Global Hunger the Focus of Robbins Memorial Symposium
May 4, 2012
"We actually can solve global hunger. There is no reason today why people should be hungry anywhere in the world on a chronic basis or as a result of a disaster," said Nick Haan, Robbins Memorial Symposium speaker and food security expert. During a recent student assembly, he cited the Copenhagen Consensus – an international economics forum – that identified malnutrition and global hunger as the No. 2 solvable global challenge based on a cost/benefit analysis.
This year's symposium took shape thanks to the combined efforts of faculty sponsors, and several students and student clubs. Karen Yuan '13 and David Xue '13 were key student organizers of the series of events that included an assembly talk by Haan, a panel discussion with Haan and several faculty members, and a Q-and-A lunch with Haan and interested students. With the help of the Documentary Film Club and its club head Arianne Lakra '13, the organizers also screened the related film, Seeds of Hunger, which examined issues involved in the global food crisis.
Xue described the goal of the symposium organizers: "Through the two days of events, we wanted to spark discussions and questions throughout campus, and involve the community in understanding the complexities of poverty in Africa."
Xue added, "The panel discussion was by far the most gratifying event during the entire symposium for me. I was truly awed by how much experience we have on the campus, and how the panelists with the direction of [Science Instructor] Mr. [Townley] Chisholm were able to truly delve into why Africa has such poverty and whether it's moving in the right direction. There is no one answer, but we all left [full of] even more questions that we'll carry on throughout our lives."
During his student assembly talk, Haan presented some of the grim statistics of global hunger, which currently include 900 million people who are chronically undernourished, and 6 million children who die every year from lack of sufficient food. Haan used an example from his experiences in Bangladesh to put a human face on these statistics. He recalled a 10-year-old Bangladeshi girl he met as she set off for a multiday walk to sell the family's cooking pot in an attempt to stave off hunger. "It was one of those moments when you realize that poverty like that is unacceptable. Ultimately, food security is about people; people like you, like me, people with families, moms, dads, who are trying to get by . . . who deserve the basic human right to access food."
Haan's particular mission has led to widespread adoption of a consistent standard called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which global agencies such as the U.N. use to evaluate the nature and severity of food crises. In use now in 30 countries, it facilitates and prioritizes the allocation of resources. Haan described how one of the first uses of the IPC had a direct impact on the resources provided to Somalia. After being labeled as having regional famine conditions (the most severe IPC phase), Somalia saw resources ramped up dramatically in a matter of months by global institutions and NGOs (see related slide photo above).
Jerilyn Wu '13, a team leader of Exeter Social Service Organization (ESSO) Global, commented, "One of the most interesting aspects of Haan's message was the practical nature of hunger alleviation. Haan reiterated that 'a hungry man was an angry man.' As part of an organization like ESSO, it is my hope that people engage in service for humanitarian reasons; Haan provided a fresh take on the positive economic and political implications of poverty eradication."
Haan closed his assembly talk by telling the students: "We can end hunger. We can make sure people have safe water supplies. We can make sure people have basic education and shelter. It requires a commitment from individuals. And any of you can be a part [of this effort] in the future. It's fun. It's exciting. It's fascinating, and I encourage you to do so."
The Robbins Memorial Symposium was established in honor of the late David C. Robbins '78. Robbins went on to Brown University, where he did extensive research on the problems of developing countries. He was also a research assistant in the Institute for East West Securities. Robbins researched – academically and through travel – the roots of poverty, famine and revolution. Each year, speakers have been invited to campus to speak on such diverse topics as globalization, poverty, the United Nations and the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Interested in learning more?
Check out this story from the Atlantic Wire on the role of Haan's IPC standard in the Somalia famine…
Here's more information on the Seeds of Hunger film…
Learn about PEA's initiatives to help students become globally informed in Exeter in the World…
Read this Bulletin story of PEA faculty touring Africa…
Check out the many club opportunities for students, including ESSO…
— Mike Catano