Food Insecurity in Asia and Global Catholic Citizenship

By Dr. Paul Hwang (Director ALL Forum)

We have heard of food and energy crisis in many parts of the world including Asia since Russian invasion in Ukraine has begun in February, 2022. Statistically speaking, 36 countries imported more than 50% of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine in 2020. Compared to this, in March 2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Food Price Index leapt to its highest level since its inception in 1990.

Although Asian countries improved their food supply by harvesting a lot of crops this year, hunger is rampant in some countries in Asia especially North Korea. Quite similar is four countries like Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia are facing food shortages, according to the FAO announced in May, 2022. The UN body predicted that North Korea’s food situation would continue to deteriorate. It added that North Korea’s rice and corn stockpiles are expected to run out within this month unless additional emergency food aid is provided.

What made its situation worse is the Covid19 which has just been outbroken and infected 4 million people there. In addition to North Korea, Cambodia and Laos are suffering from food shortages due to flooding, drought in Sri Lanka, and complicated problems resulting from the transition from centralized to free market system in Mongolia. In particular, in Laos, 420,000 people, a quarter of the total population, are in need of emergency aid.

What is the causes of hunger and food insecurity in many countries in the world and Asia? Generally it is due to economic instability such as conflict, poverty, hyperinflation and rising commodity prices, and environmental factors such as floods and droughts. This time is different simply because of the pandemic. Blockades and closures caused by the deadly virus have devastated people’s livelihoods and led to a sharp increase in poverty and inequality around the world.

Ilustration: Food Security

In many countries, restrictions and blockades for quarantine measures for more than two years have also meant suspension of food supplies, delays in overseas remittances, and suspension of school meals. The sharp rise in food prices is putting a huge strain on household finances, and poor families are being hit hard.

Conflict and all kinds of war are the biggest cause of hunger in the world, and 65% of people who actually face severe food insecurity are caused by conflict and civil war according to news reports. In third-world countries, poverty and prolonged conflict have destroyed their livelihoods, forced families to leave their homes, and countless children, including girls, are suffering from hunger most.

We can’t say more about the cause of hunger without saying about climate change. Hurricanes, cyclones, floods and droughts because of it affect harvests, leading to food insecurity. Climate change also increases the spread of crop pestssuch as locusts, damaging and destroying crops to harvest. Inflation and the economic crisis have affected food accessibility for many people. Even if food is available, it is too expensive to make it easy for many people to get it. Due to the influence of the pandemic, many people lost their livelihoods and their income decreased.

Who are the most vulnerable to this kind of hunger, food crisis or food insecurity? Women and girls account for 70 percent of the world’s hungered. And as families and communities struggle, girls are more likely to quit school than boys, and are more likely to be at risk of child, early marriage, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and unwanted pregnancy. In addition, starvation is particularly dangerous for adolescent girls and pregnant or breastfeeding women, increasing the risk of miscarriage or death during childbirth.

This is a report from a NGO working for women and girl children. What has all the information got to do with Catholics like us? We as a Catholic are not to be confined in our country nor a continent but to be identified as a world Catholic citizen who concerns for the poor people in the world. When you put yourself as a global citizen and look at the poor suffering hunger, it will be only then that the problem of global poverty, food crisis, and hunger comes into the task of yours as a global Catholic with the full spirit of Catholic citizenship.

Indeed, the word “Catholic” or “Catholicity” means the universe or the pluriverse if you want from the beginning. Therefore, a Catholic is born to be a concerned neighbor who takes good care of the marginalized and abandoned in the world and the universe.