A Global Food Crisis: Shortage Amidst Plenty

Market in New Delhi. Credit: The Oakland Institute

By Frederic Mousseau
SAN FRANCISCO, USA, May 30 2022 – India is being asked by the US government and the IMF to reconsider its decision to suspend wheat exports. Their cited concern is that export restrictions will exacerbate food shortages amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the argument does not stand ground technically or morally.

There is no food shortage. According to a May 6, 2022 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world enjoys “a relatively comfortable supply level” of cereals. This is confirmed by the World Bank, which noted that global stocks of cereals are at historically high levels and that about three-quarters of Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports had already been delivered before the war started.

These numbers are consistent with data from the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture that reported on May 19 that the country exported 46.51 million tons of cereals in the 2021/22 season, versus 40.85 million the previous year.

In a repeat of 2007-2008 food crisis, it is speculation which is the key factor behind the current rise in food prices in international markets. As reported by the Lighthouse Reports, “speculators have flooded commodity markets in attempts to make a profit out of escalating prices.” A striking example are two top commodity-linked “exchange traded funds” (ETFs) which have received US$1.2 billion of investments – compared to just US$197 million for the whole of 2021 – a 600 percent increase.

According to the New York Times, “in April, speculators were responsible for 72 percent of the buying activity on the Paris wheat market, up from 25 percent before the pandemic.” Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, has rightly observed that “speculative activity by powerful institutional investors who are generally unconcerned with agricultural market fundamentals are indeed betting on hunger, and exacerbating it.”

Maize harvest, Gambella, Ethiopia. Credit: The Oakland Institute

Instead of food shortage, the reality is that the world produces far more food than we eat. Over 33 percent of the food produced globally is used for animal feed as well as for other non-food uses, mainly agro-fuels.

The US produces roughly 400 million tons of corn, but over 40 percent of this amount – 160 million tons – goes to ethanol production, while another 40 percent goes to animal feed, and only 10 percent is used as food whereas another 10 percent is exported. India was not expected to export more than 10 million tons of wheat in 2022-2023, which is insignificant in comparison to the US numbers.

The increasing amount of food diverted to the production of agro-fuels – again as in the 2007-2008 crisis – is another major factor fueling tension in the global cereal markets. As noted in a 2009 analysis, “although biofuels still account for only 1.5 percent of the global liquid fuels supply, they accounted for almost half the increase in the consumption of major food crops in 2006–07, mostly because of corn-based ethanol produced in the United States.”

In the US, ethanol production increased from 3.6 million barrels in 2001 to over 102 million in 2019. Despite the fact that ethanol is at least 24 percent more carbon-intensive than gasoline, under pressure from the Congress and the industry, the Biden administration has just taken steps to encourage further ethanol production while continuing to heavily subsidize it.

The US call against trade restrictions has been echoed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Food Programme, and the World Trade Organization, who are urging “all countries to keep trade open and avoid restrictive measures such as export bans on food or fertilizer that further exacerbate the suffering of the most vulnerable people.”

But if governments and international institutions are serious about eliminating human suffering caused by high food prices, they should abstain from pressuring countries who are trying to maintain food supply at a level which will allow national food security. It is essential that they recognize and respect food sovereignty of all nations.

Immediate key measures that countries should be taking to relieve pressure on world markets are to reduce the amount of food used as fuel, curb speculation on food products – specifically restricting the so-called future commodity markets where speculators bet on future prices.

Both the US and the European Union have instruments and mechanisms in place that allow them to act, with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA). What is missing is the political will to act.

What is not missing is hypocrisy. The US government-funded ethanol industry uses the equivalent of 35 percent of the global world trade of cereals of 473 million tons. The Indian export ban set to prevent hunger will affect less than 2 percent of this amount.

Meanwhile, previous research on the 2007-2008 food crisis brings evidence that India and other countries were successful in preventing price transmission to domestic markets through trade regulation measures. For example, the price of rice actually decreased in Indonesia in 2008 while it was escalating in neighboring countries.

