dietary supplements
It is no surprise that a world of nearly seven billion people produces imbalances. One of the planet’s many documented inequalities concerns the fight against malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition affects nearly two billion people. Malnutrition is sometimes referred to as “hidden hunger.” While those suffering from malnutrition may receive enough food, they do not obtain enough micronutrients and minerals.

The German NGO Welthungerhilfe and child aid network Terre des Hommes published a report in July 2014 addressing the potential for fortified food to combat this problem. The report highlights the ongoing debate among the private sector, the government and the food industry as to whether food fortification is a mere “techno-fix” or a potential solution in the fight against hidden hunger.

According to the report, it is possible, albeit challenging, to provide populations with enhanced or fortified foods.

“Mass fortification is the preferred approach when a majority of the population is at risk of a particular nutrient deficiency, whereas targeted fortification is designed for defined population subgroups,” states the report.

Yet a sustained reliance upon enhanced foodstuffs could result in natural nutritional practices becoming obsolete. For example, breastfeeding allows infants to receive a host of nutrients via a mother’s breast milk. Health experts have warned that forgoing such practices for nonstandard approaches could prove costly.

Welthungerhilfe secretary general Wolfgang Jamann noted that parts of Africa place a rather significant reliance upon corn porridge. While those who consume the product may not necessarily be starving, such a diet restricts them from the necessary vitamins and minerals to sustain a healthy life. In Asian countries, where rice is a popular food, a lack of Vitamin A can lead to numerous health issues.

Though such dietary supplements may provide a possible antidote to the nutritional issue affecting impoverished people worldwide, it is likely not a long term solution. Health experts continue to believe a balanced diet holds the key to remedying the issue of hidden hunger.

The authors of the report noted that fortification programs should “be implemented together with poverty reduction initiatives and other agricultural, health, education and social intervention strategies that promote the consumption and utilization of adequate quantities of nutritious foods. Otherwise, they risk ending up as a short-term technical fix to the multi-faceted problem of hidden hunger.”

Though obtaining such a diet may prove difficult for many, it is most likely a more sustainable, safer and healthier option.

Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Micronutrient Initiative, Welthungerhilfe
Photo: JHSPH Open

According to a United Nations report released on July 27, malnutrition in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has reached alarming numbers.

Aid agencies in the region are incapable of meeting the needs of 350,000 malnourished people due to insufficient funds, recent drought and conflict.

The Somali government is comparing the crisis to a 2011 famine that killed approximately 260,000 people.

“Alarming rates of malnutrition have been observed among displaced communities in Mogadishu,” said the report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released over the weekend.

Somalia’s malnutrition rates actually hit a low point just last year, after the rebuilding and humanitarian aid  that followed the 2011 famine. Today, nearly one-third of Somalia’s population is considered “stressed,” meaning their food security remains fragile. Citizens in this classification struggle to meet minimal food requirements for their families and remain vulnerable in times of famine or environmental crises that may result in more food insecurity.

As of last year, more than 200,000 children under the age of 5 were malnourished. Many impoverished families in Somalia rely on cereal stocks and crops which suffer tremendously when the nation experiences periods of very little rain. Many poor households choose to use their incomes to purchase water during dry seasons, which means children and other members of these households become more malnourished during droughts.

The U.N. in part blames the unstable, impoverished conditions in Somalia caused by decades of fighting and conflict in the country. Most recently, Al Shabaab rebels, who look to topple the Western-backed government of Somalia and impose their own strict Islamic laws, staged a series of attacks in Mogadishu during the month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

Because of this continuing conflict and the recent drought, the report said that food shortages were expected to worsen in the south and southeast of the country.

“The humanitarian community is mobilizing resources to address the serious situation, but the significant shortfall in funding for humanitarian activities has undermined the capacity to respond,” said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report regarding the recent crisis in Mogadishu.

