Should any wanderer have turned up to the Big IF rally in Hyde Park on Saturday feeling a little down at the gills, a little voiceless in the grand scheme of global politics, they were swiftly put to rights. “When you speak”, said Myleene Klass, addressing a crowd of 45,000, “politicians have to listen”. A leaflet reinforced the point: David Cameron and G8 leaders will take action against the blight of world hunger, it promised, “if and only if, you shout and make a lot of noise”.
But is this true? Even taking into account the zesty sloganeering of pep rallies, does ‘the voice of the people’ have anything to do with this decade’s fight against hunger abroad? The answer is a resounding no. At best, we’ve been cheering bystanders; at worst, unaware. In a reversal of the well-worn “population good”, “government bad” dynamic, the motivation for this humanitarian campaign, which on the weekend saw £2.7bn pledged by 51 countries, has largely come from the top down. From political leaders to the Hyde Park grassroots.
In August 2012 David Cameron hosted a hunger summit with Michael Temer, the vice-president of Brazil. The meeting passed under the radar in the post-Olympics haze and, despite the trumpeting of aid organisations both before then and after, it’s fair to say global hunger has yet to seize the interest of an austerity-focused public. (We’ve got our own food-banks to think of, after all.)
The facts, however, were as stark then as now; malnutrition kills around 8 million children a year, leaves 165 million stunted, and reduces hard-hit countries’ economic advancement by at least 8 per cent annually.
Of course, Cameron and co didn’t stumble upon this from their own research, or – at least in the West – personal experience. The plates at the G8 conference in Lough Erne next week will be toppling with delicacies (previous menus offer “Kelp flavoured Kyoto beef” and “Corn stuffed with caviar”). In fact, for the ultimate source of the drive to eradicate hunger you have to look through the archive of esteemed medical journal The Lancet.
In 2008 it published a ground-breaking series on feeding children. The articles, researched by a small band of experts, made the case that improving nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, in a small number of countries, had huge and potentially life-saving impact later on. Since publication, money has flooded hunger’s way. Perhaps in this case, then, rather than patting ourselves on the back for hollering at politicians, we should applaud the work of researchers who spend their life out of the public eye. And, if it’s not too galling, the governments brave enough to invest in what they recommend.