Public interventions to prevent this transmission were a mix of trade facilitation policies (for instance, cutting import tariffs or negotiating with importers) and trade restrictions or regulations (such as export bans, use of public stocks, price control, and anti-speculation measures).

The success of measures taken to limit domestic inflation depended primarily on governments’ ability to control domestic availability and regulate markets, often based on pre-existing public systems. Export restrictions possibly contributed to increased inflation in global food markets but they constituted a fast and effective way to protect consumers by mitigating the effect of global markets on domestic prices.

But regardless of the trade measures that some countries may adopt, even in the absence of a global food shortage, the food crisis is real. Droughts, conflicts, and now high food prices, are threatening to starve hundreds of millions of people.

Unfortunately, the massive human suffering and hunger that was affecting many countries even prior to the war in Ukraine was barely met with adequate response from rich nations. UN humanitarian appeals for acute crises are chronically underfunded. In 2021, only 45 percent of the UN appeal for Yemen and the Horn of Africa was fulfilled, only 29 percent for Syria.

The US Congress just approved an aid of US$40 billion for Ukraine, including over US$26 billion of military aid. This is US$12 billion more than the US$28 billion that the US will spend globally in 2022 on international assistance through USAID.

Amidst the war on Ukraine, given the chronic shortfalls of funding to international assistance, it is critical that all countries ensure their solidarity and adequate support is provided to all victims. But beyond aid, the only reasonable decision would be for them to act decisively on the broader causes of the high food prices and curb speculation on food commodities and diversion of food for the production of fuel.

Unfortunately, given measures were not taken following the 2007-2008 food crisis, how likely is it to happen now. High income countries and international institutions may rather repeat their motto of “keep trade open” and continue business as usual. It is therefore up to governments in the Global South, in particular food deficit countries, to recognize this harsh reality and act to reduce their dependency on food imports by supporting their own farmers and proactively regulating their food and agricultural markets.

The Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank that conducts research and advocacy on issues such as international development, environment, land, food, and agriculture.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Excerpt:

The writer is Policy Director at The Oakland Institute, San Francisco

UN “Deeply Troubled” by Impending Cuts on Development Aid by Rich Nations

Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern, over the fall in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), at a meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board, which brought together the heads of 30 UN agencies, to discuss ways of alleviating the crises holding back economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and boost implementation of the SDGs. May 2022. Credit: UN News/Abdelmonem Makki

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2022 – The four-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has triggered a hefty increase in military spending among Western nations and a rise in humanitarian and military assistance to the beleaguered country, is now threatening to undermine the flow of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the world’s poorer nations.

In an advance warning of the upcoming cuts, the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a recent meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): “As Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, I am deeply troubled over recent decisions and proposals to markedly cut Official Development Assistance (ODA) to service the impacts of the war in Ukraine on refugees”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was equally concerned about the impending reductions, has urged donor nations to reconsider making cuts that will affect the world’s most vulnerable.

The people who benefit from the work of the UN system need additional and more predictable funding, he added. “Contributions to key UN agencies, funds and programmes, working with people on the ground, are facing steep proposed reductions. Cuts to development and the United Nations mean scaling back support at a time when demand for support to meet the deepening development needs has reached an all-time high”.

He said ODA is more necessary than ever, and called upon all countries to demonstrate solidarity, invest in resilience, and prevent the current crisis from escalating further.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting mid-May.

According to a UN report, titled 2022 Financing for Sustainable Development Report: Bridging the Finance Divide released last April, “the fallout from the crisis in Ukraine, with increased spending on refugees in Europe, may mean cuts to the aid provided to the poorest countries”

At a meeting in mid-May, the Group of Seven – comprising some of world’s biggest economies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the US, plus the European Union– agreed to provide nearly $20 billion to support Ukraine and bolster its war-ravaged economy.

Separately the US has pledged over $40 billion in economic, humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion last February.

The widespread fear is that the collective $60 billion assistance to Ukraine may result in corresponding reductions in ODA.

