Did you know that…

  1. Today, 870 million people worldwide suffer from hunger. Despite a 130 million decrease since 1990, progress has been slower since 2008.
  2. 98 percent of the underfed – 852 million – live in developing countries, where almost 15 percent of the population is undernourished. By contrast, in developed countries, 16 million people are underfed.
  3. Gender-related discrimination has repercussions on hunger statistics. Indeed, if women farmers had access to the same resources as men, up to 150 million underfed people would no longer be hungry.
  4. 45 percent of deaths of children under five are due to poor nutrition. This represents 3.1 million children each year.
  5. The World Food Program calculated that only US $3.2 billion is needed to satisfy the 66 million primary school-age children who attend class hungry.

– Lauren Yeh

Sources: WFP, FAO
Photo: Huffington Post

Global Food Insecurity
There really is no formula to defining global food insecurity. Still, many world health organizations use the term to point out deficiencies in global food security. To understand what something is, it sometimes helps to understand what it is not. This may just be the case with food insecurity. To understand food insecurity, that is, one must first define and understand food security and work backwards. If food security does not exist, then, by definition, you have food insecurity.

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” This definition hinges on three qualifications: namely food availability, food access, and food use. Lacking one of these elements of food security, a population faces food insecurity, which can and does arise in an endless permutation of manners.


Global Food Insecurity: Failing Food Security Criteria


To establish food security, say, in a developing nation, food must first be available on a consistent basis. Some will argue that there is currently enough food in the world to feed everyone in the world. Nonetheless, people go hungry due to inconsistency in their daily intake of food. For example, one may go days without a meal. In this situation, a cornucopia of food, arriving two weeks later, does nothing to alleviate that person’s current hunger. As such, food security depends on food availability.

Second, the nation’s population must have access to the right kinds of food to sustain a healthy diet. Not only must a person have food available, that is, it must be the right kind of food. For example, a human cannot survive on rice alone. We need all different kinds of food to live healthy lives. The definition of healthy diet here also includes accommodations to particular dietary needs, such as avoiding certain foods or increasing intake of others.

Finally, food security requires appropriate use of food based on adequate knowledge of basic nutrition and care. In order to maintain a healthy diet, one must know how to eat the food that is available to him or her and portion that food out in a way that best serves the needs of his or her body. When USAID drops bags of food over Africa, for example, it will be helpful to also teach those receiving the aid how to ration the food. Basic sanitation and access to water are included in appropriate use to complete the qualifications of food security.

If even one of these three elements or qualifications is not met, it is easy to see how even a full plate of food, three times a day, may not be enough to maintain a healthy diet. Food security requires that the food is enough to satisfy the short, mid, and long-term needs of the human body and that the person consuming the food does so in an appropriate manner to maintain him or herself. Global food insecurity, or deficient food security from a worldwide perspective, exists in a world where even one person goes hungry.

Though great strides have been made in alleviating global hunger, the current level of food insecurity is unacceptable. Even in the United States, 1 out of 10 households were food insecure, hence the importance of food provision and education programs, like, local food banks. To learn more about food (in)security in the U.S., you can visit this site.

– Herman Watson

Sources: U.S. Food Aid and Security, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization
Photo: Security and Sustainability Forum

It often goes unreported, with other countries in the Middle East garnering all the headlines, but since the Arab Spring in 2011 poverty levels have been increasing dramatically in the small nation of Yemen. As a result, roughly one fifth of the country’s population, 5 million people, are suffering through a severe food crisis. This number includes one million acutely malnourished children. According to a World Food Programme (WFP) report, half of the children in Yemen under the age of 5 have had their growth stunted.

With only 3% of Yemen’s land being arable and the rising poverty levels preventing people from buying imported food, the situation is only going to worsen. Currently, WFP operates an emergency program in the country with a budget of $250 million. But with the increased shortages this year, the program needs an additional $80 million in order to complete extended operations.

The humanitarian crisis does not end with the food shortage. 6 million people in Yemen have no access to healthcare, and beyond the 5 million suffering severe food shortages an additional 5 million are in need of food aid. Additionally, 340,000 people have been displaced due to fighting since the Arab Spring, placing a further strain on aid efforts.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is an international initiative aiming to provide assistance to one third of the population of Yemen. In order to meet targets, like providing food to 7 million people, water to 3 million, and healthcare services for 4.2 million, agencies are seeking $716 million in aid money. Currently funding has provided less than half of that target. If funding goals can be reached, assistance can also be provided in education and protection services, possibly affecting half a million children.

