Facts About Hunger in Colombia
The Republic of Colombia, better known as simply Colombia, is a country located in the northwestern region of South America. With a population of 49 million as of 2019, it is the second-largest country in South America with the third-largest economy on the continent. Colombia is one of the most populous countries in South America. Over the last 25 years, the poverty levels have decreased by over 50% to under 30%. Because of such a sharp increase in the poverty rates, food sources for citizens have been scarce. Access to food has remained scarce as decades of civil unrest have led to constraints on deliveries in large parts of the country. Despite these sharp increases, global efforts from various organizations have helped improve these rates and contributed to an expected overall decrease in hunger in Colombia. Here are six facts about hunger in Colombia.

6 Facts About Hunger in Colombia

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: A study from the Colombia Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development showed that in 2005, over 85% of Colombians had a calcium deficiency. In addition to this, 62% had a zinc deficiency, 22% had a Vitamin C deficiency and 32% had a Vitamin A deficiency. Recent studies have shown that these numbers have decreased, with 14% of Colombians having a Vitamin D deficiency and 24% having a Vitamin A deficiency. Despite these improvements (as a result of outside assistance from organizations and advocacy-based groups), zinc deficiency is still a pressing issue in Colombia, with 43% of people living in Colombia suffering from a zinc deficiency.
  2. Affected Populations: Hunger in Colombia has statistically affected more ethnic populations than others. Indigenous people take the brunt of this impact, with 30% of the population living in extreme poverty and 79% of indigenous children suffering from malnutrition. In addition to hunger, indigenous populations suffer from other issues such as forced displacement and drug trafficking.
  3. Effects of Immigration: Colombia has high levels of immigration from other Latin American countries. The majority of these immigrants come from Venezuela, with over 1 million Venezuelans immigrating as of 2018, though some estimates could be as high as 2 million. The majority of these immigrants live on the border between the two countries, and nearly half of them live in regions characterized by extreme violence, which leads to the deprivation of these resources. Advocacy groups working in these regions, like Action Against Hunger, have helped to alleviate these issues by monitoring nutrition levels and providing monetary assistance to help people have access to these basic resources.
  4. Maternal and Child Health: Malnutrition heavily affects children in Colombia. The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) conducted a study that found that 13% of children under the age of 5 showed growth delays. Further, over 30% of all children have shown to suffer from distinctly low heights. Malnutrition also targets pregnant women and women of childbearing age. One out of every three pregnant women and one out of every five menstruating women suffer from iron deficiency.
  5. Organization and Advocacy Efforts: The largest organization working to combat hunger in Colombia is the World Food Program (WFP). Though the WFP has been in Colombia since 1969, it implemented the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation, which focuses its hunger efforts on areas that war conflicts heavily affect. The WFP has assisted nearly 330,000 people in January 2020 alone by providing access to healthy food and directly addressing the Venezuelan migrant crisis directly. The organization Action Against Hunger provides various forms of aid to Colombians affected by political instability and natural disasters. Action Against Hunger has assisted over 83,000 Colombians through projects such as providing clean water, and implementing nutrition and food security programs.
  6. Decreasing Hunger Rates: According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, the number of people suffering from malnutrition in Colombia was 4.2 million between 2004 and 2006. This number has decreased to 2.4 million between 2016 and 2018. These decreasing rates contradict Latin America as a whole, compared to an increase from 39 million people to 42 million suffering from malnutrition in the same time frame of 2016 to 2018.

These facts about hunger in Colombia show that it is a concerning issue that disproportionately plagues poorer and migrant populations. Though organizations such as the World Food Program and Action Against Hunger are helping to combat this issue, much work still lies ahead to entirely eliminate hunger. However, with the persistent help of these organizations, the crisis of malnutrition and hunger in Colombia can hopefully come to an end.

– Alondra Belford
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Hunger in Cambodia
Hunger is an issue that plagues much of Southeast Asia — 9.8% of the population experiences undernourishment, which equates to 27.8 million people. Cambodia, a developing country between Thailand and Vietnam, remains one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. Although Cambodia has made considerable strides in diminishing poverty rates and growing the economy over the years, food insecurity is still an ongoing and serious issue. Here are five facts about hunger in Cambodia and what some, like the World Food Programme (WFP) and Action Against Hunger in Cambodia, are doing to eradicate it.