Bhumika Muchhala, senior advocate on global economic governance at the Third World Network, told IPS cuts to ODA at a time of a convergence of crises in the Global South is extremely concerning.

She said the pandemic is still ongoing, and health and economic recovery need immediate funds. Food security is being threatened by global supply disruptions, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, creating urgent crises of malnutrition, hunger and even famine.

She also pointed out that climate change is creating catastrophes every day, from fatal heat waves to floods and droughts, while both existing climate financing as well as ODA commitments still remain unfulfilled by rich countries.

“Underpinning these crises is the surge in gender inequality, as women absorb the shocks and costs of global inequalities”.

“Making matters worse, a large number of developing countries are in debt distress or experiencing debt crisis, leading to another era of austerity that is already arresting the achievement of SDGs, resulting in a retrogression of poverty reduction that has taken many decades of hard-won economic and social development to achieve”. said Muchhala.

In light of the fact that every crisis in the South will ripple through the world economy with adverse effects for all, “rich countries have a collective duty to fulfill existing ODA commitments, as well as climate financing commitments and efforts to create genuine fiscal space for developing countries through equitable debt restructuring, international tax cooperation to eradicate illicit financial flows, and needs-based issuances of Special Drawing Rights,” she declared.

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), comprising some of the world’s richest nations, has been providing development assistance since the 1960s.

According to OECD, ODA is defined as “government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries”.

The DAC adopted ODA as the “gold standard” of foreign aid in 1969 and it remains the main source of financing for development aid.

The April UN report, 2022 Financing for Sustainable Development Report: Bridging the Finance Divide, said record growth of Official Development Assistance, increased to its highest level ever in 2020, rising to $161.2 billion.

“Yet, 13 countries cut ODA, and the sum remains insufficient for the vast needs of developing countries”.

But according to OECD, ODA rose to an all-time high of $178.9 billion in 2021, up 4.4% in real terms from 2020 as developed countries stepped up to help developing countries grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, according to the latest available figures.

This figure included $ 6.3 billion spent on providing COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, equivalent to 3.5% of total ODA. Excluding ODA for donated COVID-19 vaccines, ODA was up 0.6% in real terms from 2020.

The 2021 ODA total is equivalent to 0.33% of DAC donors’ combined gross national income (GNI) and still below the UN target of 0.7% ODA to GNI.

The beneficiaries of ODA include the UN’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world’s poor. https://unctad.org/topic/least-developed-countries/list

Meanwhile, in a new report released May 24, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned of the direct and indirect impacts of the war in Ukraine on the African continent, which could further stall the continent’s development trajectory already significantly jeopardized by the COVID-19 crisis.

This report, entitled “The Impact of the War in Ukraine on Sustainable Development in Africa”, reinforces findings of the Global Crisis Response Group (GCRG) that the war in Ukraine is pushing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 further out of reach, and provides key recommendations for actions that need to be taken immediately, to avert further crises in Africa.

“Africa is facing a double crisis with the combined effects of the war in Ukraine and of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with strategic partnerships, the crisis also presented the opportunity to rechart Africa’s development trajectory, breaking away from a dependency cycle” said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and UNDP Administrator.

“Now is a critical time for action. It is time to intensify efforts and reframe development finance, strengthen resilience in African economies, and foster economic transformation as a key driver for change in Africa.”

According to the report, some of the direct impacts of the crisis in Africa include trade disruption, food and fuel price spikes, macroeconomic instability, and security challenges. African countries are particularly affected due to their heavy reliance on imports from Russia and Ukraine.

The current hike in prices for food and fuel directly affects the entire continent, including the biggest economies, as food and fuel account for over one-third of the consumer price index in most African countries, (Nigeria 57 per cent, Egypt 60 per cent, Ghana 54 per cent, and Cameroon 42 per cent).

In 2020, African countries imported $4.0 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia, 90 per cent of which was wheat.

The full report is accessible [here]

Daniel D. Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations at the University of Pretoria told IPS: “I think the UNDP statement gives a good summary of the situation”.

