Since 1990, hunger in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or PDR, has dropped from 34.5 percent to 20.1 percent in 2014. Though this decline of over 14 percent is promising, Lao PDR remains one of the world’s hardest hit countries by poverty. Citizens, mostly in northern and rural provinces, suffer from malnutrition, stunting and what the International Food Policy Research Institute, or IFPRI, calls “hidden hunger.”

Child nutrition is significantly lacking in Lao PDR. Forty-four percent of children are stunted due to poor diets that are lacking in key nutrients, including vitamin A, iodine, healthy fats and protein. As a result, over 40 percent of children in Lao PDR are anemic. The problem of “hidden hunger,” or a pronounced deficiency of key nutrients in childhood, has long term effects on the brain and the physical development of a child.

Lao PDR has the second highest rate of poverty in Southeast Asia, after Timor-Leste and continues to deal with gaps in its economics and wealth distribution. According to the IFPRI, Lao PDR ranks 61 out of 76 countries facing extreme hunger, with the country ranking at 76 being the most affected. Poverty and extreme hunger remains alarming in rural regions of the country, where access to healthcare and adequate nutrition remains scarce.

For example, in the province of Houaphan, 50.5 percent of the population faces extreme poverty. Those who live in this province often depend on agriculture to work and eat; however, the region is susceptible to natural disasters and wavering weather conditions, causing productivity to be low.

Recognizing the impact of climate and environmental factors on the nutrition of individuals, the government of Lao PDR launched the National Nutrition Strategy, aimed at addressing the causes of malnutrition, hunger and economic disparity. In conjunction with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Administration, this strategy will tackle hunger at its most basic causes.

The FAO said, “To address the immediate causes (at the individual level), the focus will be on improving nutrient intake and reducing infectious diseases that affect the biological utilization of food.”

As the completion of the Millennium Development Goals quickly approaches, Lao PDR is still not quite on track when it comes to meeting them. Resources are needed to complete these goals and not enough are being provided to Lao PDR that will improve overall development.

Lao PDR depends largely on agriculture and farming, yet those regions are affected by poverty and lack the resources to contribute to the nation’s economic stability. It is in the nation’s best interest that the government develop those programs that focus on educating rural families on sustainable farming practices and how to effectively maintain agriculture and livestock in the face of climate change, so that poverty will give way to sustainability.

– Candice Hughes

Sources: FAO, International Food Policy Research Institute, UNDP, WFP
Photo: Flickr

In 2010, the Global Burden of Disease published a study that pointed to obesity as a more widespread health problem than world hunger. The study stated that about 30 percent of the global population was overweight or obese and that the latter caused approximately 5 percent of all deaths.

The problem of transitioning from widespread hunger to widespread obesity tends to occur in island countries termed ‘banana republics’, or those known for their direct economical dependence on trade relations with developed nations. Said dependence leads to a massive overconsumption of processed foods imported from the West and soaring rates of obesity.

A poster child for this phenomenon is Nauru: a Pacific island whose people were starving until a U.K. company discovered the country’s potential for phosphate mining. What followed the invariable economic boom was a precipitous rise in average weights as fast food largely replaced the Nauruans’ fresh fish and tropical fruits. Today, approximately 94 percent of Nauru’s population is overweight.

Unfortunately, banning fast foods will not solve the problem. Companies such as Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds have such tremendous political and economic clout that illegalizing their products would mean eliminating thousands of (barely) paid jobs and “food” products that nonetheless quell starvation.

Powerful as they are though, their products make it possible for a person to be obese and undernourished simultaneously. No impoverished individual is going to look at the nutritional labels on food, however deceptive they may be, if she is holding her first meal in a week.

The saddest part is that so-called banana republics cannot afford to buy their own food. Between the menaces of deforestation, immoral trading practices, and perpetuated poverty, their people are increasingly dependent upon foreign aid for unhealthy imports and foodstuffs each year.

If the current rate holds, nearly half of the world’s adult population will weigh in above a healthy range by 2030. The number will rise most prominently in industrialized regions compared to rural; already that trend has taken ahold of India and China.