Earlier this year, after the Al Shebaab rebel attacks, African Union forces launched a new campaign to drive the militants out of Somali towns and cities. Many citizens fled their homes during outbreaks of fighting. One major obstacle for aid organizations and convoys is reaching newly retaken towns with supplies and food for the malnourished.

The U.N. has allocated approximately $21 million in emergency funds to support humanitarian aid and rebuilding in Somalia. They have also allotted some funding to fight a recent outbreak of measles in the country.

OCHA estimates that it will need around $933 million for relief work this year. The money will pay for food, health care services and basic education for children.

– Paige Frazier 

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Star, Relief Web
Photo: Disasters Emergency Committee

land grabbing
New research estimates that land grabbed in impoverished areas by wealthy countries and large corporations has the potential to feed up to 550 million people. Close to 80 million of acres of quality land in developing countries have been sold or rented to foreign investors since the year 2000, and this number is set to climb even higher in coming years.

With rising food prices comes an increased demand for cheap land, and this is exactly what has been happening since 2008 when global food prices tripled. Latin America, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing the most land grabbing. Wealthier countries lacking access to stable food sources buy up cheap plots in these areas, where they cultivate food to be shipped back to their domestic populations.

Many foreign investors are also buying up inexpensive land abroad in order to cultivate plants to be used in the production of biofuel. Huge swaths of land in Gabon, Zimbabwe and Malaysia have been bought up in large scale land grabs, displacing many small farmers and eliminating the food supply of surrounding areas. No policies exist to limit crop export, leaving local food sovereignty dismantled.

Professor Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano in Italy declares that “policymakers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries, even without investments aiming [increase] yields.”

In many developing countries, especially throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, governments own much of the land. They see these territories as unused and empty, even though local communities may have been cultivating a livelihood there for many generations. Leasing and selling this land is easy money for governments.

Looking past the negatives of land grabbing, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank have pointed out the developmental opportunities provided by this huge level of investment. They propose that the influx of technology and experience could help move local farmers in a better direction, and that improved infrastructure typically accompanies foreign investment. Instead of condemning land grabbing, these international organizations are asking that governments and investors be more inclusive of the voices of local farmers in their land deals.

These voluntary guidelines, however, offer no real protection to locals or accountability structures to the big actors of the buying and selling. Hannah Stoddart, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam, observes that “the world already produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people go to bed hungry every night … Stronger land rights are crucial to ensure that affected communities do not lose out.”

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, New Scientist
Photo: Farm Land Grab

hungriest countries
Today, there are over 870 million people in the world who are hungry. The World Food Programme estimated that 98 percent of these individuals live in developing countries that actually produce the majority of the world’s food supplies.

There are nineteen countries that the Global Hunger Index name as having “alarming levels of hunger.” However, there are three countries in particular that top the list — the three hungriest countries — harboring the greatest number of people suffering from hunger.

This Index takes into account three main indicators: the proportion of the population that is undernourished, the proportion of young children who are underweight, and the mortality rate for children under five years old.

The first is Burundi, with 73.4 percent of its population undernourished. Over 50 percent of Burundi’s population of 9.85 million live below the poverty line and nearly 35 percent of the adult population are completely out of work.

The second is Comoros, with 70 percent of its people undernourished. Comoros, a collection of three small islands off the coast of Mozambique, has a population of only 800,000. However, half of this small population lives below the country’s low poverty line.

The third is Eritrea, with 65.4 percent of its population undernourished. The country is located at the horn of Africa, and although it has experienced significant economic growth in recent years, no progress has been seen when it comes to the country’s dire hunger crisis.

Why are these countries struggling? Severe hunger in many of these regions is a product of immense political strife, economic turmoil, violent conflict, as well as other particular circumstances.

For example, although the amount of underweight children in Burundi has decreased within the past decade, 15 years of civil war has plagued the nation with extreme poverty, which reflects directly on the nation’s economic and nutritional well-being. Nearly 58 percent of Burundians remain chronically malnourished.