5 Facts About Hunger in Cambodia

  1. Political Instability: Political instability has been a major contributing factor to chronic hunger in Cambodia. The country has suffered many years of war, particularly the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979, which depleted natural resources.
  2. Undernourishment: Around 15% of the country’s 16 million people suffer from undernourishment, according to the World Food Programme. This percentage amounts to more than 2 million people throughout the country. 
  3. Agriculture and Natural Disasters: Around 79% of the Cambodian population lives in rural areas, and 65% rely on agriculture, fisheries and forestry to survive. Natural disasters, like floods and droughts, often threaten the country and therefore are extremely damaging to the food system.
  4. Rice and Seasonal Shortages: Of the country’s 1.6 million households, two-thirds face seasonal shortages each year. Many Cambodians are rice farmers. In fact, rice alone accounts for as much as 30% of household spending
  5. Chronic Malnutrition and Stunting: About 40% of Cambodian children suffer from chronic malnutrition, which stunts the growth and cognitive development of 32% of Cambodian children under 5-years-old. This high statistic is mainly due to nutrient deficiency. According to World Vision, this stunting contributes to “increased child mortality as children are more vulnerable to infection and disease.” Additionally, 10% suffers from wasting, low weight to height ratio.

The World Food Programme

Since 1979, the year the Khmer Rouge ended, the World Food Programme has helped vulnerable Cambodians “meet their emergency needs and have access to nutritious, safe and diverse foods.” WFP also works toward enhancing long-term food and nutrition security for Cambodian families.

In order to meet its goal of terminating hunger in Cambodia by 2030, the WFP is working with the Royal Government of Cambodia to create programs that promote access to nutritious diets within the country and to strengthen systems to be nationally-owned. One example of this is the WFP-supported home-grown school feeding program. The WFP is working to transition the program to a “nationally-owned home-grown school meals model” that “sources ingredients from local farmers, incorporates food quality and safety, encourages community ownership, and supports local economies.” 

Action Against Hunger

Similar to the World Food Programme, Action Against Hunger is also working to end hunger in Cambodia. The organization has been serving the nation since 2013. In 2018, Action Against Hunger reached 11,291 children with lifesaving nutrition and health programs, provided 2,378 people with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) interventions and supplied 27,568 people with food security and livelihoods programs. 

These five facts about hunger Cambodia show that though hunger is still an issue that plagues the nation, organizations like the World Food Programme and Action Against Hunger are helping to reduce it. Hopefully, with continued effort, hunger will continue to subside in the country.

Emma Benson
Photo: Flickr

Though many areas of Africa are developing thoroughly and implementing infrastructure, food security still remains an issue. Internal displacement, environmental factors and price fluctuations in countries like Ethiopia can be devastating. Predictions from the Ethiopia Humanitarian Response Plan estimated that about 8.1 million people became victims of food insecurity in 2019. Additionally, although about 2.2 million people have been internally displaced in Ethiopia as of May 2019, government operations allowed for the return of approximately 1.8 million people to their areas of origin. These seven facts about hunger in Ethiopia will give an overview of both the issues facing the country and the measures being taken to provide a solution to the food shortages.

