Uncounted is honoured to have a guest post from Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a leading economist and the recently appointed FAO assistant director-general. Here, in light of our new report Born Equal, he considers the importance of inequality in driving progress against hunger.
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As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, a beauty contest is gearing up on what issues should be included in the post-2015 development framework. Some observers fear that the various proposals risk turning the new development framework into a Christmas tree of political correctness. Nonetheless, the need to address inequality is a crucial challenge for development..
A long standing challenge for development, inequality strongly came back to the forefront of development debates when the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF focused some of their flagship publications on this issue a few years ago (the UN 2005 Report on the World Social Situation entitled The Inequality Predicament, the World Development Report 2006, and the 2007 World Economic Outlook on Globalisation and Inequality). Since then, the global financial and economic crisis has strengthened the voices who claim inequality is not only slowing down human development but also slowing economic recovery.
The recent report by Save the Children adds yet another argument to this debate. Despite the common focus on inequality, the three above-mentioned publications were divided over whether emphasis should be placed on inequality of opportunity (the potential of the individual to fulfill his or her own capabilities) or inequality of the social and economic determinants leading to unequal outcomes (usually measured in economic terms).
Born Equal shows that inequalities affecting the household in which a child is growing will most likely result in inequality of opportunity for that child (hence highlighting that the relationship between opportunity and outcome is not linear, but also cyclical). Inequalities experienced during childhood may have physical, mental, cultural and opportunity effects for the rest of their lives.
A case in point is the effect of inequality on hunger and child malnutrition. Receiving the right nutrients in the first months of life is not only a matter of life and death, but also a major determinant of future potential – raising future earnings by as much as 20%. Yet today, because they don’t get the right nutrients, 170 million children are stunted, their intellectual and cognitive development undermined.
Here, the inequalities uncovered in the report are striking. For instance, in Nigeria, over half of the poorest children are stunted, compared with a quarter of the richest. In China, children in poor rural counties are six times more likely to be stunted than urban children. And in Indonesia, a sharp rise in wasting – or acute malnutrition – in the wake of the recent food crises (2007-08, 2010-11) has had an incredibly regressive effect by hitting children from the poorest households hardest and widening the gap between the poorest and the richest children.
In June this year, the UN Secretary General made the call to set the ambitious but feasible goal of zero hunger. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva has called for a world without hunger to feature prominently in the post-2015 framework. Reducing wide and increasing inequalities will be crucial to achieving this.