With Yemen’s transition towards full democracy and general elections scheduled for 2014, it is crucial that the humanitarian situation be addressed. Otherwise, internal strife could ultimately derail the whole process.

– David M. Wilson

Sources: The Examiner, World Food Programme, Irin News
Sources: BBC

5 Facts About World Hunger

When most people think of world hunger, they picture the emaciated children shown on television commercials or news footage of refugees lining up for food rations. The media portrays hunger as a dire emergency directly resulting from natural disasters, war, or some other kind of unrest. These graphic examples of acute hunger do portray actual people and circumstances, but they fail to account for 92 percent of the world’s hungry who suffer from chronic undernourishment rather than food emergencies. Though the number of people living with chronic hunger has decreased by 130 million people over the past two decades, one in eight people in the world still goes to bed hungry each night. Listed below are five facts about world hunger.

5 Facts About World Hunger

  1. Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Listed as the number one health risk on the WHO’s list of the world’s top ten threats to health, hunger causes 10 million deaths each year. That is roughly equivalent to the number of people killed in the Holocaust.
  2. If female farmers had the same access to resources as their male counterparts, the number of the world’s hungry could be reduced by 150 million people. Though women often hold responsibility for feeding their families, they face severe constraints in accessing the materials and markets needed to contribute successfully to the agriculture sector.
  3. 870 million people currently suffer from hunger. 98 percent of these people live in developing countries, with the largest proportion living in Asia and the Pacific. While the number of hungry people is declining in Asia and Latin America, it is steadily rising in sub-Saharan Africa.
  4. Another 24 million children could be hungry by the year 2050 due to climate change and irregular weather patterns. $7.1-7.3 billion is needed in order to offset the negative impact of climate change on world hunger.
  5. According to the World Food Programme, hunger is the “single biggest solvable problem” facing the world today. It costs just $0.25 per day to provide a child with the nutrients he or she needs to live, and $3.2 billion is needed to feed the 66-million school-age children who are currently hungry. While this may seem like a large amount of money, the U.S. spends more than 200 times that amount on the military alone.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: WFP, World Hunger

Food Crisis in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is now facing a food crisis nearly four months after a coup overthrew the government and proclaimed the leader of the Seleka rebel coalition, Michel Djotodia, as president. More than 60,000 people are suffering from severe food shortages, and 200,000 have been forced to flee their homes due to instability in the region.

Food shortages are nothing new for the country, as last year the United Nations claimed that upwards of 800,000 people, nearly 20% of the country’s population, experienced some level of food crisis. However, the current shortages have the potential to be much more severe as the fighting has severely impacted the country’s agriculture, with many families losing food stocks, seeds, and livestock.

Due to the new government administration, and ongoing political turmoil following the coup, access for humanitarian agencies throughout the country has been restricted, especially in some of the hardest-hit rural areas. Yet before this can change, security throughout the country must improve. This lack of security has further led to the closing of health centers and schools due to safety concerns. Nearly a million children are out of school as a result of these closures, and a significant percentage of those have missed nearly a full school year due to the ongoing conflict.

Funding for humanitarian work is an ongoing issue. Current donations account for only about 43% of the $125 million in aid that the UN estimates are needed in the Central African Republic. The Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, said, “The current humanitarian crisis is the worst in the country’s history. It is urgent that the international community provides funds quickly to help and to save lives. The world can’t turn a blind eye on the crisis here. The country is bordered by six of the most fragile African nations—there is a high risk of destabilization throughout Central Africa.”

– David Wilson

Sources: WFP, The Examiner, Action Against America

Famine for Political EndsColm Tóibín and Diarmaid Ferriter are Irish writers and historians. The first part of their 2004 book The Irish Famine written by Tóibín, is an essay outlining the historiography of the Great Famine, which plagued Ireland for seven years between 1845 and 1852. According to Tóibín, the famine is a historical event that has been manipulated by Irish and American historians for political ends from the late 19th century to the present. Tóibín speaks for both himself and Ferriter when he states: “Our own prejudices, mine and Diarmaid Ferriter’s, should be very clear: we both recognize that no narrative now seems capable of combining the sheer scale of the tragedy in all its emotion and catastrophe, the complex society which surrounded it and the high politics which governed it.”

