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Currently showing: Food security


07 Oct 13 07:49

While billions face starvation the topic hunger was not high on the agenda in the risk perception survey

http://riskwindow.swissre.com/risk-window#qst=1;cnt=1;age=1

nor does it seem to be anywhere else. Still, at least in the world of academia this seems to be changing.

The first ever conference dedicated to food security (one can ask himself why we only have this now after how many decades of hunger in the world?) was actually oversubscribed:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24385547

So it seems the topic is edging up on the agenda - which makes a lot of sense. People won't be able to think about long-term risks like climate change, natural disasters, renewable energy or how to save for a longer life if their main problem is how to survive today. Long-term perspectives only develop if we have can think long-term on a personal level. If you face hunger you are happy if you make it until tomorrow. So why worry about rising seas?

I know that it's all interconnected - if the economy is good then everybody has enough to eat etc. - but I think we have to start with the basics - so that people than have a future they can think about.

Food is a basic and tackling that in my point of view is a good start. Getting it higher on the international agenda is one step in that direction. We are late in it but at least finally something seems to happen. Let's hope it will accelerate even more.


Category: Food security


5 Comments

Gavin Montgomery - 7 Oct 2013, 10:55 a.m.

The fact that at least a billion people face real hunger globally and yet the issue doesn't appear as a priority on risk surveys (not just the Swiss Re study) suggests that we are surveying the wrong people. Obviously, if we went in to rural communities in the developing world hunger, disease, joblessness, low standards of education, and violence would feature far higher. In the U.S., 14.5% of families suffered from food insecurity in 2010 and yet the fears of these at risks families do not appear to be adequately represented.

That raises a concern that the insurance industry's view of risk perception is being shaped by a special category of relatively wealthy consumers who can afford insurance or who have the time, leisure and access to respond to on-line questionnaires. Certainly, the concerns coming out of studies like the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Risks Report are suspiciously correlated with the hopes and fears of middle class communities in developed economies. http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-risks

It would also appear that we are doing a very poor job of communicating risk to the general public. Terrorism, for example, typically accounts for fewer than 10,000 deaths a year globally, less than half the number of people who die of starvation every single day.
http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/09/global-terrorism-deaths vs. http://www.poverty.com/

Despite this, terrorism tends to score highly in risk perception studies, possibly because it garners headlines and because there is a large, well developed fear industry dedicated to promoting it. Insurers play a morally ambiguous role in this misrepresentation of risk as we have an incentive to highlight risks that we can monetize - it's very hard to sell starvation insurance to people who can't afford food but relatively easy (and financially rewarding) to sell protection against highly unlikely terror events at a handsome premium.

Our industry has also been accused, with some justification, of being reluctant to highlight climate risk in the U.S. because it is politically unpopular to do so. Apparently only one in eight U.S. insurers have a formal climate policy. http://evanmills.lbl.gov/pubs/pdf/science-2012-mills-1424-5.pdf

In other words, there are certain intrinsic biases that shape risk perception, including deep failings within the insurance industry. That is massively problematic because risk perceptions are intimately tied to risk responses and it seems that we are not responding to risks that are too depressing, common place, socially and politically challenging, or unprofitable.

Alicia Montoya - 7 Oct 2013, 1:35 p.m.

Very good points, Gavin. It is a sad reality that our political and economic systems are not aligned with humanity's and the planet's long-term needs. This discrepancy causes major imbalances and unnecessary costs. And, as you say, keeps us from grabbing the bull by the horns and dealing with the real issues.

However, until we change the system (and perhaps in order to help us do so), we need to continue to raise these issues. Since information is power, let's make some noise!

October 16 is World Food Day. What does your company do for food security? Have you spoken to your head of CSR? What about your local representative? I'd say, put it on the table, don't wait for somebody else to do so.

Join FAO's efforts on World Food day: http://www.fao.org/save-food/get-involved/en/

Follow the Committee on World Food Security taking place right now (Oct 7-11) in Rome: http://www.fao.org/cfs/en/

Jennifer Rodney - 8 Oct 2013, 9:27 p.m.

I find it interesting that the co-chairman of the conference says in the BBC article that "If we don't know what the problem is then we can't get started in addressing them." I feel similar themes were raised at and in response to Swiss Re's 150 Year Anniversary event in London. (See Bill Emmott's overview, and Allan Savory and others' responses in this post: https://openminds.swissre.com/stories/443/) The complexity of themes like food security can confound even the best efforts of talented and well-meaning experts and it's increasingly clear that the need to properly identify and understand the issues is key. While action is obviously also needed, I support more discussion and more transparency as a step in the right direction and will be checking out the FAO initiatives. Thanks for sharing about them!

Bernd Wilke - 16 Oct 2013, 7 a.m.

Very good point Gavin. That risk perception shapes action is also observable in other areas. E.g. one key health concern in the world is Malaria, yet the private pharma sector is not interested in it, because there is no business to be made. Instead industry concentrates on drugs for long-lasting diseases in the developed world (e.g. cholesterol-lowering medication). The real global public health issues have to be taken up by charities.

So we have to questions:

1. How do we get media to prioritize global risks and challenges in a way, that the most important issues get most of the attention?

2. Who are the parties who are able and willing, to do something about the key issues of the world (of which one is hunger quite clearly)?

Alicia Montoya - 17 Oct 2013, 7:04 a.m.

The media writes what consumers read. Governments act on what voters shout for. So what I'm saying is: It's in our hands!

So mobilize, activate your networks, be vocal! If enough people scream, we'll be heard.


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