Friday, November 1, 2013

The Right to Food

Most of us living in big and action-packed metropolises have a similar life pattern. All through our lives, we use the assets and gifts with which the Almighty Has blessed us without giving anything a second thought. Perhaps, we have taken everything for granted. Living in our air-conditioned rooms, we avoid a wrenching reality that 60% people around the world live below the poverty line with absolutely no concept of housing and electricity what so ever. With education easily accessible to us, we never realize that only 1 out of 8 children in the world ever gets to see a school. With our refrigerator and food supplies at just some steps, we tend to forget an eye opening and heart shattering fact that it's just a game of destiny that we are born in the right part of the world and into the right social class. If we hadn't, then we might have gone hungry all our short life, as 800 million people do, who were born in the wrong place or wrong conditions or into the wrong social class. This has to change. With caring and nourishing our own selves, we need to know and develop a better understanding of Human Rights and when do we actually start misusing them.According to the Declaration of the United Nations, "Human rights are those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. To violate someone's human rights is to treat that person as though she or he were not a human being. To advocate human rights is to demand that the human dignity of all people be respected." It also refers to a concept that all human beings are free and have universal rights, or status, regardless of legal jurisdiction, and likewise other localizing factors, such as ethnicity and nationality, race, color and family background. This concept is not very new. The Theory of human rights is based on the dogma of "Moral Universalism", initially put forward by Greek philosopher Aristotle. In "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle presents his argument in support of the existence of "a natural moral order" and says that such a "natural" order should be the basis for all truly rational systems of justice. This concept of moral universalism implies that morality is not dependent on social and historical conditions and applies to all human beings regardless of place and time, and forms the basis of human rights. Roman Stoic philosophers such as Cicero and Seneca, also supported 'moral universalism' and argued that all moral laws originated in the rational will of God and the authority of such moral law transcended all local legal codes. Christianity, which emerged later, maintained the belief of a universal moral code in the ensuing centuries. Islam, one of the most believed and fastest growing religion of the world also makes a resounding effort to ensure equal rights to all people. Standing on these strong historical and religious grounds, much has been done to date to ensure rights to every individual living on this planet. United Nations along with its associate agencies in collaboration with hundreds and thousands of NGOs is trying to make this possible. At the same time, a great emphasis has been given to the fact that all the rights are inter related and solving one problem at a time would need to tackle all the other issues. While U.N.E.S.C.O is working for education and U.N.I.C.E.F for children, agencies like W.H.O, F.A.O and W.F.P are dealing with one of the most intense issues of our world and going every length to ensure one of the most basic rights to all humanity.The Right to Food.The Center for Economic and Social Right states "The right to food guarantees all people the ability to feed themselves. It also obligates states to cooperate in the equitable distribution of world food supplies. As part of the more general right to an "adequate standard of living," the right to food contributes to a broader question of whether people live in basic dignity. People have a right to the basic amount of food necessary for survival, but they also have a right to food of high enough quality and quantity to live in adequate dignity". This generalizes that hunger, malnutrition and inaccessibility of food is not only violation of a very basic human right but is also an obstacle for attaining social, political and economic stability and harmony. It stresses towards a fact that irrespective of all social, political, economic and geographical differences, every human being has a birth right to lead a life with access to adequate supply of food and water.Providing adequate food and work has always been seen as prime moral obligation for the kings and monarchs with large empires and those ruling the common men. The only basic difference between these moral responsibilities and human rights is that the human rights give the poor and unprivileged people a claim, which principally is enforceable.In those times of monarchy, people had no option other than to revolt against the king or state that failed to meet this obligation and responsibility to feed its citizens.This signifies a fact that the idea of human right to food is to establish a practical and legal channel for fulfillment of this basic right and to seek remedies against authorities which fail to guarantee access to food. This idea is barely 200 years old-and not yet legally implemented in most states even today.The right to adequate food is a human right and is well established