7 Facts Concerning Hunger in Ethiopia

  1. In 2019, there were about 8 million people in Ethiopia that needed some form of aid or assistance. Of that total, approximately 4.2 million were children. Not everyone could be reached, however. The aid supplied in 2019 was only projected to reach about 3.8 million people, 2 million of which were children.
  2. Seasonal rains are often delayed in the Ethiopian region, which can lead to drought. Much of the affected population are subsistence farmers and are, therefore, unable to grow crops during this time. Insufficient rainfall to meet standards for crops occurs often, and as recently as the 2017 rainy season. The BBC estimates that droughts can cause the yield for crops to decrease to only 10% of what is expected for a regular season.
  3. Cultural biases, including those towards males, make the challenges already faced by the general population heightened for women and children. Because resources are traditionally directed towards men first, approximately 370,000 women and children in Ethiopia are in need of dire aid due to issues like severe acute malnutrition.
  4. To cope with the hunger crisis in their country, many Ethiopians have been forced to sell some of their assets. Traditionally, respite for Ethiopians is found through selling cattle for a decent sum. However, due to the prices of cattle falling during a famine, families are forced to forfeit their houses, gold, and even their land.
  5. An estimated $124 million was required to adequately serve and protect Ethiopians from hunger and famine in 2019. Due to the novel coronavirus and other health issues arising, these numbers could rise in the wake of the pandemic. Serving the healthcare sector directly benefits the issue of hunger as well.
  6. Organizations like World Vision, Food for Peace (FFP) from USAID and Mercy Corps are acting throughout Ethiopia to provide the necessary resources for surmounting the famine. Investigations and studies of the government’s safety net are being conducted to ensure the safety of the citizens in the future should famines arise again. Additionally, consortiums are periodically being held to provide food assistance to those Ethiopians facing acute food insecurity.
  7. Mercy Corps specifically recognizes education as a barrier to effectively fight famine and poverty in general. The organization’s efforts are concentrated on diversifying the prospective methods of financial gain for Ethiopians so that droughts will not completely wipe out their only source of income. Additionally, the organization is working in health-related facilities around Ethiopia to educate workers on the treatment of malnutrition.

Though Ethiopia has struggled to meet the needs of its people with regards to food supply in the past, current aid and education from foreign nations are assisting in the ultimate goal to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. The issue of hunger in Ethiopia is an immense one to tackle, but with work to develop and improve agricultural techniques for individual farmers, the country can collectively improve the situation.

– Pratik Koppikar
Photo: World Vision

Life Expectancy in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a nation that occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor in Southeast Asia. With a population of 1.26 million people, Timor-Leste is one of the least populated countries in Asia. The Portuguese originally colonized the country in 1520. After declaring independence in 1975, Indonesia invaded the nation, which occupies the western half of the island. The Indonesian invasion brought violence, famine and disease to Timor-Leste, resulting in a large loss in population. After a majority of the Timorese population voted to become independent in 1999, Indonesia relinquished control and Timor-Leste moved under the supervision of the United Nations. The nation officially became independent in 2002, making it one of the newest nations in the world. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Timor-Leste outline the rapid improvement the country has made since Indonesian occupation and the issues it still needs to overcome.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Timor-Leste

