On October 29 and 30, 2018, the first World Parliamentary Summit against Hunger and Malnutrition was held in Madrid, organized by FAO and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID) together with other institutions. 200 parliamentarians from 80 countries met at the headquarters of the Spanish Senate for two days seeking to redouble the efforts of the international community to realize the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) of the UN 2030 agenda that seeks to achieve, within 12 years, a world free of hunger. The meeting also addressed the problems that are causing overweight and obesity, which have been qualified by the WHO as a 21st century epidemic at global level, with devastating effects on people and threatening to raise the costs of public health budgets. The Final Declaration of the Summit was approved by acclamation and contains a call to realize something that has never happened in the history of humanity: that no human being may suffer from hunger.
According to FAO figures, hunger in the world has increased, instead of decreasing: from 777 million people in 2015 to 821 million in 2017. In the meantime, overweight reaches 1.9 billion people, of which 672 million are obese. The reasons for hunger are varied –above all, conflicts and wars, but also climate change that causes floods and droughts or economic crises-, and it is concentrating in some places in Africa, Southeast Asia and to a lesser extent in Latin America. On the contrary, overweight and obesity are a global problem affecting developed as well as developing countries, reaching all parts of the planet. Within the OECD, it is the United States that leads the list, followed by Mexico and New Zealand.
Why a Parliamentary World Summit against Hunger and Malnutrition? Because it is in the hands of legislators to promote and pass laws designed to ensure the right to a healthy diet, by influencing governments and ensuring the resources that States allocate for these purposes. It is also parliamentarians who can stop the growing supply of unhealthy foods with which large companies have flooded the world market, with their incomprehensible and often illegible labels for the consumer and misleading advertising aimed primarily at children.
Both the Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, and the President of the Spanish Government warned that there are only 12 years left until 2030, recalling that all countries that compose the United Nations have committed to making the 17 SDGs a reality. Achieving Zero Hunger, along with eliminating poverty, is a moral and ethical duty that will make us better human beings on a planet that produces more food than we consume, and where a third is thrown away.
The Madrid Summit also helped to appreciate the different views regarding on how to deal with the obesity epidemic that threatens to continue spreading and affecting even infant population. For one sector of the developed European countries the problem lies in education, that is, children must be taught to eat healthy products without limiting individual freedoms of choice, as the former Italian Minister of Agriculture and today member of the European Parliament, Paolo de Castro, puts it. Whereas Guido Girardi, the Chilean senator and author of the law on Food Labeling in his country, indicated that legislation should be passed to help differentiate clearly which foods are harmful to human health due to excess fat, salt or sugar.
The underlying problem is that the interests of the major food multinationals are affected - they have expressed concern and their opposition to measures such as the law passed in Chile, and they fear that it will be applied in other countries. However, the consequences of obesity and overweight begin to reflect dramatically on the increase of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancers. Which means that States are forced to increase public health budgets – a growing preoccupation for those governments and parliaments who have not yet dimensioned the consequences that derive from bad nutrition.
Among the experiences of countries and parliamentarians that had opportunity to meet and exchange ideas on how to make ODS 2 a reality, shocking stories could be heard of situations that are happening these days, as in the case of Yemen, where a bloody war is being fought. On this matter, a recent UN report states: "The critical situation to access food in Yemen and other difficulties caused by the ongoing conflict could lead to the worst famine in the world and place two million undernourished, pregnant women and infants at risk of death”. 1
All parliamentarians agreed that hunger is a political issue which has a relatively simple solution when there is the will to do so. That is why FAO has focused its attention on legislators to achieve a world without hunger. The urgency to end this suffering of more than 800 million people demands the commitment of all. Yemen is an outcry in a world that refuses to listen. The malnourished girl who died a few days after her photo was published in the New York Times generated a reaction of the American newspaper stating that Yemen’s tragedy was not the result of a natural disaster but “a crisis caused by political leaders from other countries willing to tolerate exceptional suffering of the population to carry out their political plans”.2
Eradicating hunger could not be a utopia, and hence the call of FAO to the world's legislators to commit themselves to realize Zero Hunger by 2030. Only political will and pressure from civil society can have influence on governments. The call of the Madrid Summit is to form new Parliamentary Fronts against Hunger and Malnutrition to permanently reverse the course of history and enforce a fundamental human right, such as ensuring a good and healthy diet.
1 UNFPA, cited in FAO publication The Week Ahead, 5-9 November 2018
2 Quoted by La Repubblica, November 3, 2018