Comoros has also experienced immense violence in the form of nearly 20 attempted and successful coups since gaining independence in 1975. Eritrea has lived through intense political isolation under President Isaias Afewerki, who led the country in a 30-year war with Ethiopia.

Regardless of the causes, more action is needed to alleviate the suffering of these 870 million starving people, and especially in the three hungriest countries. The international community is beginning to focus greatly on prevention of future food crises in addition to responding to the current one. Dominic MacSorley of the organization Concern stressed that, “Aid agencies, governments and international organizations need to learn lessons from the past and boost future protection measures to reduce the impact of extreme weather events and other hazards on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, All Africa, Ecointersect, Global Citizen
Photo: Action Against Hunger

agriculturally rich guatemala
The rural highlands are remarkably colorful in agriculturally rich Guatemala, providing a stunning view from afar. The visible beauty of pastoral Guatemala is undeniable, but a closer look into the Mayan communities that reside in the mountainous countryside reveals the equally undeniable issue of poverty, and the visible malnourishment of its inhabitants.

Despite the abundance of surrounding vegetation, up to 80 percent of children residing in the countryside are extremely undernourished and around half of all children in Guatemala fall into this category. Many of the families effected are farmers, but find it more beneficial to sell their harvest than eat it themselves. In this agricultural paradox, the vegetables grown in rural Guatemala hardly reach the plates of the natives. Instead, they are exported to the United States, Europe and other parts of Central America for a higher sale price that still manages to provide meager wages for the produce growers. For instance, the farmers in the farming village of Pammus live on only $3.42 per day.

Lack of funds makes it difficult for villagers to provide their family with nutrient-rich foods. “The fundamental diet here is basically corn and coffee. Maybe once, twice or three times a week beans,” said Arnulfo Alvarez, a local doctor in Pammus. “There is a shortage of proteins and vitamins and a shortage of some minerals that are fundamental in the development of a child’s growth, especially in the first five years of its life.”

Many children in Guatemala will benefit from adopting a rich, diverse diet, but will not be able to undo the lifelong effects of malnourishment from an early age. New developments focus on children 1,000 days old or younger, which is a make-or-break period in childhood development. The repercussions of malnourishment in Guatemalan children have been shown to include lower IQ scores, and increased likelihood for heart disease, diabetes, kidney damage and anemia into adulthood.

The most notable symptom of prolonged malnourishment in rural Guatemala is the significantly shorter average height of the Mayans. What has been chalked up to genetics until recently is now understood, at least partially, as the result of insufficient nutrients consumed during early stages of childhood development. Stunting is a clear indicator of malnutrition in Guatemala, indicated by the fact that Mayans over the border in Mexico are taller than their southern cousins.

The problem is also saturated by a lack of education; two years ago, most rural parents did not even understand the concept of malnutrition. New educational programs enlist mothers of small children in classes that teach about food health and track the health of infant children.

Guatemala ranks the highest gross domestic product in all of Central America, but lands in sixth place among chronic malnourishment rates worldwide. While Guatemala is rich enough to tackle the issue on its own, less fortunate Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Brazil have successfully reduced child malnutrition rates with fewer resources. The government and aid donors are currently sending supplies to around 300,000 people in Guatemala but an additional 400,000 people require assistance as well.

The government has taken creative steps to humanize the issue and gain a better understanding of the lifestyles of those most in need. Efforts include community outreach and visits to rural villages. One instance even involved numerous government officials spending the night in a rural hut, an event that is still discussed today, two years later.

The Guatemalan government has adopted a zero-hunger policy but has been long criticized for its failure to provide for all of its citizens. The response has been slow, but the issue is complicated by factors stemming back to the country’s mid-century civil unrest. Democracy came to the nation over time as well as a booming economy. However, improved social conditions remained mostly limited to expanding urban scenes while citizens on the country’s fringe were left behind.