  1. Life expectancy in Timor-Leste increased from 32.6 years in 1978 to 69.26 years in 2018, matching that of South Asia. The consistent improvement in life expectancy in the past decade is primarily due to the Ministry of Health’s public health interventions. Such interventions include the reconstruction of health facilities, expansion of community-based health programs and an increase in medical graduates in the workforce.
  2. Life expectancy in Timor-Leste increased despite a drop in GDP, which decreased from $6.67 billion in 2012 to $2.6 billion in 2018. However, Timor-Leste’s GDP rose by 2.8% from 2017 to 2018. Continued improvement in GDP and economic progress in the nation will only serve to increase life expectancy by providing more opportunities for employment, education and improved quality of life.
  3. Tuberculosis was the highest cause of death in 2014, causing 14.68% of deaths. In 2014, estimates determined that Timor-Leste had the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in Southeast Asia, and 46% of people with tuberculosis did not receive a diagnosis in 2017. Maluk Timor, an Australian and Timorese nonprofit committed to advancing primary health care, provides a service through which team members visit Timorese households to locate undiagnosed patients and raise awareness about the severity of tuberculosis in the community. The organization collaborates with the National TB Program and aims to eliminate suffering and deaths in Timor-Leste due to diseases that Australia, which is only one hour away, had already eliminated.
  4. Communicable diseases caused 60% of deaths in 2006 but decreased to causing 45.6% of deaths in 2016. While diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever remain a public health challenge, the incidence of malaria drastically declined from over 200,000 cases in 2006 to no cases in 2018 due to early diagnoses, quality surveillance, funding from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and support from the World Health Organization.
  5. The adult mortality rate decreased from 672.2 deaths per 1,000 people in 1977 to 168.9 deaths per 1,000 people in 2018. Additionally, the infant mortality rate decreased from 56.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 39.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018. While public health interventions and disease prevention contributed to the decrease in the adult mortality rate, Timor-Leste needs to expand access to maternal health services in rural areas to continue to improve the infant mortality rate.
  6. Maternal mortality decreased from 796 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 142 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. The leading cause of the high maternal mortality rate is poor access to reproductive health services, as only 43% of women had access to prenatal care in 2006. While the Ministry of Health continues to expand access to maternal health care through mobile health clinics that reach over 400 rural villages, only 30% of Timorese women gave birth with a health attendant present in 2013. Even as access increases, challenges such as family planning services, immunization, treatment for pneumonia and vitamin A supplementation remain for mothers in rural communities.
  7. The violent crisis for independence in 1999 destroyed more than 80% of health facilities. Despite rehabilitation efforts to rebuild the health system, many facilities at the district level either have limited or no access to water. However, the number of physicians per 1,000 people improved from 0.1 in 2004 to 0.7 in 2017. The capacity of the health care system is also improving, as UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in providing increased training for health care workers in maternal and newborn issues and in striving to improve evidence-based public health interventions.
  8. Timor-Leste has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. At least 50% of children suffered from malnutrition in 2013. Additionally, in 2018, 27% of the population experienced food deprivation. USAID activated both the Reinforce Basic Health Services Activity and Avansa Agrikultura Project from 2015-2020 to address the capacity of health workers to provide reproductive health care and the productivity of horticulture chains to stimulate economic growth in poor rural areas. Both projects aim to combat malnutrition by addressing prenatal health and encouraging a plant-based lifestyle that fuels the economy.
  9. Motherhood at young ages and education levels are key contributors to malnutrition, as 18% of women began bearing children by the age of 19 in 2017. Teenage girls are far more likely to experience malnourishment than older women in Timor-Leste, contributing to malnutrition in the child and therefore lowering life expectancy for both mother and child. As a result of malnutrition, 58% of children under 5 suffered from stunting in 2018. Additionally, findings determined that stunting levels depended on the wealth and education level of mothers. In fact, 63% of children whose mothers did not receive any formal education experienced stunting, while the number dropped to 53% in children whose mothers received a formal education.
  10. Education enrollment rates are increasing, as the net enrollment rate in secondary education increased from 40.5% in 2010 to 62.7% in 2018. Completion of secondary education links to higher life expectancy, especially in rural areas. Since 2010, Timor-Leste has increased spending on education. Additionally, local nonprofit Ba Futuru is working to train teachers to promote quality learning environments in high-need schools. After Ba Futuru worked with schools for nine months, students reported less physical punishment and an increase in innovative and engaging teaching methods in their classrooms. The organization serves over 10,000 students and provides scholarships for school supplies for hundreds of students. With more programs dedicated to increasing enrollment and the classroom environment, students are more likely to complete secondary education and increase both their quality of life and life expectancy.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Timor-Leste indicate an optimistic trend. Although malnutrition, disease and adequate access to health care remain prevalent issues in Timor-Leste, the nation’s life expectancy has rapidly increased since Indonesian occupation and has steadily improved its education and health care systems since its founding in 2002. To continue to improve life expectancy, Timor-Leste should continue to focus its efforts on improving public health access and community awareness in poor rural areas, and particularly to emphasize maternal health services to reduce both maternal and infant mortality rates. Despite being one of the newest nations in the world, Timor-Leste shows promise and progress.

Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Flickr

Combating Intensified Hunger in ZimbabweSince the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Zimbabwe has faced crippling issues of hunger, starvation and high malnutrition rates. The World Food Programme (WFP) recorded in December 2019 that 7.7 million people living within Zimbabwe were food insecure. Moreover, Global Citizen reported that approximately 90% of children between the ages of 6 months and 2-years-old may die without food aid. Here is some information about intensified hunger in Zimbabwe.

COVID-19 is Intensifying Hunger

The population of people lacking sustenance in Zimbabwe–half of its total population–has only grown since the conception of COVID-19. There has been an increase of nearly 10 million people surviving on less than one meal a day since COVID-19.

Reginald Moyo, a resident of Cowdray Park, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe told The Borgen Project that the “majority of the people don’t have permanent jobs and they [live] by hand to mouth, so [with] a month without working[,]…they are now facing starvation.” Many people are working to address this growing crisis. The people of Zimbabwe, international organizations and the Chinese government have provided aid to Zimbabweans in need.