“The impact of the war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on Africa. If it continues it is likely to lead to hunger, increased poverty and serious debt crises across the continent,” he added.

“If the Western countries really wanted African support for the war in Ukraine, they should have taken steps to shield Africa and other parts of the Global South from the impacts of a European war. Instead, they are redirecting aid that could have gone to Africa to Ukraine and are cutting their aid budgets”.

He pointed out that the support that is being offered through the IFIs and others are likely to be in the form of loans rather than grants.

“This means that at the end of the day, the Western states are making African states pay for a conflict in Europe that suits their political agendas.”

In a statement last April, Jeroen Kwakkenbos, EU aid expert at Oxfam said donors have thrown out the rule book by counting vaccine donations in aid budgets.

“Over 350 million vaccine doses came from hoarded stocks, some of which, were donated far too close to their expiry date. Many more were donated without essential equipment such as syringes making them almost useless. Including these ‘donations’ in aid budgets inflates aid. It is merely donors patting themselves on the back for a job that may have cost lives,” he noted

“The war in Ukraine poses a risk to future aid budgets. Aid is already being pulled from countries like Syria to fund the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Europe.”

“We are left with the bizarre situation where European countries could become the largest recipients of their own aid. Instead of cherry-picking humanitarian crises, donor governments need to boost aid budgets to meet the challenges of today.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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Rivers Have no Borders: The Motto of Their Defenders in Peru

Community organizing is a lynchpin in the lives of environmental defenders in Peru, as in the case of Mirtha Villanueva, pictured here with other activists from the Cajamarca region also involved in the defense of rivers and Mother Earth. CREDIT: Courtesy of Mirtha Villanueva

Community organizing is a lynchpin in the lives of environmental defenders in Peru, as in the case of Mirtha Villanueva, pictured here with other activists from the Cajamarca region also involved in the defense of rivers and Mother Earth. CREDIT: Courtesy of Mirtha Villanueva

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, May 30 2022 – “Water is part of our culture, it is intrinsic to the Amazon,” said José Manuyama, a member of a river defense committee in his native Requena, a town located in the department of Loreto, the largest in Peru, covering 28 percent of the national territory.

Despite the large size of this Amazon rainforest department or province located in the northeast of the country, data from 2020 indicated that it barely exceeded one million inhabitants, including some 220,000 indigenous people, in a country with a total population of 32.7 million.

A teacher by profession and a member of the Kukama indigenous people, one of the 51 officially recognized in Peru’s Amazon rainforest region, Manuyama reminisced about his childhood near a small river in a conversation with IPS during the Second Interregional Meeting of Defenders of Rivers and Territories, held in Lima on May 25.

“We would wait for the high water season and the floods, because that was our world. When the water comes, it’s used for bathing, for fishing, it’s a whole world adapted to water,” he said.

And he added: “We also waited for the floods to pass, which left us enormous areas of land where the forest would grow and where my mother would plant her cucumbers, her corn. Seeing the river, the transparent water, that beautiful, fertile world: that’s where I grew up.”

Today, approaching the age of 50, Manuyama is also an activist in defense of nature and rivers in the face of continuous aggressions from extractive economic activities that threaten the different forms of life in his home region.

Manuyama is a member of a collective in defense of the Nanay River that runs through the department of Loreto. It is one of the tributaries of the Amazon River that originates in the Andes highlands in southern Peru and which is considered the longest and the biggest in terms of volume in the world, running through eight South American countries.

“We started out as the Water Defense Committee in 2012 when the Nanay watershed was threatened by oil activity,” he said. “Together with other collectives and organizations we managed to block that initiative, but since 2018 there has been a second extractive industry wave, with mining that is damaging the basin and seems to be the latest brutal calamity in the Amazon.”