What lies at the heart of the epidemic is widespread addiction to a substance of which large swaths of peoples’ ancestors were once deprived. It takes several generations, if ever, for their descendants’ brains to catch up to the sudden abundance. Until then, they subconsciously perceive the unhealthy food as a rare, invaluable delicacy and gorge down as much of it as possible.

Education is not enough to stop the obesity epidemic because emotion will always trump logic. The first step to solving the problem does not lie with educators or the educated; it lies with policy-makers.

It is policy-makers who are capable of manipulating the market such that island nations’ exports fetch a higher price on the market so that their people do not have to resort exclusively to fast food. If they have no other feasible options given their budgets, education would be completely useless.

Because people choose which foods to consume based on emotion, educators need to employ compassion. Psychology studies have shown that people are less likely to make unhealthy food choices when their self-esteem is intact. Eating is a social activity, so it is important to also share meals with supportive individuals. Lastly, healthier foods also tend to have more natural ingredients. If there are three or more unpronounceable, unrecognizable ingredients on the nutrition label, don’t buy that product.

– Leah Zazofsky

Sources: ASAHI, Flagler Live, Psychology Today
Photo: Challenged Kids International

history of hungerThe presence of chronic hunger and the highest rates of obesity is one of the greatest paradoxes of our time. According to a study done at Ohio State University, “It is part of a single global food crisis, with economic, geopolitical, and environmental dimensions. It is perhaps the starkest, most basic way in which global inequality is manifest.” While world hunger is proliferated by unequal resource distribution, the mechanisms of interconnected societies offer viable tools to alleviate suffering.

A myriad of non-governmental actors exist today to combat world hunger, including the World Food Program, Action Against Hunger, Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees. While these international mechanisms have developed to meet recent needs, world hunger has existed throughout the course of human history.


World Hunger: Tale as Old as Time


There have been a variety of food systems over time. For a large portion of history, humans hunted or grew food for their own consumption, and food traveled only short distances from source to stomach. This does not mean, however, that long distance food exchanges were not present. From spice trades to acquiring “exotic” foods from colonies, a “mercantile food system” was present from 1500-1750. This was replaced by the “settler-colonial” regime during the nineteenth century in which white settler colonies traded luxury and basic foods and goods in return for European manufactured goods. The “productivist” food regime emerged after World War II which was characterized by food industries and the re-emergence of European and American agricultural protectionism. The idea that the entire world can experience a “food crisis” was coupled with the idea that one can foment a world free from hunger.

A neoliberal food regime has developed since the 1980s. Characterized by multinational and corporate power, this system has promoted a “global diet” that is high in sugars and fats at the expense of traditional or local diets. This trend in food is caused in part by globalization, and creates an intricate relationship between the individual and multinational corporations, local and distant farms and the environment.

Chronic hunger and food security are inherently connected. Citizens of the most industrial places on the planet still experience hunger on a massive scale. According to the vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress: “people making trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious…(this) may actually contribute to obesity.” Regarding larger scale suffering, extreme causes of world hunger include poverty, powerlessness, armed conflict, environmental overload and discrimination.

While hunger is understood differently across time, space and culture, it is important to alleviate this problem of chronic hunger. One must investigate sustainable solutions to the root causes of the problem, and these long-term solutions should be implemented by local peoples.

Neti Gupta

Sources: Freedom from Hunger, National Geographic, Ohio State University
Photo: Flickr

malnutrition in kazakhstan
Malnutrition in Kazakhstan? In the heart of Central Asia, a region known for issues with health, Kazakhstan stands as a possible success story in the well being of its people. With child malnutrition rates below five percent, lower than the Central Asian average and well below the rates for some of its neighbors, the Kazakh government and aid organizations working in the country have made improvements in malnutrition efforts worthy of praise.

Born in the post-Soviet world, Kazakhstan is still a relatively new state. Made up of ethnic Kazakhs as well as a large population of ethnic Russians, Kazakhstan is the largest country to come out of the USSR other than Russia itself. It dwarfs its neighbors of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, spanning across almost three million square miles of continent but remaining landlocked. It is the biggest economy in Central Asia and is currently going through an economic diversification process that the government hopes will stabilize and lengthen growth.