and recognized on several premises under the international laws. Just after three years of the World War II, On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 of this declaration states that everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food. This universal declaration of human rights sets a common and realistic standard of achievement for all people and nations. Keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, states and nations shall strive to achieve the common global goal and emancipate their respective people from the curse of hunger, malnutrition and starvation. Nearly 20 years later, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) developed these concepts more fully, stressing "the right of everyone to adequate food" and specifying "the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger". The Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition (1974) and the World Employment Conference (1976) also pressed to this fact asking for an inalienable right of food for all humans in order to develop their physical and mental faculties. Conferences and declarations such as The International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), World Declaration on Nutrition (1992), the Rome Declaration on World Food Security (1996) and the Plan of Action of the World Food Summit (1996) all stressed up to ensure right to food throughout the world. Agencies working under the United Nations such as Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O), World Health Organization (W.H.O) and World Food Program (W.F.P) are taking all considerable and necessary steps to eradicate the nuisance of hunger and starvation from the entire humanity. "Achieving food security for all" is the main point of focus of F.A.O's efforts. And to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. F.A.O's mandate is to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy. They also provide assistance to those nations who need to increase their crop yields but lacks technical skills. With a staggering budget of $765.7 million, F.A.O aims to achieve its goals on community, national and international levels. On the other hand, the largest international food aid organization, World Food Program, combats hunger in underdeveloped nations of the world with severe shortage of food. This hard and strenuous fight has been carried out through plan action of Rescue, Rapid Reaction and Rehabilitation. Expanding its activities into 78 countries around the world and with direct expenditure of US$ 2.9 billion, W.F.P is distributing food to 87.8 million poor people in the world which is the largest relief and aid operation of its kind ever since the dawn of human history. Most recent relief operations of W.F.P include earth quakes of Pakistan in 2005, floods in Bangladesh of 2004 and recent famine in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, every year on 16th October, World Food day is celebrated to re-think and re-plan the strategies for present and future.But despite the fact that the international community and UN has frequently reaffirmed the importance for the right to adequate food and launched multitudes of operational projects, a disturbing gap still exists between the standards set and the situation prevailing in many parts of the world. The target of reducing world hunger by the year 2015 which was set in World Food Summit in 1996 still appears a far cry. Statistics show that since 1990, the number of hungry and underfeed people is constantly and unceasingly increasing. In developing countries spread across 5 continents, it has started to increase at a rate of almost four million per year. By the advent of 21st century, the total number of undernourished people worldwide has risen to 854 million (14% of the world's total population): 820 million in developing countries, 25 million in countries in transition and nine million in industrialized countries. Today, only one out of seven people do not get enough food to lead an active and healthy life which is the birth right of everyone. According to a research conducted by F.A.O about the state of food insecurity in the world in 2006, 25,000 lives are lost everyday due to poverty and hunger. In the developing world, every second a child dies due to hunger and malnutrition. Moreover, 27 percent of children under 5 are moderately to severely underweight. In 2005, about 10.1 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. Almost all of these deaths occurred in developing countries, 3/4 of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the two regions that also suffer from the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition. Today, one in nearly seven people does not get enough food to lead an active and healthy life which is the birth right of everyone. Adding to this, malnutrition and undernourishment leads to many chronics and deficiencies leading to physical and mental restraints which they effected carry all through their lives. All these numbers and statistics lead us to the loop poles in international working bodies and their incomplete strategies and approach in dealing with these intense issues. At the same time, it indicates the presence of many other factors and causes that are still making hunger, malnutrition and violence of right of food the number one risk to health worldwide with greater number of victims annually than AIDS, malaria and cancer combined.
