ASIA: Protection of right to food is out of agenda as environmental rights are undermined for corruption-friendly policies

An Oral Statement to the 37th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)

Mr. President.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) shares the concerns of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food citing the report of the FAO stressing the fact that the hunger levels have increased reversing a trend of decades and squandering the gains. It is true that the hunger kills more every year than many of the severe epidemics and even terrorism kill together.

The problem of hunger in the Asian countries persists due to the failure of the States in recognising the right to food as integral to right to life with dignity and thus being a fundamental human right. Regrettably, most of the Asian countries do not even have policies to snatch the people back from extreme forms of poverty that causes hunger, malnutrition, and starvation deaths in normal circumstances let alone in the aftermath of natural catastrophes. Even worse, the ones that do have, for instance India, often have no public institutions to deliver them on the ground. The Supreme Court of India had stressed this fact when it curtly noted that the government of India has wonderful schemes to fight malnutrition but their implementation is woeful.

This is because of this reason that most of the Asian countries rank terribly low in the Global Hunger Index. Though there are notable exceptions like Cambodia, Nepal and Bangladesh which have made progress in fighting hunger, most of the countries in the region have shown little or no progress. The hunger levels in the Philippines, for example, hardly changed in the last three years and it slipped further down in 2017, bringing it back to the ‘alarming’ category from the ‘moderate’ one. Similarly, Sri Lanka too saw no improvement in its hunger levels in 2017, while witnessing a sharp increase in wasting of children under five years- to 21.4%, as against only 13.3% in 2006-2010. India too, remains in alarmingly high hunger levels bracket with a hunger index of 31.4 in 2017 and one of only four countries in the world with child wasting rate of more than 20%.

The hunger situation only gets worsened because of corrupt systems of governance in the Asian States. Many of them flout their obligations of protecting environment and keeping it safe, clean, healthy and sustainable. They, rather, allow ‘development’ projects affecting livelihood security of the people while also threatening their natural habitat with all its bio diversity. For instance: Bangladesh and India are jointly constructing coal-fuelled power plant causing serious damage to the ecological balance in the Sunderbans, which is one of the largest mangroves in the world. Age-old vehicles without proper fitness is allowed to operate in the streets of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan as the influential political, financial, and bureaucratic elites are in the business of public transports. Natural disasters such as floods in several countries are mostly related to lack of proper dredging of rivers and constructions of dams and bridges without proper scientific studies.

The ALRC observes that improving the quality of governance creating systems of accountability through functional and independent justice institutions the situation can be improved. ‘Political will’ of the States would never be a reality unless they are made answerable to the justice mechanism for the corruption-friendly system of governance being in place.

Thank you, Mr. President.

UN Web TV Video Link(Please scroll down on the list of speakers on the right hand side and click on clip number 11 to find Asian Legal Resource Centre)