Almost all indicators of malnutrition have improved in Kazakhstan in the last decade. From 2004 to 2014, the prevalence of food inadequacy declined from 10.1 percent to 5.9 percent. The percent of children who are stunted declined from 17.5 percent in 2006 to 13.1 percent just four years later.

The prevalence of anaemia in children, which is characterized by fatigue and decreased work output, decreased from 35.4 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2011. However, the overall presence of undernourishment had almost no change from 2004 to 2007, leaving 800,000 people vulnerable to undernourishment.

Central Asia as a region has an ongoing battle with undernourishment and malnutrition. Common demarcations of this are anaemia, which is a decrease in the amount of red blood cells in the blood, iodine deficiency, iron deficiency and Vitamin A deficiency.

Kazakhstan preformed well in all of these categories. Iodine deficiency, which was a huge problem after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been almost completely eradicated in Kazakhstan by iodizing all salt consumed in the country. Anaemia levels are lower in the country than in most of its neighbors. Regional averages for iron deficiencies and vitamin A deficiencies hover around 50-60 percent for women and children.

While by no means in the clear with malnutrition, especially for children, Kazakhstan has continued to improve in most indicators. It is working towards a more stable, diversified economy that will hopefully keep food prices low and unchanging.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: CIA,  Knoema,  IRIN
Photo: Inter Press Service News Agency

malnutrition in CAR
Last year, clashes in the Central African Republic, or CAR, between Christian and Islamic militants claimed the lives 2,116 civilians. The CAR is fast becoming home to a ghastly humanitarian crisis, in which violence is exacerbating malnutrition.

In the capital city of Bangui, the number of children facing life-threatening malnutrition has tripled since violence began escalating in December of 2013. Their situation is being complicated by the brutal course that the conflict has taken.

Action Against Hunger collected over 1,000 case studies of parents of malnourished children in the CAR between July 2013 and March 2014, and found that 75 percent presented symptoms of PTSD.

PTSD can significantly impair a mother’s ability to nurse a child. Nurses in health centers around Bangui have reported that some traumatized mothers become convinced that they cannot produce milk. Others simply do not respond to their child’s needs—some have even attempted suicide and infanticide. PTSD in children can also play a role in malnourishment, as traumatized children may refuse to eat.

The conflict in the Central African Republic is not only causing malnutrition—it is also exporting it.

Over the past year, conflict in Nigeria and the Central African Republic has displaced some 1.2 million people. These migrants typically seek refuge in neighboring countries like Chad, Niger and Cameroon, further straining the resources of countries already dealing with rampant malnourishment.

On Feb. 12, the U.N. requested $2 billion in aid for people across Africa’s Sahel belt—a semi-arid strip of land south of the Sahara Desert that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

“The violence and conflict has a devastating effect, it is casting a shadow across the region,” said Robert Piper, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel.

Parker Carroll

Sources: Eyewitness News, The Guardian 1,  The Guardian 2,   The Guardian 3
Photo: Africa Up Close

causes of hunger in africa
What causes hunger in Africa? To be certain, Africa is by no means a single entity. The second largest continent on Earth, Africa is an enormous landmass that is home to a wide variety of landscapes, cultures and people.

That said, the continent is also home to much of the world’s hunger, spread across several of the world’s poorest countries. Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation and poverty.

Ending hunger not just in Africa but wherever it occurs is crucial to solving impoverishment and, accordingly, is a leading priority for many humanitarian organizations.


Causes of Hunger in Africa


1. Lack of Infrastructure

Many of the African countries in which there is widespread hunger are countries in which there is also plenty of food. Agriculture is the leading economic industry in several of the hungriest African nations including Niger, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The issue is not that there is a lack of food, the issue is that there are are often no reliable pathways for getting that food from the fields into that hands of the people who need it the most. Many hungry countries lack accessible rural roads on which food could be transported into the countryside.

Where it does not already exist, building the infrastructure necessary for distributing food is essential to ending hunger in Africa.

