Friday, 31 December 2010

Save the Children and feed the World

In 2008, riots broke out in at least a dozen countries as food prices hit record highs.

The price of traded food staples such as wheat, corn and rice soared 26 percent from June to November, nearing the peaks reached during the global food crisis of 2008, according to the Food Price Index kept by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization.

The new surges in prices promises to unleash even greater hunger and deprivation, and more widespread social unrest in the coming New Year, as hundreds of millions of people around the world contend with the impact of the ongoing recession and government austerity measures.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, 925 million people worldwide suffered from hunger in 2010, an increase of about 150 million since 1995-97. One third of children in the so-called developing world are malnourished.

On the global commodity markets, wheat and corn have increased almost 50 percent over last year. Wheat prices soared to their highest level in over two years this week. US soybean futures have been rising rapidly since August, and corn ends the year at a 29-month high.

This blog from its very conception has always been concerned with the impact of poverty amongst our children here in the UK.  A report commissioned by the charity Save the Children earlier this year documented a sharp rise in the number of children living in “severe poverty” between 2004 and 2008. According to the report by the New Policy Institute, “Measuring Severe Child Poverty in the UK,” more than 1.7 million British children were living in conditions of “severe poverty” and fully 4 million are living in poverty.

Since the publication of that report the guard on Downing Street has changed, out with the old and in with the old. The poverty and hardship imposed by the British government’s austerity package begin to bite into already meagre budgets, thousands of British families and individuals are increasingly reliant upon charitable food parcels. Such is the degree of chronic need emerging across the UK, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition are to reinstate the issuing of food vouchers that the previous Labour government had stopped in 2008.

Chris Mould, for the Trussell Trust, told the Independent on Sunday, “It is a scandal that hundreds of thousands of Britons every year hit crisis and are forced to go hungry. These are not homeless people on the street. These are people struggling on low incomes. This is largely a hidden problem and there is still a taboo about people getting this type of help”.

The number of people requiring emergency food assistance, according to the Trussell Trust, has increased by 50 percent since 2009. The charity has 70 food banks which are working full-time to feed thousands of needy people. Job Centre staff will return to handing out the vouchers to those deemed the neediest. Others will be referred to the food bank by health visitors and social workers and receive food vouchers to exchange for food parcels.

The number of those who require emergency food boxes, which contain three days essential supplies of tinned meat and fish, fruit, pasta, tea, milk and sugar, has grown in two years from 25,000 to an astonishing 60,000 today. Of these, one-third—some 20,000—are children. A three-day emergency food box for a family of four has a value of just £28.
The Trussell Trust estimates that on current trends these numbers could swell the number of food banks needed to meet requirements to 10 times the current number, up to 700, to feed an expected half a million people by 2015.

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