By Abdul Malik Bangura
Action Against Hunger, the world expert on hunger and malnutrition with over 40 years operational experience confirmed during the World Food Day on Friday October 16th 2020, that over 7% of the world’s children under age five – approximately 47 million children in 2019 suffer from acute malnutrition. It further says that world hunger is projected to rise to an additional 132 million people this year as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Population growth and urbanization; climate change and deterioration of environmental conditions; market dynamics and food supply; natural disasters, civil conflicts and food crises; gender inequalities; and most importantly poverty and inequality have all been identified by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations as determinants of food insecurity and malnutrition in particularly the West Africa region.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), hunger and malnutrition are worsening in parts of the West African continent because of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in low-income communities or those already stricken by continued conflict.
FAO called for robust measures by West Africa states to maintain four pillars such as food availability, access to food, stability and nutrition.
The basis of the robust measures being taken so far by members has led the regional Parliament of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) under the distinguished leadership of its Speaker, His Excellency Sidie Mohamed Tunis to convene a meeting of joint committees on Agriculture, Environment, Water Resources and Sustainable Development/ Industry and Private Sector/ Health/ Energy and Mines/ Social Affairs, Gender and Women Empowerment to discuss the most vital theme of “ECOWAS food security and agriculture production program and the fight against COVID 19.”
The general objective of the meeting, which is scheduled to take place from Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th November 2020, in Bissau, the capital city of Guinea Bissau is to enable the Joint Committee interact with the ECOWAS Commission and assess the status of COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural production and food insecurity in the ECOWAS region.
Also worthy of note is that this meeting of ECOWAS Parliament Members of Parliament (MPs) which is convened by the Speaker himself, comes exactly two (2) weeks after His Excellency Sidie Mohamed Tunis served as chair of a high level regional meeting with West and Central Africa parliamentarians on mobilizing parliamentarians and keeping nutrition as a priority during COVID 19. In that meeting, Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament called on regional law makers to prioritize advocacy on the protection of the right to food. Meanwhile, according to research by the writer, the Right to Food has been accepted as a legally binding obligation by all West African states. According to the ECOWAS Revised Treaty in Article 25 says “Member States shall co-operate in the development of agriculture, forestry, livestock and fisheries in order to: a) ensure food security; b) increase production and productivity in agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry, and improve conditions of work and generate employment opportunities in rural areas; c) enhance agricultural production through processing locally, animal and plant products; and d) protect the prices of export commodities on the international market.”
In addition, this right has been binding obligation on states that are parties to and have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is also binding on ECOWAS states that have ratified human rights instruments relevant to the Right to Food, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which Article 12 recognises the right of pregnant and lactating women to special protection with regard to nutrition; and Article 14 recognises the right of rural women’s access to land, water and services. In addition, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Article 25 recognises the right to health, including nutrition; and Article 27 the right to an adequate standard of living, including nutrition. Also, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 6 recognises the right to life and Article 7 the right to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment.
In the fight against COVID 19, West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO), observed that there is 92.7% recovery rate of COVID 19 cases in West Africa. However, the measures adopted to curtail the spread of the virus in the region have caused more problems as experts are projecting increased in the rate of hunger and malnutrition in the region. Thus the need for various stakeholders in the region, including the ECOWAS Parliament to take-up measures to protect food security and agriculture production program during the fight against COVID 19.