There is extreme inequality in Guatemala and the government fails to collect enough taxes from wealthy citizens to provide for the poor. Reformed policies are coming into effect, but they are slow. The government only plans to reduce malnourishment by 10 percent by the end of 2015.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: DW, The Economist, PBS
Photo: PBS

hunger in malawi
It will prove to be (and has already been) a tough year for one of the poorest countries in the world, as more than 1.5 million people in Malawi will experience the adverse effects of food insecurity. Rural and refugee households are most at risk of the hunger and malnutrition caused by the alternating periods of drought flooding that periodically sweep through this landlocked African nation. Of Malawians, 90 percent live on less than the equivalent of U.S. $2 per day; this extreme poverty compounded by other social troubles such as rampant disease and a high illiteracy rate make hunger hard a difficult problem to fight.

It’s a problem that needs to be fought, though, and many aid organizations have turned their focus to Malawi since 2002, the year the country’s maize production decreased by nearly half. Malawi’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture and its primary crop is the grain plant, whose stalks grow in fields across Malawi. In 2002, though, budgetary cuts recommended by the International Monetary Fund forced the government to eliminate their seed and fertilizer distribution programs. The maize harvest has not yet recovered.

Though the feeding programs established in Malawi have the short-term goal of reducing hunger wherever it occurs in a nation of more than 16 million people, humanitarian organizations also aim to collaborate with the Malawian government to rebuild the country’s agricultural sector in a sustainable fashion. Efforts to achieve this goal include reinstalling fertilizer and seed programs, replenishing soil that has been drained of all nutrients after seasons and seasons of overuse, and encouraging farmers to diversify their harvest to include beans and nuts.

Other efforts to reduce hunger in Malawi include global health programs targeting the prevalence of AIDS and malaria in Malawi, as well as successful microfinance initiatives to get local entrepreneurs up and running. The combination of these programs has so far been successful, reducing rates of both hunger and illness. There is much to be done yet, but that fewer people are hungry in Malawi today than they were 10 years ago is promising.

Even more promising? The drive of Malawian farmers, who are determined to bounce back from natural disasters and diversify their fields. In fact, many people in Malawi – not just farmers – are bent on eliminating hunger in their country, so much so that they’ve sparked a movement called “the right to food.” Begun in response to the 2002 fertilizer crisis and subsequent famine, proponents of the movement urge their government to commit to feeding its people. Malawi’s government has now codified its obligation to ending hunger.

If progress continues at this pace, Malawians can expect to enjoy much more food in their stomachs in the coming years.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: Global Post, UNWFP
Photo: CRS

agriculture in togo
The Togolese republic, a strip of land east of Ghana and west of Benin, has a population of 7.3 million. People there are of 37 different tribes. Most speak Ewe or Mina, though a history of French colonialism makes French the official language and the language of commence.

Since declaring independence from France in 1960, Togo has gradually transitioned to democracy. Historically powerful political parties have proved a great challenge — they are reluctant to let go. Human rights abuses (especially within prisons,) capital punishment and a corrupt police force are widely reported.

Still, under the leadership of President Faure Gnassingbe, arbitrary arrest and political persecution have subsided. His own election (2007) and reelection (2010) were considered credible by international observers.

The Togolese economy relies heavily on commercial agriculture. Cocoa, coffee and cotton make up about 40 percent of revenue on exported goods and employ much of the population. Nearly 65 percent of the labor force works in agriculture. Subsistence farming is relied upon by many Togolese, 58.7 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Despite the dominance of agriculture in Togo many still suffer severe hunger. In 2006, almost half the population was underfed. In 2010, 16.5 percent of children under the age of 5 were underweight. Trading Economics reports that undernourished people in Togo have a deficit of nearly 280 kilocalories daily. Why?

The success of a harvest depends on much. In 2007, northern floods destroyed crops and livestock. Malnutrition in the region, among Togo’s poorest, increased significantly. The south was hit the next year with rain that inundated fields and washed away roads. Good weather in Togo is as vital as it is unreliable.

Then there’s the fact that crops need to be planted, and seeds are in short supply. As a whole, Togo has struggled to support a rapidly growing population with increased food production. It has become difficult for rural farmers to access both fertilizers and grains in time for planting.