2. Poverty

Poverty is a cause of hunger in Africa as well as an effect. Nearly a third of individuals living in sub-Saharan Africa are “undernourished,” and 41 percent of people in that same area live on less than U.S. $1 daily. That’s no coincidence; high rates of poverty are correlated with high rates of hunger because acquiring adequate food provisions requires ample resources, not only financial but social as practical as well.

3. Gender Inequality

According to one of the most successful hunger-focused humanitarian organizations, The Hunger Project, gender inequality is a major driving force behind hunger because food tends to go further in the hands of women. When women have adequate food supplies, they as well as their families experience better health and social outcomes than when men have sole control of food rations.

However, in many African nations experiencing hunger crises, though women do the majority of agricultural work, they do not control their own access to food. Addressing gender inequality where it occurs in Africa will be central to eradicating hunger.


AIDS is especially prevalent in southern Africa (Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe), where approximately six million people are estimated to live with the condition. Not only does AIDS render these individuals too sick to do any sort of agricultural work (which, if farming is their livelihood, can throw them into poverty), it can also render them to sick to leave their homes to acquire food for themselves and their families.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: Save the Children, The Hunger Project, World Food Programme
Photo: Ceasefire Magazine

uzbekistan food security
This year, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranks Uzbekistan at 5.7 percent for its undernourished population from 2011 to 2013.

More than 800 million people suffer from hunger and the GHI examines 120 of the low-income countries that account for the vast majority of global undernourishment.

In the last 14 years, Uzbekistan has shown a steady improvement in eradicating hunger, with a decline from 3.6 million to 1.7 million of the country’s population facing food insecurity.

However, the country is still in need of renewed political commitment to achieving food security in order to continue making progress against hunger, which not only stunts physical, intellectual and even economic growth but can also lead to death.

Yuriko Shoji, the recently appointed Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Sub-regional Coordinator for Central Asia and country representative for Uzbekistan, spoke on the topic at a launch event at Tashkent State Agrarian University.

“Despite good progress made in the past two decades and an increasingly favorable environment, the full potential of agriculture – and food security for everyone – have yet to be achieved,” said Shoji. “With renewed political commitment, and good practice that can be shared with the world, food security of each and every household is within reach.”

Shoji highlighted the key requirements for overcoming the limitations to prioritize food security and nutrition issues. The event served as a platform for discussing global hunger and malnutrition.

Uzbekistan’s positive trend to combat malnutrition serves Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 of halving the proportion of undernourished people by next year. It’s a goal that is within reach if Uzbekistan and other developing countries continue making political efforts toward food security.

According to the FAO, 63 developing countries have reached the MDG target and six more are on track to reach it by 2015.

Though Uzbekistan has seen significant progress in hunger, the country must continue to set the path for others that remain chronically undernourished in order to meet next year’s MDG target.

Chelsee Yee

Sources: The Guardian, UN, Data Wrapper
Photo: EurasiaNet

hunger in bhutan

Malnutrition and hunger in Bhutan is nothing new for the country or its policy makers. Although there has been a dramatic decrease in underweight children at the national level, many rural-urban disparities still exist. The Bhutan Living Standards Survey demonstrated that the eastern and southern regions face a higher degree of seasonal food deficit than the westernmost parts of the region. An estimated 37 percent of children showed signs of stunted growth, while almost 5 percent were deemed too thin for their age group.

Starting in 1974, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been helping alleviate hunger and poverty by implementing feeding projects specifically aimed at school children. Currently, the level of assistance has increased and more focus has been directed toward health, agriculture, dietary development and irrigation.

According to the WFP, roughly one-third of the Bhutanese population suffers from food insecurity. High rates of malnutrition are often seen in remote villages, where poverty is overwhelming. An estimated 12 percent of the population is considered poor. In addition, lack of access to markets and essential health services proves detrimental to the welfare of Bhutanese living in the countryside. This common occurrence is due to the high amount of natural disasters in the country. Floods and storms remain a hindrance to receiving adequate food supply, and since the Bhutanese rely heavily on agriculture, it produces a cycle of poverty and starvation.

