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‘Hunger is on the increase’

Former Norwegian ambassador to Zambia Terje Vigtel says hunger is on the increase in Africa due to poor leadership.

“Famine is increasing in many African countries. Hard to understand why this could happen in 2019. Famine is never just a natural disaster,” tweeted Vigtel. “It is first of all a result of poor political leadership. Too easy for leaders to blame climate change when they fail to act.”

Why has eradicating hunger and poverty proved difficult despite it being a declared goal of the international development community for more than half a century? Why has the number of hungry people increased in recent years?

Why is poverty particularly persistent in sub-Saharan Africa?

Over time, the answers to these questions – the basis of development strategies – have changed. With the emergence of a more comprehensive understanding of the challenge of development, various constraints have been identified. Adverse ecological conditions, inadequate technology, lack of capital and education, cultural factors, and institutional failures. In analysing the challenges of eradicating hunger and poverty, governance has attracted particular attention in the past decade.

As Kofi Annan, the then secretary-general of the United Nations, told world leaders in 1998: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.”

Governance is the exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Different definitions of good governance have been proposed by development organisations. The definition offered by the United Nations Development Programme highlights participation, accountability, transparency, consensus, sustainability, the rule of law, and the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable people in making decisions about allocating development resources.

A widely used set of aggregate data from a broad range of sources compiled by the World Bank Institute measures the following dimensions of good governance: political stability and absence of violence, the rule of law, voice and accountability, regulatory quality, government effectiveness and control of corruption, and environmental governance. Each of these dimensions of governance is important for eradicating hunger and poverty. Overall progress in improving governance, as measured by these dimensions, has been slow in the past decade. This is alarming because the poorest and most food-insecure people live in countries with weak governance. The dimensions of governance affect hunger and poverty in numerous ways. A stable environment is a fundamental precondition for food security and development. A threshold of security exists below which public investments in infrastructure and education have little impact on development.

Poor and disadvantaged groups, especially the rural poor and women, often lack access to justice. The transaction costs of accessing the formal juridical systems are typically high, and the system is often captured by elites who have few incentives to serve disadvantaged groups. Poor people thus have few prospects to defend their land or labour rights or to take action against violence, which contributes to inequalities.

The extent to which a country’s citizens can participate in selecting their government is a measure of the people’s voice and the public sector’s accountability, as is freedom of expression, association, and the media. The relations between this dimension of governance and development outcomes are complex. Famines are less likely to occur in functioning democracies with a free press. Even in democratic systems, however, poor people often struggle to make their voice heard.

Policy instruments and government regulations that create macroeconomic stability and foster economic growth are obviously important for poverty reduction. However, regulatory and policy instruments cannot benefit the poorest and most disadvantaged groups unless equity -including gender equity – is considered in choosing those instruments.

These dimensions of good governance are important for the implementation of every policy instrument that the state can use to alleviate poverty and ensure food security. The impact of increased public spending is limited when government effectiveness is low and corruption is widespread. And because most poor people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, the governance of natural resources, such as water, soil, rangelands, and forests, requires special attention to ensure that hunger and poverty reduction strategies are sustainable in the long run.

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