In order to understand the factors of this prevailing state of hunger and violence of the right to food, one needs to understand that inadequate food access can be due to two prime reasons: There is absolutely no food available, or the food is available but far from the access of deprived and unprivileged people. Stereotypically all importance and emphasis has been given by the states and the welfare organizations on the overall food availability and it has been thought that mainly through increasing food production and quality, hunger and malnutrition can be overcome and target of ensuring food rights to all can be achieved. Such a strong emphasis is only reasonable when the production of food by the poor is for themselves. But there is another view point to this situation. According to different experts, adequate quantity of food is available or can be produced with the current resources almost in every country of the world. Many of the countries considered poor, produce food enough for not only their domestic markets but for export as well. Nonetheless, hunger and malnutrition still persists. It may surprise us but according to the annual report presented by F.A.O in 2004, only 10% of the total hunger death is due to famine and malnutrition. This leads us to re-examine and arrive at some more obvious causes. Lack of food isn't the only cause of malnutrition and hunger but is also due to social injustice and political, economic and social segregations. There are almost one billion people around the world who earn less than $1 a day. These poor people are deprived of the rights to have their resources while the rich and those in power monopolize these resources for their own luxury and comfort. Billions of people all around the globe in their respective countries are never given opportunity to have a secure economic life and hence have food security. This statement is well proved by the facts like the total assets of the three wealthiest men in the world constitute 47% of the world's total monetary assets, and all three of them belong to the United States of America. On the other side, most food productions whether agricultural products or food obtained from oceans or rivers, goes towards feeding livestock whose meat and by-products are consumed mainly in the countries of the industrialized North.The other reason for this number of deaths is global debt-trap. The World Bank has admitted that today, the developing countries pay $13 in debt as repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. Due to this, tens of billions of dollars which can be used to improve infrastructure, development of rural communities, education and health care are just being wasted in paying those debts to the World Bank. Thus, it would be rational to say that "Global Capitalism" and "Unequal distribution of resources" are the main monsters under the disguise of hunger and food shortage which are responsible for the massacre of human lives on such a massive scale.Today, in order to bring hunger and malnutrition to an end and make access to food possible for all, long term attempts should be made on International, National and Individual grounds. Globally, the world has to re-realize a fact that right to adequate food is inherently linked to the dignity of humanity and is inseparable from the fulfillment of all human rights for all. Eradication of poverty, ensuring equal rights, education, employment, better and fast ways of transportations and better facilities for health would also improve food security. Necessary steps should be taken to ensure economic democracy and micro- finance should be made available on local level to reduce the global dominance of big industries on agriculture sector.Internationally, accumulation of wealth should be reduced by massive redistribution of wealth and other resources. This also includes cancellation of debts to the Western banks and increased investment in rural and under-developed sectors. The West and those belonging to the industrialized and developed world should join hands today and try to improve the infrahuman conditions in many parts of the world such as Africa, South America and South Asia. At the time of a natural calamity, the welfare organizations and NGOs should establish a check and balance system to make sure that all the aids go to the deserving and those in need. As declared by the Economic and Social Council, "The role of the United Nations agencies, including through the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) at the country level, in promoting the realization of the right to food is of special importance. Coordinated efforts for the realization of the right to food should be maintained to enhance coherence and interaction among all the actors concerned, including the various components of civil society. The food organizations, FAO, WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, the World Bank and the regional development banks, should cooperate more effectively, building on their respective expertise, on the implementation of the right to food at the national level, with due respect to their individual mandates."On national level, the state government should design and adapt a national strategy based on human rights principles to ensure food security for all its citizens. It should formulate policies and take all necessary steps to make sure that everyone is free from hunger and can enjoy his right to adequate food. It should also identify the resources available to meet the objectives and the most cost-effective way of using them. The national strategy should give particular attention to prevent discrimination in access to food on different aspects such as color, caste, creed, gender, financial standing and geographical location. Moreover, the state government should take all necessary measure to ensure transparency and accountability in all aspects of food system including production, processing, distribution, marketing, food safety and nutritional value. Adding to this, those who suffer the violation of the right to food should have full access to the judicial system of the country and all necessary steps for compensation and prevention for any further cases should be taken.Last but not the least, every one of us who has got sufficient amount of resources to feed ourselves, must thank the Almighty for His blessings and should take small steps on individual and community basis to help those millions of our brothers and sisters who suffer from famine, hunger and malnutrition and are deprived of their right to food. We all must try not to waste the food and should contribute through our money, time and knowledge in ensuring the right to food to every human being on our mother Earth.