Fortunately, there has been some, if not extraordinary, international aid in Togo. The World Bank, the United Nations and the World Food Programme all maintain a presence there. Most remarkable, though, is the attitude of the Togolese government. In 2012, President Gnassingbe announced a 1 billion dollar food security investment plan. Ideally, agricultural imports will be reduced while agricultural techniques and conservations expedite production.

The goal is ambitious, but Togo has the capacity for self-sufficiency and a government that cares enough to try for it.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Africa Review, Trading Economics, U.S. Department of State, CIA
Photo: The Guardian

Malnutrition has become a serious health issue, threatening the progress of developing countries across the entire world. According to WebMD, malnutrition means that a person is not receiving the correct amount of nutrients in their diet. Although the definition is simple, the effects of malnutrition are both severe and complex. Ethiopia is one of the many countries facing this dangerous health condition.

Malnutrition in Ethiopia affects the 2.7 million people who are acutely food insecure. According to USAID, being food insecure implies two meanings:  one, that these people do not have a stable access to food due to either manmade or natural conditions like droughts, and two, that they receive the most basic food needs through food or cash transfers.

Perhaps the worst part of this health issue is the effect malnutrition has on children. According to USAID, 44 percent of Ethiopian children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnourishment, also known as “stunting.” The World Food Programme’s “The Cost of Hunger in Ethiopia” report revealed that since a maximum of 81 percent of all the reported malnutrition cases go untreated, 28 percent of children younger than 5 die from malnourishment every year in Ethiopia alone.

Since malnourishment is a lifelong condition, it also affects the quality of education and productivity in countries like Ethiopia. “The Cost of Hunger in Ethiopia” report also proved that “stunting” causes approximately 16 percent of primary school grade repetitions. In addition, the amount of individuals in the workforce has decreased by 8 percent due to the high rates of child mortality.

Not only does malnutrition in Ethiopia threaten the lives of millions, it also keeps this country from escaping the cycle of poverty. According to the “Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Multidimensional Poverty Index,” Ethiopia is the second poorest country in the world for the fourth year in a row. Child malnutrition alone costs the Ethiopian government about 5.5 million dollars every year, which is 16.5 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP.

Due to this ranking and the serious health effects of malnutrition, the government of Ethiopia has strived to make these issues a priority. In June 2013, the National Nutrition Plan for Ethiopia was launched to decrease the extensiveness of chronic malnutrition, wasting and malnourishment in women, particularly those who have reached a reproductive age. By achieving these three goals, Ethiopia hopes to address the country’s widespread food insecurity and save millions of lives by 2015.

Although Ethiopia is certainly not the only country affected, the amount of malnutrition in Ethiopia demonstrates how serious and widespread this issue has become. While Ethiopia strives to achieve these goals by the end of next year, it is important to look beyond 2015 and to continue progress ensuring that everyone lives a healthy life with the proper nutrients.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: USAID, World Food Programme, UNICEF, Somalilandpress, WebMD

Out of the 8.5 million people facing crisis and emergency food security conditions in East Africa, more than 1.3 million live in Kenya, reported the World Food Programme. These crisis conditions are expected to worsen as the drought in the country continues, exacerbating current hunger and malnutrition in Kenya.

This June, the European Union (EU) granted Kenya $6.5 million for drought crisis preparedness, in an attempt to push back against further crisis and famine from severe droughts across East Africa. “It is designed to deliver a quick response from the Agency to Counties in the lead up to and in the event of an official drought being declared in order to mitigate its destructive effects,” the EU said in a press release. This emergency money will be used to dig new and rehabilitate existing wells, build food storage and educate Kenyans against starvation-driven conflict.

