What Shall We Eat and Drink?
International agencies calculate that nearly a billion people go hungry every day. What will it take to solve global issues such as inadequate food and fresh water across vast regions of the world?
One of the downsides of the globalized food delivery system is its vulnerability to supply-chain disruptions. Factors such as ongoing climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine reveal the fragility of the food supply system, despite plentiful harvests. These same factors, along with rising energy costs, contribute to increased poverty in low-income countries, deepening food insecurity.
According to London-based think tank Chatham House, unstable conditions at 14 choke points could also contribute to supply-chain uncertainty over global grain and fertilizer shipments. Several of these strategic locations are in North America; others are in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that “45 countries, including 33 in Africa, nine in Asia, two in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Europe, are in need of external assistance for food” (Quarterly Global Report, March 2023). The FAO further notes that on a global basis, local food prices continue to be elevated, and that 11.7 percent of the world’s population (924 million—an increase of 207 million in two years) faced severe food insecurity in 2021. The UN World Food Program reports that 3.1 million children are dying from nutrition-related causes each year (one child every 10 seconds), and that this number is currently rising rather than falling.
A related problem is the shortage of adequate freshwater supplies, without which food cannot be produced. According to Pew estimates, “over 2 billion people already lack access to safe drinking water at home, and by 2025 over half the world’s population will reside in water-stressed areas.”
More than a decade ago, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2011 sounded the alarm, highlighting the critical nature of “the ‘water-food-energy’ nexus.” It anticipated a 30–50 percent rise in demand for all three resources through 2030 and the potential for environmental disruption, political instability and geopolitical conflict.
Population growth and increasing prosperity in some regions continue to exert pressure on resources that in all probability cannot be withstood without coordinated strategies that address each part of the nexus. If nothing is done, the potential for disastrous consequences looms. When the WEF issued its Global Risks Report 2023, it summarized the impact, in part, of the ongoing war in Europe in these terms: “Food and energy have become weaponized by the war in Ukraine, sending inflation soaring to levels not seen in decades, globalizing a cost-of-living crisis and fueling social unrest.”
Goals and Challenges
Our concern in this article is with the securing of life at its most basic, in terms of the universal need to eat and drink every day. Security relates to more than protecting states against aggression. At the individual level, in addition to food and water, it includes unpolluted sustainable environments as well as protected communities based on equality, good health, good nutrition, safe childbirth, economic viability, and access to shelter and clothing.
In 2000 the United Nations compiled eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to these human security concerns, each with a deadline of 2015. While there was much progress, the UN issued a follow-up set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years. The five agencies involved with food and water insecurity do not expect to meet the Zero Hunger goal by 2030, however; by their estimates there will still be 670 million undernourished people. In 2022 they noted: “With eight years remaining to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition (SDG Targets 2.1 and 2.2), the world is moving in the wrong direction.”
“The triple threat of COVID-19, conflict and climate change pushes the global goal of ending poverty by 2030 beyond reach, unless immediate and substantial policy actions are implemented.”
It’s not just providing sufficient food that is a challenge. The world’s available water supply is finite; moreover, about 97 percent is brine and only 3 percent is fresh. Of that 3 percent, less than 1 percent is accessible; the rest is trapped as ice and glaciers.
Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the fresh water consumed. But without radical changes in eating patterns, this percentage will rise. Both population and meat consumption in low-income countries are on the increase. Industrialized meat production is far more water-intensive than grain production. Thus, more stress will be placed on water resources in the years ahead.
Jay Famiglietti of the Global Institute for Water Security draws attention to another aspect of changing water conditions: “The world’s wet regions are getting wetter and its dry areas are getting drier much more quickly than previously thought, changes that threaten the availability of fresh water and create new risks to people’s health, the food supply, and the environment.”
Added to this is the reality of already unsustainable water use in China, India and the United States. Demands will also increase in the energy sector, which is often dependent on fresh water. The SDGs relating to the water sector declare that “access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being.”
