Ok, that’s not quite the headline at the New York Times, but close enough. Yes, the latest Oxfam figures that came out today say that we’re back under 1 billion starving people. But yes, those figures were compiled before the Pakistani Floods, and before the 5% rise in food prices driven by the Russian wheat crisis.
The number of hungry people fell to 925 million from its all-time high of 1.02 billion in 2009, with much of the improvement tied to income growth in the Asia-Pacific region as well as a 40 percent decline in food prices from their 2008 peak.
The hunger number remains “shockingly high,” Josette Sheeren , the executive director of the World Food Program, told a news conference in Rome, especially since success stories in Africa, Asia and Latin America among countries that once suffered chronic malnourishment point the way to creating a permanent reversal.
Actually, the success stories in Africa, Asia and Latin America that emerged during the comparatively wealthy and stable period of the mid-aughts probably don’t point a way to much of anything. At least the Times does point out that the promises that world nations have made for investment in agriculture in the Global South have not been met – remember those from the days of the food crisis? The 20 richest nations promised 22 billion, but have only ponied up 425 million between them. But who is counting?
What’s really important to note here is that food security is so vulnerable that comparatively small shifts, like the Russian situation can destabilize things *even* when we have record harvests. Given the coming likely constraints of climate change and energy investment, we’re likely to see a great deal more instability.
The UN isn’t using the term “food crisis” this time – just warning that the situation could become a crisis. That, however, is more a feature of our desire to see problems as over before they really are. Just as many economists continue to insist that the recession ended and now we’re facing a “second dip” – even though a more accurate overall picture suggests that there never was any recovery – we like to pretend that the food crisis went away. Unfortunately, it didn’t.