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One billion already hungry as deeper food crises loom

Despite growing enough food to feed to entire world, almost a billion people are now hungry – one in seven of the global population – and, according to Oxfam International, conditions are getting worse and the number of acutely malnourished children has risen for the first time this decade.

The aid groups' warnings come amid even more troubling news that droughts in the United States, India, and elsewhere are driving a spike in global food prices. (Image: iStockphoto.com/Tobias Helbig)
Reporting by The Independent reveals that for the first time in recent history, humanitarian organizations like Oxfam have had to respond to three serious regional food crises – in West Africa, Yemen and East Africa – while also witnessing an "unparalleled number of severe food shortages" that have added 43 million to the number of people going hungry worldwide this year.

One week ahead of a "hunger summit" scheduled to coincide with the closing of the Olympics in London, aid groups say that unless action is taken urgently, many more could fall victim.

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam GB's chief executive, called the summit on the crisis "a positive step forward", but stressed: "It must be the start of concerted action to address the shocking fact that while we produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet, about a billion will tonight go to bed hungry.

"Dwindling natural resources and the gathering pace of climate change mean that without urgent action, things will only get worse, and multiple major crises could quickly move from being an exception to being the norm."

Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said the Sahel region of Africa was in a "permanent food crisis". He added: "It is lurching from one crisis to the next. One bad year tips families over the edge, and the world responds to the emergency, but this is the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, there is a huge ongoing crisis we don't address."

The aid groups' warnings come amid even more troubling news as droughts in the United States, India, and elsewhere are driving a spike in the price of corn and other cereal grains, which experts warn will create conditions similar to the food crisis of 2008, when dramatic shortages and price increases set fragile economies into turmoil.

Earlier this week, investment analyst Jeremy Grantham said the world was heading into a "chronic food crisis that could unfold over the next forty years" and predicted that the ongoing droughts would "threaten poor countries with increased malnutrition and starvation and even collapse," and that "resource squabbles and waves of food-induced migration will threaten global stability and global growth.”

Food policy expert and economist Raj Patel, however, says that a focus on "food rioting" and scenarios of "collapse" misses the point about the politics -- and therefore the solutions -- to food crises when they occur.

"When the media reduces to the sort of irrational mob the actions of people who are protesting on the streets," Patel said in a recent interview, "they lose the biggest part of the story. Because when you see protests around food, what you're seeing is the actions of people who have run out of other ways of explaining and demanding change from their governments, and are finding the food that they need to help their families survive. And so every food protest is inevitably a protest about politics and invariably those politics are very well articulated."

"But I think that that's why food rebellions," Patel continued, "are not things to fear, but an expression of political dissatisfaction that can be very powerful. You know, the idea of a riot is always represented in the media as a loss of order, but if the order was unjust and undemocratic then that's no order that anyone should want a part of. And I think that food rebellions can, and often have been in history, a moment when democracy has flourished."

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