To combat the ongoing crisis, the United Nations Development Programme has established multiple school interventions to address the problems associated with hunger in Bhutan. In collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the school feeding projects provide over 41,000 students in rural boarding schools with two meals a day. UNDP also lends assistance to raise agricultural productivity for rural farmers, as well as find jobs off the farm as a poverty reduction strategy.

With all these programs, Bhutan has seen a 24 percent decrease in poverty since 2000. Although rural areas still have a much higher percentage of the population living with food insecurity and malnutrition, the rates are much lower than in 2000. Thus the first Millenium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 is looking like a more realistic goal for Bhutan.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: UN, UNDP, The Examiner, World Food Programme, World Food Programme 2
Photo: Flickr

donate to for hunger
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that around 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world –  that is, one in eight – were suffering from undernourishment between 2010 and 2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million to be exact, live in developing countries.

There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries. Thankfully the number of undernourished people has decreased almost 30 percent in Asia and the Pacific, from 739 million to 563 million.

The decline in hungry people could be accredited to charities that make it their mission to end world hunger. One charity helping alleviate hunger for example treated 42,000 severely malnourished children in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012. This charity is called Action Against Hunger.

Action Against Hunger has 30 years of expertise in specific areas like conflict, natural disaster and chronic food insecurity. It runs life-saving programs in over 40 countries benefiting seven million people each year.

In America, the number one charity to donate to for hunger is Feeding America. Formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, it provides food assistance to more than 25 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than nine million children and almost three million seniors. Feeding America services all 50 states with more than 200 food banks.

While considering which charity to donate to, a third charity to consider is the Bread for the World Institute. The Institute is a lot like The Borgen Project in that it aims to educate its advocacy network, opinion leaders, policy makers and the public about hunger in the United States and abroad. One of the primary goals of the Institute is to end hunger in the United States by 2030.

Thanks to donations and hardworking volunteers, world hunger has been cut in half; however, hunger still kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. For example, Asia currently has the most people on its continent that are hungry, making up about two thirds of the area. In order to stay on track and end hunger by 2030, donations are imperative and any of the charities listed above are rapidly working to make sure the money donated is used in the most efficient way.

– Brooke Smith

Sources:, Bread for the World Institute, Action Against the World, WFP
Photo: flickr

The first of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals is that of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. But according to the recently released 2014 Human Development Report, there are still 1.2 billion people living on $1.25 a day or less with little access to adequate food — and a vast majority of Africans fall into this group.

Here are six facts to know about hunger in Africa:

1. Although Africa is the second largest continent and covers close to one fifth of the Earth’s land area, the 54 countries that comprise the continent cannot feed their people. This is not due to a lack of food but instead a lack of agricultural infrastructure, raised food prices, drought and conflict.

2. In the most recent estimate (2010), approximately 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry. Out of those, 30 percent were undernourished.

3. There are many mouths to feed. African population growth expanded from 221 million in 1950 to 1 billion in 2009 and is expected to be 4 billion in the year 2100. With such a high population, it is nearly impossible to produce enough food for everyone.

4. Poverty is a cause of hunger, hunger is a cause of poverty. Living under the poverty line makes it extremely difficult to buy food. Without food and with hunger, a person has lack of energy and can develop health problems which mean lost days at work and more medical needs.

5. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, 160 million African children are malnourished, and one in five children will never reach 5 years of age.

6. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are a major cause of death in women and children. These deficiencies are often referred to as “hidden hunger.” To combat this problem, UNICEF reported that “The WHO, the New Economic Partnership for African Development, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Micronutrient Initiative  and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition” have ensured that two-thirds of the sub-Saharan population now have access to iodized salt and children have been give vitamin A supplements.

While these facts are startling and seem unconquerable, they do not need to be. By moving to action, Africa can put an end to its hunger crisis. Moves to action may include donation to a charity or NGOs, such as The Borgen Project and contacting your state senator and asking them to support increase aid in U.S. foreign policy to end hunger in Africa.

Kori Withers

Sources: UNICEF, NPR, United Nations, World Issues 360, Hunger Notes, United Nations Development Program
Photo: Flickr