Opinion: The Right to Food and the Environment

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INTRODUCTION: HUNGER

According to figures published by the United Nations, 10 people million die even-year from hunger and hunger-related diseases, and rising food prices may push 100 million people deeper into poverty. State collusion in slaughter on this scale would be on a par with any genocide case which might conceivably be brought before an international court, but identifying the potential liability of states or individuals for actions which contribute to this human catastrophe is not the primary focus when it comes to the death of the hungry. Good reasons can be put forward for this, of course; it can be argued that the majority of these deaths are not part of any deliberate policy or plan to starve and disable millions of poor people (if they were, states would indeed face charges of genocide or other international crimes).2 Rather, they are the result of complex and varying factors, some of which are beyond the direct control of states. Furthermore, it can be argued, states are actively and collectively seeking to address this ongoing disaster through a myriad of acts and policies, most notably through the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Declaration which sets, as its first target, halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 and, by the same year, halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Recent developments have confirmed, however, that the problem of global mass hunger and malnutrition is not immune from legal scrutiny and that states, whether they act individually or collectively, are not immune from potential liability for actions or inactions which exacerbate or fail to tackle the problem. Part of the momentum behind an increasing focus on the human right to food has been the acknowledgment that, notwithstanding the commitment made in Millennium Development Goal 1 (MDG1), the international target of halving the number of hungry people by 2015 is unlikely to be met in a number of regions, including sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.4 Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that climate change is likely to have a serious impact on food production.

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