Tóibín begins his history of historical writing on the famine by stating “two things happened in its (the famine’s) aftermath. One, people blamed the English and the Ascendancy. Two, there began a great silence about the class division in Catholic Ireland.” What Tóibín describes is a hurting Ireland that could not afford to face the reality of the massive pain she had suffered. In the wake of famine, Ireland required a “nationalist fervor” to rise from the ashes. In 1854, the historian John Mitchel called the famine a “genocide”, insinuating that the British deliberately exterminated those who died in the tragedy. This extreme sentiment became milder in the 20th century but still survived in a veiled form. In the 1990s, Governor George Pataki of New York expressed the view that Great Britain purposely refrained from assisting the Irish during the famine. Views such as this serve politicians well because they incite feelings of nationalism in prospective voters.

The authors’ understanding of famine and its capacity as a political tool is outstanding. Over the last half-century or so, one can see a similar phenomenon taking place in Ethiopia, where political oppositions capitalize on government inefficiency in the face of famine. In 1973, the communist junta under rebel leader Mengistu Haile Mariam accused the reigning monarch of failing to deal with the problem, resulting in the overthrow of the government. After a war with Eritrea in the later 1990s, Ethiopia is once again reeling from economic impoverishment augmented by famine.

When there is famine, a political platform is raised that is conducive to a dangerous breed of nationalism. As the Irish famine illustrates, extreme situations of hunger cause people to question their government. This can be seen in the historiography of the Irish famine, which indicates a hatred toward the British monarchy that was so potent it survived into the late 20th century. These are only a few examples of how the tragedy of famine can be used as a political tool.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: The Irish Famine, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Ukraine, “The Bread Basket of Europe,” a 233,000 square mile expanse of fertile steppe stretching from Poland and Romania in the West to Russia in the East.  Much like in Turkey, her southern neighbor across the Black Sea, Ukrainian culture combines elements of the Asiatic and the European into a Eurasian entity that is undoubtedly one of the most distinct in the world.  Even during the tyrannical rule of the Soviet Union, Ukraine retained the unique agricultural identity that defined it, consistently expressing an anti-regime, nationalistic fervor while making up for over a quarter of the USSR’s grain production.

Ukraine’s significance as the agricultural gold mine of Eastern Europe was the cornerstone of it’s economy for centuries, making it the most valuable territory to the former Soviet Union.  The strategic importance of Ukraine as a center of agricultural output is most notably evidenced by the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33, also known as the Holodomor (Голодомор). This great tragedy was deliberately created by Joseph Stalin to quell a strain of Ukrainian nationalism that had started to become active in the late 1920‘s.  The main thrust behind the designed famine, however, was Stalin’s desire to accelerate the industrialization of the Soviet empire by utilizing Ukraine’s enormous agrarian resources.

The famine was a result of the forced collectivization of Ukrainian farms by the government in which virtually all of the food produced on the collectives was seized by Soviet authorities and sold on the international market to raise the national income, leaving the Ukrainian locals with nothing to eat.  This collectivization was against the will of the Ukrainian “kulak” class of wealthy farmers who opposed Soviet rule and ran private farms for personal profit.  In devising this artificial famine, Stalin decimated the population of Ukraine and, through murder and banishment, eliminated the Kulak class, along with any rebellious sentiment represented by the Kulaks.

What Stalin did to the Ukrainians has been described by many historians as mass genocide.  Between 1932 and 1933, over seven million Ukrainians died of starvation.  Ukrainian famine survivor Miron Dolot, who was a child in Ukraine during the forced collectivization, recalls grisly scenes in which desperate villagers resorted to cannibalism and the consumption of rats to stay alive.   Stalin had reduced the Ukrainians to a condition of destitution that was beyond comprehension.  To the heartless dictator,  fast industrialization was the end goal, and any amount of life that stood in his way was expendable.

The Holodomor is a stain on the history of the former Soviet Union, and was only recently recognized by the Russian government.  To this day, the Ukrainian Famine is one of the only instances in history in which a dictator calculatedly reduced a contingent of his people to starvation and abject poverty.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: Execution by Hunger, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, CIA World Factbook
Photo: United Human Rights

According to the UN, famine occurs when there is “a severe lack of food access for a large population” that causes more than 30 percent of the population to suffer from malnutrition and two people per 10,000 people to die each day. Though many organizations attempt to solve famine crises with emergency resources alone, these resources address the immediate causes of famine instead of the underlying factors that prolong and exacerbate it. Listed below are five ways to end famine that go beyond emergency relief to offer long-term solutions.