José Manuyama, a member of the Kukama indigenous people and a teacher committed to the protection of nature, stands in front of the Momón River, a tributary of the Nanay River, which environmental activists have been defending from extractive activities that threaten its very existence in the department of Loreto, in Peru’s Amazon jungle region. CREDIT: Courtesy of José Manuyama

José Manuyama, a member of the Kukama indigenous people and a teacher committed to the protection of nature, stands in front of the Momón River, a tributary of the Nanay River, which environmental activists have been defending from extractive activities that threaten its very existence in the department of Loreto, in Peru’s Amazon jungle region. CREDIT: Courtesy of José Manuyama

Their struggle was weakened during the pandemic, when the “millionaire polluting illegal mining industry” – as he describes it – remained active. Their complaints have gone unheeded by the authorities despite the harmful impacts of the pollution, such as on people’s food, which depends to a large extent on the fish they catch.

However, he is hopeful about the new national network of defenders of rivers and territories, an effort that emerged in 2019 and that on May 25 organized its second national meeting in Lima, with the participation of 60 representatives from the Amazon, Andes and Pacific coast regions of the country.

“It is important because we strengthen ourselves in a common objective of defending territories and rights, confronting the various predatory extractive waves that exist in this dominant social economic system that uses different factors in a chain to achieve its purpose. The battle is not equal, but this is how resistance works,” Manuyama said.

Like the watersheds of a river

Ricardo Jiménez, director of the non-governmental Peru Solidarity Forum, an institution that works with the network of organizations for the protection and defense of rivers, said it emerged as a response to the demand of various sectors in the face of depredation and expanding illegal mining and logging activities detrimental to water sources.

The convergence process began in 2019, he recalled, with the participation, among others, of the Amazonian Wampis and Awajún indigenous peoples, “women defenders of life and the Pachamama” of the northeastern Andes highlands department of Cajamarca, and “rondas campesinas” (rural social organizations) in various regions of the country.

Mirtha Villanueva, defender of life and Pachamama in the Cajamarca region of northeastern Peru, is seen here participating in one of the sessions of the Second Interregional Meeting of Defenders of Rivers and Territories, which brought together 60 participants from different parts of the country. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Mirtha Villanueva, defender of life and Pachamama in the Cajamarca region of northeastern Peru, is seen here participating in one of the sessions of the Second Interregional Meeting of Defenders of Rivers and Territories, which brought together 60 participants from different parts of the country. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The first important milestone of the initiative occurred in 2021, when they held their first national meeting, in which a National Promotional Committee of Defenders of Rivers and Territories was formed.

They approved an agenda that they sent to the then minister of culture, Gisela Ortiz, who remained in office for only four months and was unable to meet the request to form the Multisectoral Roundtable for dialogue to address issues such as environmental remediation of legal and illegal extractive activities.

The proposed roundtable also mentioned the development of criteria for the protection of the headwaters of river basins, and the protection of river defenders from the criminalization of their protests and initiatives.

At this second national meeting, the Promotional Committee updated its agenda and created synergies with the National River Protection Network, made up of non-governmental organizations.

It also joined the river action initiative of the Pan-Amazonian Social Forum (Fospa), whose tenth edition will be held Jul. 28-31 in Belem do Pará, in Brazil’s Amazon region, and whose national chapter met on May 27.

Three days of activity were organized in the Peruvian capital by the defenders of the rivers and their riverside communities, who on May 26 participated in a march of indigenous peoples, organized by the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest.

“There is a coming together of the social collectives at the national level and also with their peers at the Pan-Amazonian level; we have a shared path with particularities but which coincides,” Jiménez told IPS.

A group of villagers participates in the monitoring and surveillance of the Chimín river in the Condebamba valley, in the Cajamarca region of northeastern Peru. The river is contaminated by illegal mining activity, which harms all the communities along its banks, as it irrigates 40 percent of the crops in the area. CREDIT: Courtesy of Mirtha Villanueva

A group of villagers participates in the monitoring and surveillance of the Chimín river in the Condebamba valley, in the Cajamarca region of northeastern Peru. The river is contaminated by illegal mining activity, which harms all the communities along its banks, as it irrigates 40 percent of the crops in the area. CREDIT: Courtesy of Mirtha Villanueva

Rivers have no borders

Mirtha Villanueva is an activist who defends life and Pachamama (Mother Earth, in the Quechua indigenous language) in Cajamarca, a northeastern department of Peru, where more than a decade ago the slogan “water yes, gold no!” was coined as part of the struggles of the local population in defense of their lakes and wetlands against the Conga mining project of the U.S.-owned Yanacocha gold mine.

