Ending Hunger and the New Human Agenda


Recently, the spotlight of world attention was on the Beijing Women’s Conference. Earlier it was on the Social Summit in Copenhagen and the population conference in Cairo.

What has almost completely escaped public recognition is that these conferences were not isolated events, representing the voices of certain special interests. What has emerged in the course of these conferences is a phenomenon that is truly new.

  • Out of the process of these conferences, a truly global agenda has been created. Not for one nation or set of nations, but for all humanity. The agenda has been created through the participation of all governments and thousands upon thousands of nongovernmental organizations. Literally, the collective voice of humanity has been expressed in this agenda.
  • This agenda is not merely a collection of goals, but the convergence of issues formerly seen as distinct into a single, unified agenda. It recognizes that the crucial issues facing humanity are one nexus of issues, inextricably linked, and that only in successfully solving the entire agenda do we solve any of it.
  • This agenda is a human agenda, dealing directly with sustainable human development. This is a dramatic shift from focusing on ideological and strategic geopolitical issues, to focusing on social issues.

We call this the New Human Agenda.

Ending world hunger is central to the New Human Agenda. It has long been clear that the world cannot end hunger on a sustainable basis without simultaneously resolving related issues such as population growth and preservation of the environment. At the same time, for practical as well as moral reasons, it is clear that the world cannot build a sustainable future without ensuring that the one-fifth of our human family who now live in abject poverty and hunger gain at least the chance to meet their most basic human needs and have the chance to lead lives of dignity and self-reliance.

Given our mission, we see that it is critically important to conceive of the New Human Agenda as one, unified agenda in order to create strategies and successfully mobilize the financial and human resources needed to implement it.

In this paper, we would like explore the three points made above, and stimulate an inquiry into the implications of the agenda for the international community. We would like to step back, review both the substance of the New Human Agenda and the process that produced it, and to recognize that an articulation of the agenda will be a contribution to its implementation.

The Emergence Of The New Human Agenda

  • While there have been global conferences on important international issues since the early 70s, we would say that the New Human Agenda first began to emerge in 1990 at the World Summit for Children.
  • This Summit occurred at the very moment of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of ideological gridlock in the world community. For the first time, virtually all the governments in the world were able to come together and reach a consensus.
  • Also, for the first time, all the major implementing agencies of the United Nations worked together to present to world leaders a common set of goals covering all aspects of health and well-being that affect children and their families.
  • The World Summit goals and strategy were created in a dynamic, global process involving thousands of grassroots and nongovernmental organizations who not only gave input to the strategy, but also provided the public pressure to have world leaders attend the Summit.
  • A next critical step was taken at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Again, there was a dynamic global process at both the governmental and grassroots level. This time, two major sets of issues which had heretofore often been seen in conflict — the commitment to the environment and the commitment to development — converged and both sides saw their issues as inextricably linked in a common agenda to preserve the environment for the sake of humankind.
  • In the 1993 Vienna Human Rights Conference, the world agreed to the concept of the universality of all human rights, and that governments could not abridge the human rights of individuals under the pretense of cultural, religious or traditional reasons. Also agreed to in Vienna was the “right to development.”
  • At the 1994 Cairo population conference, a third major group of issues converged with the former two, forming a triad of population, environment and human well-being. As important, this conference recognized that the pathway to accomplishing this agenda was the empowerment of people.
  • The growing recognition that these challenges were fundamentally human challenges became even more central this year at the 1995 Copenhagen Social Summit. For the first time, the world committed itself to the eradication of poverty, and clearly declared that people-centered development was the way forward.
  • In September 1995 at the Beijing Women’s Conference, it was made clear that none of these issues could be resolved without the full equality, participation and leadership of women — that the institutionalized suppression of women was at the very heart of the matter of poverty and hunger, and that unleashing the power of women was key to ending these conditions.

Components of a single, unified agenda

The world community did not set out to unify all the major human and environmental issues confronting the planet. The recognition of the interrelatedness of these issues emerged over time. It is now clear to virtually everyone who has participated in this process that no single item of the New Human Agenda can be addressed in isolation. Only in successfully resolving the entire agenda will we resolve any part of it. And only in resolving the entire agenda will there be a sustainable future for humanity.

The New Human Agenda can be said to comprise 7 over-arching priorities.

  • EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN: The issues of the new human agenda most directly affect women. It is women who bear primary responsibility for health, education and nutrition. It is women who are the poorest in society, and in fact 70 percent of the world’s poor are women and girls. The key leaders and actors for resolving these issues must be women. Humanity will never succeed in meeting the challenges of the New Human Agenda as long as one-half the human race are denied their most basic human rights.

Discrimination against women is deeply entrenched and institutionalized — it is in our families, our communities, our cultures, our governments, as well as in our minds. Overcoming this entrenched paternalism may be the most fundamental challenge of achieving the New Human Agenda.

  • PEOPLE’S PARTICIPATION: Fundamental to the New Human Agenda is the recognition that people — individual men and women — are not passive “beneficiaries” but are the creators and authors of their own future. People are not the problem — they are the solution.

To be effective as the authors of development, people must have authentic voice and power over the issues that affect their lives. This means not only democracy at the national level. Governments must decentralize, and extend decision-making and resources to the local level.

People must be free to organize themselves and gain clout in society. There must be the encouragement of voluntary associations and grassroots self-help groups, producer’s associations and women’s self-help and empowerment groups. This becomes the basis of a diverse and thriving civil society, mobilizing and focusing human energy on meeting a broad range of human needs.

  • UNIVERSAL HEALTH AND EDUCATION: For people to succeed in creating a better future, they must have access to affordable ways to meet their basic human needs and obtain skills relevant to their lives. Universalizing access to these services, and making the providers of such services directly accountable to the communities they serve, are critical priorities.

Local leaders must be empowered to ensure their communities have access to:

  • primary health care,
  • clean and sufficient drinking water,
  • safe sanitation,
  • good nutrition, and
  • functional literacy, either through formal or informal means.

As importantly, communities must become far more skilled at ensuring these services reach the most vulnerable members of society: infants, young girls, pregnant and lactating mothers and the elderly.

  • FOOD SECURITY: In most of the past half century, food security was seen only in macro terms — in terms of ensuring that the rate of food grain production surpasses population growth, and that there are buffer stocks appropriate to emergencies.

This will not suffice. The world now recognizes that food security must be established at every level: regional, national, household and even among the members within a single household. New priority must be given to empowering rural people, and particularly women, who in Africa are 80 percent of the farmers. Nations and regions must strive for food self-sufficiency so as to avoid putting their very survival into the whims of the global marketplace. It means greater investment in rural roads and market infrastructure, in developing appropriate sustainable agricultural techniques and ensuring that they reach the hands of farmers.

  • LIVELIHOOD SECURITY: The eradication of hunger and poverty is a function of ensuring that every woman and man has the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood — not handouts, but true economic empowerment. This requires development of new opportunities appropriate to rural and urban poor, access to vocational training and credit for the poorest members of society.
  • STABILIZATION OF POPULATION GROWTH: Nations will never close the gaps in food availability, health care, education and income opportunities as long as the population grows at an unsustainably high rate. As is true in every other aspect of the new human agenda, this is not only a matter of national policy but also of empowerment of the grassroots. When people, and particularly women, are educated and are given the choice, they choose to have fewer children and space them at healthier intervals.
  • PRESERVATION OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: All human life is derived and sustained from the natural environment, and urgent steps must be taken to preserve that environment as a hospitable home for all future generations.

The poor, whom some have portrayed as the “enemy” of the environment, often prove to be the best caretakers. Their livelihood is most likely to depend directly on the health of the environment, and traditional wisdom often carries with it reverence for, and techniques appropriate to, preserving the environment.

Consensus on the New Agenda

This year, at the Copenhagen and Beijing conference, it was evident that the formulation of this global agenda — and the consensus it represents — is now largely complete. At both conferences, there were more and more expressions that what was missing now was not further refinements, but specific strategies and action to implement the agenda.

This is not to say that the New Human Agenda will not continue to evolve. There are additional pressing issues that have not yet achieved the level of consensus represented by the seven points above. Social disintegration and over-consumption, for example, are issues clearly related to this agenda.

The New Human Agenda will shape the next century

We are at the threshold of a new century. The 21st century will be fundamentally different than the 20th century.

The last century was dominated by war and the threat of war: World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the liberation struggles around the world. Ideological and geopolitical issues were the agenda. These issues forced all the human and social issues to a lower priority.