1. Promote democracy.

Harvard economist Amartya Sen remarked that “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.” While no country is immune to natural catastrophes that hinder agriculture, countries with stable democracies can better combat the conditions that lead to famine. People can promote democratization by stressing the importance of foreign aid and development assistance to legislators. Democracy may not fill stomachs, but it does help to manage the resources needed to do so.

2. Send funds instead of food.

Amartya Sen also pointed out that a “shortage of purchasing power” rather than a shortage of food itself causes famines. Though emergency food and water supplies can sustain populations during severe famines, such resources do not prevent future famines. By sending funds instead of food, donor countries can avoid procedural delays and ensure that starving people can afford the food they need to survive.

3. Connect farmers to markets.

Organizations such as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) provide smallholder farmers with the opportunity to sell their crops to reliable buyers, providing them with steady capital. The WFP also teaches farmers sustainable practices that increase the value of their crops and boost national food security over time. Connecting farmers to markets directly reduces poverty and gives farmers the income necessary to purchase their own food.

4. Empower women.

While women produce roughly half of the world’s food supply, they are often the first to go hungry in a household. Educating women lowers rates of unplanned pregnancy significantly, decreasing the average number of children a woman must feed and reducing poverty.

5. Spread awareness.

The aforementioned strategies can solve the structural problems that lead to famine, but resources are needed to implement these strategies. Ordinary people can help to end famine simply by spreading awareness and contacting their friends, families, and legislators. Such awareness can put pressure on legislators to implement programs that combat famine.

Katie Bandera

Sources: Forbes, World Food Program, End Famine
Photo: BWG

Ali Hamandu, a pastoralist in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, knows all too well the destruction a drought can bring. In the past five years of incredible drought in Ethiopia he has lost all of his livestock.

“I was previously a respected figure in my community for my wealth, having nearly a hundred heads of animals, including sheep, goats and cattle. All of a sudden I have nothing,” he explains. He now relies on food aid to support himself and his family.

Almost 14% of Ethiopia is made up of pastoralist communities. However, over the past five years of drought there has been a decline in the number of those who live as pastoralists due to climate change in Ethiopia. Many pastoralists have moved to urban life hoping to find jobs to provide food and water. Because pastoral life is so dependent on weather it is important to find solutions so pastoralists can continue their livelihood even with a changing climate.

The U.N. has been addressing this problem in Ethiopia by using money from the MDG-Fund to promote climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies into the government’s development plans, and policies. The “Enabling Pastoral Communities to Adapt to Climate Change and Restoring Rangeland Environments” is a UN joint program between the UNDP, FAO, and UNEP, has developed water facilities and activities that have helped 32,000 pastoralists in different regions of Ethiopia.

One of these activities is a program called “Jeldi Livestock Marketing Cooperative”, which Ali is now a member of. The Jeldi Cooperative is made up of 172 heads of households, many of whom are women. One of the main activities of the Jeldi Cooperative is buying sheep at low costs and fattening them up to be resold at a better price. Even though the Jeldi Cooperative is only a year old, it is making a profit for its members. It is one of three cooperatives in the area, and one of many in the entire country. Programs like this are what will help Ethiopians overcome climate change.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: AllAfrica, UNDP
Photo: UNDP

Famine Mortality Rates
Earlier this month the United Nations estimated that 258,000 people died in the Somalia famine between October 2010 and April 2012. The number of deaths caused widespread shock and the percent of the population – 4.6% – was shockingly high.

Stephen Devereux, an economist at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, declared that deaths attributed to famine rarely exceed 2-3% of a country’s population, but the absolute death toll was not especially high by recent historical measures. Mr. Devereux reckons that in the 35 big famines since 1900, more than 70 million people have died from famine or famine-related causes. Of these, almost half perished in one terrible event: China’s Great Leap Forward of 1958-1962, which caused famine deaths of over 30 million. Another quarter died during Stalin’s forced collectivization of the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s (especially in Ukraine and Kazakhstan). The other huge famine was that in Bengal in 1943.

Since these countries have transformed their food security, famine mortality has declined over the past century and shifted from Asia too, almost exclusively Africa. Political crises have triggered famines in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1960s, including those in Ethiopia in 1983-1985 and Sudan in 1998. The rains failed throughout the Horn of Africa in 2010-2012, but famine deaths were concentrated in Somalia, where the government was weakest.

Looking at the data collectively however, there has been much progress made. With the majority of famine deaths being eliminated on every continent except Africa, there is an obvious sign of hope.

Improvement is a slow process, but it is evident that it is possible.

– Matthew Jackoski

Source: The Economist, UNICEF
Photo: Short Sharp Science