The project was suspended, but only temporarily, after years of social protests against the open-pit gold mine, which in 2012 caused several deaths and led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the region for several months, in one of the most critical episodes in the communities’ struggle against the impact of extractivism on their environment and their lives.

A large part of Villanueva’s 66 years has been dedicated to the defense of nature’s assets, of rivers, to guarantee decent lives for people, in a struggle that she knows is extremely unequal in the face of the economic power of the mining companies.

“We, the defenders of the rivers, have to grow in strength and I hope that at the Fospa Peru meeting we will approve a plan of action agreed with our brothers and sisters in Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, because our rivers are also connected, they have no borders,” she told IPS during an interview at the meeting in Lima.

“We need to strengthen ourselves from the local to the international level to have an impact with our actions. We receive 60 percent of our rainfall from the Amazon forest. How can we not take care of the Amazon?” she said.

José Manuyama stands to the right of the poster during one of his presentations at the Second Interregional Meeting of Defenders of Rivers and Territories, which brought together activists from different parts of Peru in Lima. His group analyzed power relations in the context of the risks surrounding the country's rivers, especially those in the Amazon rainforest. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

José Manuyama stands to the right of the poster during one of his presentations at the Second Interregional Meeting of Defenders of Rivers and Territories, which brought together activists from different parts of Peru in Lima. His group analyzed power relations in the context of the risks surrounding the country’s rivers, especially those in the Amazon rainforest. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The work she carries out with the environmental committees is titanic. She recalled the image of poor rural families protesting the change in the rivers and how it has caused rashes on their children’s skin.

And when they went to the mine to complain, they were told: “When I came, your river was already like this. Why do you want to blame me? Prove it.”

“In this situation, the farmer remains silent, which is why it is important to work in the communities to promote oversight and monitoring of ecosystems and resources. We work with macroinvertebrates, beings present in the rivers that are indicators of clean or polluted waters, gradually training the population,” she explained.

This is an urgent task. She gave as an example the case of the district of Bambamarca, in Loreto, which has the highest number of mining environmental liabilities in the country: 1118. “Only one river is still alive, the Yaucán River,” Villanueva lamented.

She also mentioned the Condebamba valley, “with the second highest level of diversity in Peru,” and 40 percent of whose farmland is being irrigated by water from the Chimín river polluted by the mines.

“In Cajamarca we have 11 committees monitoring the state of the rivers, we all suffer reprisals, but we cannot stop doing what we do because people’s health and lives are at stake,” both present and future, she said.

Upset with the Opulence of the Rich? But the World’s Children Are Paying the Bill

“The world’s richest countries are providing healthier environments for children within their borders, yet are disproportionately contributing to the destruction of the global environment”. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, May 30 2022 – The excesses committed by rich people can be deadly–and in fact they are. Be it about food, energy or overall waste, such excesses have been depleting the world’s natural resources and pushing both current and future generations towards the edge of a predictable abyss.

See how

If everybody in the world consumed resources at the rate people do in Economic Cooperation and Development OECD (38 countries), and the European Union (EU) States (27), the equivalent of 3.3 Earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels. But if everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five Earths would be needed

Over-consumption in the world’s richest countries is destroying children’s environments globally, explains UNICEF (the UN Children Fund) in its report Innocenti Report Card 17: Places and Spaces.

“The world’s richest countries are providing healthier environments for children within their borders, yet are disproportionately contributing to the destruction of the global environment.”

In fact, if everybody in the world consumed resources at the rate people do in Economic Cooperation and Development OECD (38 countries), and the European Union (EU) States (27), the equivalent of 3.3 Earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels.

But if everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five Earths would be needed

UNICEF compares how both OECD and the EU countries fare in providing healthy environments for children.

