A couple of decades ago, the wall on everybody’s mind was in Berlin. Then it came crashing down, pushed over by a wave of reform and renewal that promised the dawn of a new era for our troubled globe.
Then, there was much talk of “a peace dividend” that would see large amounts of public money freed up from military spending. These funds would be used for loftier purposes.
But the push for peace, paradoxically, has faltered in the post-Cold War era. While wars between nations have decreased in frequency, conflict and violence continue to undermine human progress.
Data indicate that non-State conflicts have increased by 125 percent since 2010, surpassing all other types of conflict. State-based conflict also rose by over 60 percent in the same period.
Meanwhile, civil wars and internal conflicts have surpassed the number of interstate clashes, marking a shift away from violence between nations to violence within nations.
Yet despite this self-defeating discord, we as a global family have scored successes in bending the arc of human development in a better direction.
We forged a ground-breaking global deal to finally take action against the threat of climate change. At the global level, most commitments made under the UN Millennium Development Goals were fulfilled, lifting millions of people out of poverty and hunger.
And the bold and visionary 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda aims inter alia at the total eradication of hunger and malnutrition.
So we have had our bright moments when we appeared to be on the launch pad of the “better tomorrow”.
But our worst impulses are getting in the way.
On September 15 2017, five UN organisations released the first global assessment of the progress made so far towards achieving the goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
Our first report-card in this noble effort is not good, I’m afraid.
After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise again—affecting 815 million people in 2016, almost 11 percent of the global population and 38 million more people than the previous year.
A primary culprit? You guessed it: conflict.
The vast majority (490 million) of hungry people on the planet live in countries affected by conflict. So do 122 million out of 155 million stunted children.
The impacts of conflict on food security can be direct – the destruction of farms or food stocks – or indirect, such as disruptions to food systems or markets that drive up food prices.
Often, they are amplified by extreme weather associated with climate change.
And so conflict has seen famine re-emerge as a clear-and-present danger.
This alarm bell tells us that we cannot keep slapping band-aids on hunger. Treating symptoms is not enough.
It is time to treat causes, including extreme poverty, lack of social protection policies, under investment in agriculture and low resilience of rural communities, unsustainable farming practices and environmental degradation.
But first and foremost, we must invest in peace and stability.
National and regional leaders in conflict zones, and parties directly involved, are the first that need to step up. Similarly, the international community cannot relinquish its responsibility to help broker lasting solutions.
But all of us, as global citizens and one human family, must play our part. In this era of reality shows and digital schadenfreude, we may have become too inured to violence. We need to shake ourselves out of complacency.
We need to shed our scepticism and reboot, turning not only to tried-and-true approaches to peacebuilding but also to finding new ways of dealing with the ancient scourges of conflict and hunger. This includes dealing with triggers like disputes over natural resources, and providing support to agricultural livelihoods, both of which can mitigate some causes and effects of conflict and contribute to sustaining peace.
There is a dividend in food security and peace, just waiting for us to cash it in. n