Fact: Close to one billion people in the world live in chronic hunger.
Fact: One in seven people do not get enough food, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Fact: Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60% of deaths in children under the age of five worldwide.
Pretty sobering, especially since hunger doesn’t often make headlines, but today is World Food Day and this year’s theme, “United Against Hunger” provides an opportunity to take a hard look at what can be done to alleviate the global problem of hunger and malnutrition.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which established World Food Day 30 years ago today, estimates that 925 million people worldwide are undernourished. That’s a welcome, albeit small, decline from last year’s figures. Stack that up against UNICEF’s latest estimate that 195 million children are chronically undernourished today, up from its previous estimate of 178 million, and suddenly it’s not so hopeful anymore.
And although the Millennium Development Goals‘ first target, which is to reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, is on its way to being achieved in a handful of countries, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Progress hasn’t been consistent globally, and even within countries that have reached the goal, there are pockets of terribly malnourished men, women and children. The point is, the numbers are still unacceptably high, and a stark reminder that devastating hunger is a daily reality for millions upon millions of people.
A new global food crisis?
News this past week about a surge in corn prices is sparking concerns about a new global food crisis akin to the one in 2007 and 2008 when rising food prices set off protests around the world. And chronic food insecurity, especially in the developing world, remains a serious issue.
“Many experts expect food prices to remain volatile in the coming years. If we truly want to create stability and prosperity that can offset future shocks, the world must get serious about investing in the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” says Charles MacCormack, President and CEO of Save the Children.
Take a look at what happened in Mozambique last month when price increases set off violent food protests and looting. In Maputo and other cities, 13 people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Save the Children’s Mozambique office just produced this video about the latest concerns and highlights workable solutions, especially in a country where the rural poor are so deeply affected:
Does food aid deliver nutrients to children?
There’s also the very real question of the quality of food that’s being distributed. The World Bank estimates that $12 billion a year is needed to scale up effective nutrition programs to meet current needs.
Humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders — which last year treated 250,000 malnourished children around the world — points out that most food programs for developing countries rely heavily on fortified cereals made of corn and soy. Fine for adults, but not so for growing children. Doctors Without Borders’ concern is that while the cereal blend may relieve a child’s hunger, it doesn’t provide adequate nutrition. Its experts claim there’s a critical window of opportunity that slams shut by the time a child reaches the age of two. Without eggs, fruit, milk and the like, young children run the all too real and serious risk of not developing properly, being prone to disease, and death.
“Our medical teams working in more than 30 countries with high levels of malnutrition, in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, have demonstrated that with early intervention with quality, balanced foods, countless children can be spared the consequences of malnutrition,” says Dr. Christophe Fournier, president of Doctors Without Borders’ International Council. “We know what children need. It’s simply a matter of ensuring they get it.”
Despite the hurdles, one can’t deny that progress has been made since the very first World Food Day. In the past 20 years the proportion of hungry people worldwide has fallen by almost a quarter according to the Global Hunger Index. But it’s also clear that world leaders have to stick to the commitments they have made not just to the Millennium Development Goals, but, as Save the Children CEO MacCormack points out, to the promise they made at last years’ G-8 and G-20 meetings to invest $22 billion in global food security.
So what can you do to help?
Here’s a short, and by no means complete, list of what you can do this World Food Day. And let us know what projects you may be working on!
Listen to actor Jeremy Irons and sign the petition to end hunger at 1billionhungry.org
Want to test your own hunger IQ? Take Save the Children’s interactive quiz and see how much you know and what you can do to help fight childhood hunger.
Check out the World Food Programme’s Ten Ways You Can Fight Hunger on World Food Day.
Read about the Doctors Without Borders Starved for Attention project that looks at the quality of food aid for young children and sign the petition.
Photo courtesy of Michael Bisceglie/Save the Children