Drought and the impact on food supply is a real and increasing problem for hundreds of thousands living in the arid areas of Kenya,” said Erik Habers, Head of Development at the European Union in Kenya, in the release. Hunger in parts of Kenya, especially amongst the pastoral tribes, will likely reach a crisis-point before September, as crops grown before the drought begin to run out. “Well below average March to May long rains in the southeastern and coastal marginal lowlands are likely to lead to a below average maize harvest,” reads a report by Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

As the food crisis escalates, Kenyan deaths and illness associated with malnutrition will likely increase. Recent pre-crisis numbers, reported in the Star, indicate that 41 percent of children in urban areas and 35 percent of children in rural areas experience stunted growth from malnutrition. “The nutritional status of children in urban areas in Kenya is worse than that of rural areas,” said Elizabeth Kimani, a public health specialist with the Africa Population Health Research Centre.

These escalating food shortages not only impact Kenyan impoverished people, but also paint a bleak future for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees fleeing from violence and starvation into the Turkana region of northern Kenya.

Drought-stricken Kakuma, Kenya, is facing further crisis, now, as 20,000 Sudanese refugees have joined then 110,000 residents of a refugee camp already thousands past official capacity, local health official Robert Ewoi told NBC News. “The hunger situation has been growing from bad to worse as water pans have dried up, relief supplies diminished and local residents left to fend for themselves,” said Ewoi. Even areas without a constant stream of refugees remain in a fragile, near-crisis state. “What you are seeing is that people are being knocked off their feet by one shock and not quite able to get back on their feet before the next one hits”, said Nicholas Cox, of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, to The Lancet.

Because the original vulnerability that left those people in famine remains ignored, Cox said, they fall into crisis with the next shock, be it famine, war or political instability.

-Sally Nelson

Sources: StarAfrica, The Lancet, The Star, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Food Programme
Photo: EarthTimes

Hunger is a living, breathing thing that seems to be consuming the world one impoverished nation at a time. The numbers keep fluctuating and more of the world falls into malnutrition. Here are 10 world hunger statistics to raise awareness about people struggling with hunger.

1. On a regular basis, 842 million people in the world do not get enough to eat.

While the number of people struggling with hunger has fallen by 17% since 1990, the percentage of people who are hungry has grown by 7% since 2009.

2. The majority of hungry and impoverished peoples live in developing nations.

Nearly 15% of the people in developing nations can be malnourished, while 7% of the people in first world nations and developed countries go hungry.

3. Asia has the most hungry people.

More than 500,000 people in Asian countries are malnourished; half of these people are children under the age of five.

4. Africa had the highest prevalence of hungry people.

Nearly 30% of people in Africa suffer from extreme hunger, meaning more of their population is hungry in comparison to the rest of the world.

5. First world countries spend more on pet food than they do helping the hungry.

Today alone in America and the UK, people have spent 44 million dollars on pet food and only five million on aiding people who are starving.

6. Americans wasted 124,000 tons of food today alone.

Each day Americans can waste up to 150,000 tons of food by throwing it away. Every year Americans alone have the potential to waste well over 1.8 million tons of food.

7. Five million people died of hunger this year.

This year so far, well over five million people have died of starvation or malnutrition. More than half of these deaths were children.

8. One in every 15 children dies from hunger in developing countries.

Children often face the worst parts of starvation or malnutrition. More children will die of starvation than adults each year.

9. Due to hunger, 315,000 women die in childbirth each year.

Women who do not get enough nutrients, most specifically iron, in their diets during pregnancy are at a greater risk of dying in childbirth from hemorrhaging. It is not uncommon for women, even women with child, to be forced to give up nutrient-heavy foods in lieu of their male counterparts.

10. More than half of people suffering from hunger in the world are in Asia and the South Pacific.

Roughly 63% of all the people suffering from starvation and malnutrition can be found in Asia and the South Pacific. This means more people are suffering in these two areas than there is anywhere else in the world.

While starvation is preventable, millions of people will still die each year from not having enough food or enough nutrients to survive. Isn’t it time you did something?

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Do Something, Stop the Hunger, World Hunger, World Food Programme
Photo: Flanboyant Eats