17 February 2009

Nigeria: Proactive Approaches in Addressing Hunger and Diseases


Hunger and the global food crisis are but among hundreds maybe thousands of policy initiatives competing for time and space in the world agenda today just as man-made and natural disasters are competing for attention of policy makers.

The risk is that the global economic crisis and the knee-jerk desire to pull inward will prove the conventional wisdom right that the world's 963 million hungry will get hungrier as the financial crisis works its way through the international system just as outbreak of disease and negative effects of climate change continue to wreck havocs across the continents.

There have been scientific forecast on early warning on some of the expected calamities. They are predictions that, if true, could see hundreds of millions of children fall short of their physical and mental potentials and may produce a new wave of civil unrest.

Recently the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) raised an alarm and alerts the Nigerian public of the likelihood of outbreak Cholera and Meningitis in the country. Even though the agency advised the public not to panic but adopt precautionary measures to avoid the epidemic, few days after the alarm casualties were reported in some states including, Katsina, Nassarawa, Benue and Niger.

The agency in its proactive approach has continued to alert the public on disasters lately through its highly sophisticated scientific equipment and researches of its officials. Surely the epidemic is avoidable with proper ventilation, proper hygiene and healthy lifestyle in the dry heat season. The Cholera and Cerebro Spinal Meningitis in some states may be as a result of global warming which may not abate for now considering the likely high temperatures witnessed in the country and ten yearly circles of these epidemics.

As much as the efforts of some government agencies commendable in their preventive strategies, the political establishment must face the societal challenges to avoid the dire consequences by putting in place proactive measures.

The government has an opportunity to reposition food security as the critical foreign policy issue it is, and to take on the global food crisis with the same vigor that policy makers embraced the financial crisis.

To achieve food and economic stability, governments at all levels should know that competition for food and water will overtake competition for oil in both severity and significance in the next decade. The drivers of demand for food remain, chief among them, increased population growth; growing demand from the less-developed world; and crops being grown for fuel rather than food. Falling prices won't change any of that. Meanwhile, exciting supply-side solutions are underway, but are not imminent.

We must also note that hunger is directly tied to civil unrest in many African countries. As food prices climbed last year, we saw more than 30 riots around the world as hungry people let their despair slipped into anger and then violence. In Haiti, 20 people were killed and a prime minister was driven from office. We watched the government of Egypt struggled as the price of bread climbed and people took to the streets. This proves right the maxim that a hungry man is an angry man. When people get hungry enough, they move, in search of a better place, and populations on the move are more prone to conflict.

Therefore the government must give a ray of hope by nourishing people - particularly children - is a step toward building the next generation. The science overwhelmingly shows that proper nutrition for children - particularly, but not exclusively from womb to age two - increases potential for physical and mental development. In other words, children who get proper nutrition are taller, smarter and stronger with stronger immune systems. And these are the children who grow into adults and take the helms of their countries and become part of the global society grappling with problems ranging from infrastructure to climate change.

The developed world that produced $1 trillion to rescue financial institutions in a few short weeks, could surely find $3 billion to feed the 59 million hungry children attending school worldwide, or the $6 billion to fund the work of the United Nations World Food Programme. Or even the broader ask - $30 billion - for short-term hunger needs in tandem with longer term supply-side improvements aimed at increasing agricultural production.

The financial crisis showed us that money is available when the world thinks it matters. The government has a chance to give hunger its rightful place on the National policy agenda.

Dogo, a Soil Scientist, is of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Abuja.

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