Action to achieve the MDGs and other goals set by the conferences and summits of the 1990s should be based on the recognition that such goals are multidimensional, multisectoral and interdependent. To allow coordinated action on several fronts and to achieve a strong and lasting impact on poverty, the ways in which income, hunger reduction, education, health, gender and environmental issues interact must be understood. Access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation (MDG 7) is closely related to reducing the incidence of poverty (MDG 1) and of major diseases (MDG 6), while hunger reduction (MDG 1) cannot be divorced from the achievement of universal primary education (MDG 2) and the goal regarding major diseases (MDG 6). Progress towards meeting commitments on trade, debt and ODA (MDG 8) is essential to support the national processes to achieve all MDGs.
For achieving MDG 1, recognition of the close relationship between poverty and hunger is critical. It is well understood that extreme poverty is at the root of chronic hunger. Poor people do not possess the means to access and/or produce the food necessary for an active and healthy life and are more vulnerable to destitution, following extreme events.
There is less recognition of hunger as an important cause of poverty. Hunger imposes human and economic costs on individuals and societies by adversely affecting the health and productivity of populations. It causes the loss of millions of productive life years as a result of the disease, disabilities and premature death that it inflicts. Recent calculations show that the present discounted value of the combined costs of protein-energy malnutrition, low birth-weight babies and micronutrient deficiencies (such as iron and iodine deficiency) throughout the lifetime of one cohort of undernourished children would add up to at least 5 to 10 percent of GDP of the developing world - roughly US$500 billion to US$1 trillion. The “hunger-low-productivity-extreme poverty” nexus acts as a trap from which hungry people find it hard to escape.
The developing world spends at least US$30 billion a year, a sum amounting to almost half of total ODA, to deal with the direct damage caused by hunger: for example, treating the problem pregnancies and deliveries of anaemic, underweight mothers and the severe and frequent illnesses of children whose bodies and immune systems have been weakened by hunger. Eradicating hunger and extreme poverty could prevent this drain on scarce financial resources. Investment in hunger reduction is too often seen as “welfare” whereas, in practice, it is an investment with a potential for generating high economic rates of return.