What was achieved during this century was freedom from tyranny, freedom of self-determination, freedom for people, for individuals, to have real voice in how they live their lives.

The end of the Cold War, the rapid expansion of both human freedom and global communication technology, and the growing urgency of environmental issues have all set the stage for a dramatic shift fromgeopolitical priorities to social priorities.

During the Cold War, social issues were often termed the “soft” issues, yet there is nothing soft about them. They are among the hardest, most complex challenges humanity has ever faced.

Challenges of hunger and poverty, health, population and the environment are literally a matter of life and death for millions. They are also the primary threat to security and peace for all of us, now and in the future.

Governments will succeed or fail to the degree they achieve these goals for their people. At a deeper level, history will judge our success or failure as humanity by our progress with the new human agenda.

Role of The Hunger Project to this point

From its inception, The Hunger Project has assigned itself the responsibility of looking at the “big picture” — to always take the broadest possible view of the forces that hold hunger in place, and take catalytic action to redirect those forces. In recent years, this has occurred in four ways:

  • AT GLOBAL FORA: For many years, and particularly since 1990, The Hunger Project has sought to shape what we perceived as an emerging global agenda. We have sought to keep the issues relevant to the sustainable end of hunger at the forefront of the debate. Since May 1992, we have endeavored to articulate that agenda, and have people see it not in terms of separate issues, but as a nexus of issues which are inextricably linked.
  • ON THE GROUND: In the late 1980s, we recognized what the world community now recognizes — that reaching consensus is necessary but not sufficient to making solid progress. Missing are the effective strategies and ways of working that will translate a shared vision into concrete achievements. This is especially true in dealing with complex, multisectoral issues, as the world’s institutions are built on rigid, sectoral lines. Our Strategic Planning-in-Action (SPIA) work is designed to empower people to overcome these obstacles.
  • A COMMON FRONT: To achieve the New Human Agenda, humanity will need to learn to work together as a “common front.” As was stated in Copenhagen, the world needs a “new kind of expert” who can facilitate diverse people coming together and working together effectively.
  • The Hunger Project has long stood for collaboration and cooperation. We invested a great deal of money and effort in forging a coalition of NGOs, beginning with the Cambodia Crisis Committee in 1979 through Live Aid in 1986. Our work with the Japanese Parliament has resulted in the creation of a caucus devoted to the end of world hunger. And our Youth Ending Hunger movement is bringing young leaders into active partnership with governments, NGOs and the UN system.
  • GLOBAL CITIZENRY: The resource allocations and institutional transformations required to achieve the New Human Agenda will not happen unless there is a broad constituency whose views transcend narrowly defined national self-interest. A new generation of “global citizens” is desperately needed. The Hunger Project is cultivating and training such a constituency, particularly among its most dedicated donors, and plans to expand this program in the future.

Issues that must be addressed to implement the New Human Agenda

While it would not be difficult to make a list of priority action steps consistent with the New Human Agenda, we will not do that here. It is our sense that the traditional prescriptions often merely extend the same thinking that has failed to produce effective action.

Instead, we would like to clarify the issues that must be addressed, out of which new and more effective actions could be revealed.

  • ISSUE 1: The major actors in the international community do not, to date, recognize the existence of the New Human Agenda.
  • ISSUE 2: Donor countries are retreating from providing bilateral and multilateral assistance, and no alternative funding mechanisms have yet emerged.
  • ISSUE 3: There are widely-recognized limitations in the structures and institutions created for the post-World War II era when it comes to meeting the challenges of the New Human Agenda.
  • ISSUE 4: There is no identified leadership in the international community to drive the implementation of the New Human Agenda.


The New Human Agenda can provide a powerful and compelling framework to guide The Hunger Project’s work.

Many of the principles that The Hunger Project has long advocated — multisectoral approaches, an emphasis on empowerment and people’s participation — are now more broadly recognized. In this way, the emergence of the New Human Agenda can make The Hunger Project’s work more understandable and permit us to contribute more effectively to the overall global effort.

This articulation of the New Human Agenda can carry us beyond the narrow and traditional interpretations of “hunger” that have been a legacy of our name. It also enables us to take a much longer view, beyond the statistical goals we have set for the year 2000, and into a future where our human family has created the institutions to ensure a sustainable future for all future generations.