For this purpose, it features indicators such as exposure to harmful pollutants including toxic air, pesticides, damp and lead; access to light, green spaces and safe roads; and countries’ contributions to the climate crisis, consumption of resources, and the dumping of e-waste.

 

Destroying children’s environment.. And lives

“Not only are the majority of rich countries failing to provide healthy environments for children within their borders, they are also contributing to the destruction of children’s environments in other parts of the world,” said Gunilla Olsson, Director of UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.

“Mounting waste, harmful pollutants and exhausted natural resources are taking a toll on our children’s physical and mental health and threatening our planet’s sustainability.

 

Learn more, please

The Innocenti Report includes other key findings. See some of them:

  • Over 20 million children have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead is one of the most dangerous environmental toxic substances.
  • Finland, Iceland and Norway rank in the top third for providing a healthy environment for their children yet rank in the bottom third for the world at large, with high rates of emissions, e-waste and consumption.
  • In Iceland, Latvia, Portugal and the United Kingdom 1 in 5 children is exposed to damp and mould at home; while in Cyprus, Hungary and Turkey more than 1 in 4 children is exposed.
  • Many children are breathing toxic air both outside and inside their homes. Mexico has among the highest number of years of healthy life lost due to air pollution at 3.7 years per thousand children, while Finland and Japan have the lowest at 0.2 years.
  • In Belgium, Czech Republic, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland more than 1 in 12 children are exposed to high pesticide pollution.
  • Pesticide pollution has been linked with cancer, including childhood leukaemia and can harm children’s nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, endocrine, blood and immune systems.

 

But there is more, much more…

Sadly enough, all the above is not the sole cause that damages the present and future of children. See, for example:

  • The shocking extent of exploitative baby formula milk marketing. The world’s leading health specialised body (WHO) revealed the “… insidious, exploitative, aggressive, misleading and pervasive” marketing tricks used by the baby formula milk business with the sole aim of increasing, even more, their already high profits.
  • Severe wasting: UNICEF warns that the number of children with severe wasting is rising and getting worse. Its report Severe wasting: An overlooked child survival emergency shows that in spite of rising levels of severe wasting in children and rising costs for life-saving treatment, global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.
  • Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height resulting in weakened immune systems – is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, at least 13.6 million children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths among this age group.
  • Migrant children: Around the world, migrant children are facing alarming levels of xenophobia, the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and limited access to essential services, according to UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
  • Children in war: Nearly 90% of people in Syria live in poverty. More than 6.5 million children need urgent assistance – the greatest number of Syrian children in need since the conflict began. There, only one in four young children get the diets they need to grow healthy. The price of the average food basket has nearly doubled in 2021 alone.

In Yemen, 45% of children are stunted and over 86% have anaemia;

In other Middle East countries, like Lebanon, 94% of young children are not receiving the diets they need, while over 40% of women and children under the age of five have anaemia;

  • Child soldiers: Thousands of children are recruited and used in armed conflicts across the world. Between 2005 and 2020, more than 93,000 children were verified as recruited and used by parties to conflict, although the actual number of cases is believed to be much higher.These boys and girls suffer extensive forms of exploitation and abuse that are not fully captured by that term. Warring parties use children not only as fighters, but as scouts, cooks, porters, guards, messengers and more. Many, especially girls, are also subjected to gender-based violence.
  • Child forced labour: There are more than 160 million children forced in labour.

They are children washing clothes in rivers, begging on the streets, hawking, walking for kilometres in search of water and firewood, their tiny hands competing with older, experienced hands to pick coffee or tea, or as child soldiers are familiar sights in Africa and Asia, explains IPS journalist Joyce Chimbi.

 

Resources are scarce

There are too many other crimes being committed against the world’s children.

One of them is really staggering: the very organisation: UNICEF, which was created 75 years ago to cover the emergencies of European children who fell victims of the Europe-launched II World War, is now bady short of vitally needed funding to save the lives of millions of world’s children.

Not only, a good part of these scarce resources is justifiably devoted to saving children of yet another European war.