But there is yet more to the water crisis. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), corruption is found at all levels of the water delivery system. Bribes are often required (and paid) for contracts; people are forced to pay illegal fees for connection to water supplies; women and girls are often subjected to sexual abuse in return for access to water and sanitation; and funds are diverted away from government projects. WIN’s Water Integrity Global Outlook (WIGO 2021) confirms the depth of the problem: “Most countries are not on track to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); current rates of progress must increase fourfold to achieve universal access to safely managed water services by 2030.”
An example of how compromised the water business can become may be found in the history of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in Southern Africa—a massive undertaking accelerated in the 1990s with a planned cost of more than $8 billion. Funded in part by the World Bank, the project became mired in corruption. In well-publicized trials in Lesotho, Canadian, French and German multinationals were fined following conviction for bribery in the winning of contracts. The courts alleged that more than $6 million in bribes had been passed along to the local executive in charge of the project, who was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Irregularities in water projects have also been noted in case studies involving China, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Indonesia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Kazakhstan. In one Chinese case, bribed officials simply ignored environmental standards. As a result of widespread corruption, greed and mismanagement, Transparency International reported in 2008 that roughly 700 million people in China were receiving water polluted with human and animal waste.
The Will to Succeed
Despite the challenges to provide adequate food and water, UN secretary-general António Guterres took a positive stance in a May 2022 speech in response to the ongoing war in Ukraine: “Ending hunger is within our reach. There is enough food in our world now for everyone, if we act together.” But he noted that the two embattled nations, which produce almost one third of the world’s wheat and barley, are currently limited in exporting their stocks.
“Food and energy have become weaponized by the war in Ukraine, sending inflation soaring to levels not seen in decades, globalizing a cost-of-living crisis and fueling social unrest.”
According to Tony P. Hall, a former US ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, “we have the ability to stop [world hunger].” But, he asks, “do we have the will? It’s a question of economic, political and spiritual will. So far, we’ve not shown it.”
Hall told Vision in 2011: “The reason I say that this is a spiritual issue is because we’re not living up to what we are supposed to do. There are many verses in the Bible that deal with the sick and the hurting and the hungry, people in prison, orphans, widows and the poor. God is very clear. He doesn’t say, ‘I suggest that I think it would be a good idea if you can afford it.’ He says, ‘I want you involved. I want you to do something for Me.’ There are a couple of verses in Proverbs that mention this directly: ‘Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him’ and ‘Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed’ (Proverbs 14:31 and 19:17). That’s why we need spiritual will. It is not only political and economic will that is needed.”
If the solution to this level of problem is indeed in part spiritual, then it must come from outside our physical world. Certainly the problems of corruption are widespread, and self-interest is endemic among the human family. What is needed is outside spiritual intervention and a fundamental change in human nature. It will take this kind of breakthrough to resolve the deeply entrenched problems that arise from the human heart. Despite our best efforts, finding resolution to certain kinds of human problems evades us. As Albert Einstein said, “It is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man.”
“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels.”
A Changed World
Corruption is a problem of the human heart. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions. But what is the source of help? As Hall indicated, there is much in the Bible to give hope that food, water and corruption problems can and will be solved—that justice and integrity will prevail.
The foretelling of Jesus’ birth through the prophet Isaiah is well known: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, King James Version). George Frideric Handel used this text in his famous oratorio Messiah. What he did not include was the rest of the statement: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (verse 7, KJV).
This speaks of a time of Christ’s rulership on earth at a yet future date. This kind of government was never part of Jesus’ role in the first century. What is described here is a coming time of universal peace and justice under His care: “For a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples” (Isaiah 51:4b).
In a radically changed world, food and water security will be an outcome of godly government, justice, equity and right human action. Water will be made available where needed: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water” (Isaiah 41:17–18). Right agricultural practice will lead to the blessing of abundance: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it’” (Amos 9:13).
This is reminiscent of the earlier promise made for obedience to God’s way: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely” (Leviticus 26:3–5).
The answer to the pervasive problems of the human spirit will also come as a gift from God, like food and water: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3).
The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s words concerning the answer to human nature in complementary terms: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33b). This is the way of transformation, and it alone can lead to the resolution of all human problems.