to cause the calamity to triple in size again before the decade is out.
“If current trends continue,” she added, “the number of hungry people could reach 840 million by 2030. That is a staggering number for the 21st century.”
Children are dying and suffering from starvation. Already, 1 in 3 of the world’s children are hungry, and malnutrition causes 45% of child deaths, she said. As many as an additional 13.6 million children could suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition by next year, said Adam Phillips, director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Wasting means “their muscle mass is going backwards rather than forwards,” Sister Eubank said.
Charity leaders called Tuesday for immediate aid and revamped approaches during a G20 Interfaith Forum panel discussion about religious commitments to the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.
One of the goals is zero hunger by 2030.
“Immediate action is required to stop people from sliding into famine or famine-like conditions and to prevent widespread starvation,” said Peter Prove, director of international affairs at the World Council of Churches.
Prove’s voice broke repeatedly as he appealed for help for what he described as a global emergency.
“We know from past emergencies that around half of the victims of famines perished before an official famine declaration was made,” he said. “Half of all those that died were children under the age of 5.”
Prove called for the quick distribution of the $8.5 billion the G7 countries committed in May to 42 countries at risk of catastrophe or famine. The G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact said then that “the world faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
That compact anticipated additional commitments during 2021, and Prove said new money is necessary, especially to support longer-term solutions to food crises.
Latter-day Saint Charities has delivered 26 million meals this year, but Sister Eubank said world leaders and charities also need to focus on food development, not just food aid.
“This is controversial to say, but we need to stop getting involved at the end when it’s hit the news and it’s catastrophe,” she said.
Sister Eubank issued two calls to action to G20 leaders, who will meet in the G20 Forum in Rome at the end of October.
First, she said G20 leaders should help focus their governments and charitable partners on priorities by requiring them to provide progress reports on efforts to reach the U.N.’s sustainable development goals.
Second, she said G20 leaders should “invest their aid dollars in holistic approaches that heal root causes of hunger rather than simply (providing) food aid when crises unbearably hit the news.”
Latter-day Saint Charities has been revisiting its own agendas since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Sister Eubank said. It has begun to emphasize three areas — improving the humanitarian aid supply chain, helping women become agricultural leaders and helping women leverage their trusted networks to assess needs, provide health education and screening, improve diets and supplement income with gardens or small animals.
“It’s critical that women become involved in agriculture,” she said.
Holistic food security is being modeled by groups like ADRA, Islamic Relief and Rise and Rebuild by building community support for equipment, seeds and mentoring, she said.
The pandemic taught charities that health crises can shut down supply chain networks.
“Supply chain issues are a huge part of the emergency stress,” she said. “COVID made it 10 times worse, with developed countries seeing shortages and farm waste.”
Latter-day Saint Charities invested $2 million in the World Food Program’s hub-and-spoke supply chain network for humanitarian aid. The program now has three global hubs, in Belgium, China and the United Arab Emirates, and five regional hubs. From there, the spokes in its supply chain reach places where experts can predict emergency needs.
The program has moved 45,000 tons of goods through its hub-and-spoke system in the past two to three months, Sister Eubank said, including food aid and vaccines.
Another lesson of the pandemic was the need for redundant supply chain networks.
“We want to be efficient in our distribution, and we want to be redundant in our distribution,” Sister Eubank said. “I bring this up because the benefit of local faith communities is they often have distinct different distribution systems. If (faiths) cooperate with each other, you get that redundancy along with the efficiency.”
She said families at risk of crisis become more resilient with knowledge, and education can be a part of low-cost, low-tech interventions that return outsized benefits.
Sister Eubank now has attended and spoken at the G20 Interfaith Forum seven times in nine years.