Efforts from International Organizations

On May 4, 2020, the U.N. entities of Zimbabwe, working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), released an official food analysis report in response to the growing hunger in Zimbabwe. The report stated that “The total funding required to assist the 3.7 million people by the international humanitarian community for July 2019 to April 2020 amounts to USD 331.5 million.” The effects of COVID-19 have intensified hunger in Zimbabwe and increased the need for assistance. The Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) requested an additional 6.7 billion USD to combat hunger in order to protect lives.

However, aid is not only monetarily based. In 2002, the nonprofit group Action Against Hunger set a goal to provide food aid, healthcare, sanitation/hygiene needs and water to countless Zimbabweans in need. It estimated in 2018 that its efforts aided 25 Zimbabweans through nutrition and health programs; gave 52 people water, food and healthcare; and dispensed 3,187 people with food. Action Against Hunger not only gave the required resources for survival but also provided education on how local Zimbabwe efforts could improve hunger in their country.

Response from Zimbabwe’s Government

On March 30, 2020, President Mnangagwa reopened the markets to aid small-scale farmers and traders in the difficulties they faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this may seem to not directly address hunger in Zimbabwe, the decision has determined their survival in the upcoming months. Prior to this change, farmers and traders could not go outside or attend to their crop which limited their income as well as their food supply.

The Borgen Project interviewed Nkocy Thando, a farmer living in rural areas within the Bulawayo area of Zimbabwe. Thando stated that since the markets have opened up again, locals have been able to “work when they open in the morning to three [in] the afternoon.” He expressed his immense gratitude for this change and stated that he felt that “all would be okay soon.”

Aid from China

The Chinese Embassy and the private sector are also combating hunger in Zimbabwe by addressing COVID-19 needs. RFI, a worldwide French news and current affairs broadcast reported that China’s efforts have included:

  1. Completing an upgrade worth $500,000 to the Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, which is the main COVID-19 center in Harare, Zimbabwe.
  2. Two Chinese firms providing 1,000 goggles, 50,000 masks and 510 protective suits to a charity that the First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, runs.
  3. The Chinese Embassy equipping Zimbabwe with 7,600 suits for protection, 166,000 masks, 20,000 testing kits, 12,000 pairs of gloves and five ventilators.
  4. The China International Development Cooperation Agency donating $3 million to UNICEF Zimbabwe.

Diverse Responses

There are many organizations working to address the existing and intensifying issues of hunger, starvation and high malnutrition rates in Zimbabwe. However, their solutions range from governmental mandates reopening markets to increased funding for poverty-reduction organizations in the United Nations (UN). While the current responses to hunger in Zimbabwe seem mainly focused on COVID-19 efforts, they still are making a difference in combating intensified hunger in Zimbabwe.

– Alexis LeBaron
Photo: Flickr

State of Hunger in North Korea 
Hunger in North Korea is a well-known issue. While the picturesque depiction of the country’s capital city Pyongyang might show the improved food conditions of North Korea’s elites, food shortages still loom over the poor, rural populace. Multiple factors such as North Korea’s climate and governmental mismanagement contribute to the state of hunger in North Korea. The famine of 1990, for example, is one of the most well-documented famines in North Korea’s history.

The Causes of Food Shortages in North Korea

Just like many other aspects of North Korean life, the central government distributes the country’s food. In 2017, the U.N. estimated that 17.5 million, or 71.5 percent of the population, relied on the North Korean government’s pubic distribution of food for their family. The Food Procurement and Distribution Authority of the North Korean government sets average monthly rations for the upcoming month. According to this recommendation, the North Korean authorities review food availability in the country, and after this, they make decisions on whether the country needs to import food. However, recent statistics suggest that food rationing became more challenging between 2018 and 2019. Compared to the average of 1,529 kcal per day rations in 2018, an average North Korean family received 1,393 kcal per day in 2019.

The North Korean famine of the mid-1990s demonstrates the extensive damage food insecurity can have on a country’s population. North Korea suffered a major famine due to multiple factors including the fall of the Soviet Union, over-fertilization of farmland, multiple natural disasters and mismanagement of the food distribution system. Some researchers estimate that 600,000 to 1 million people died because of this famine. At the time, this was at least 2.3 percent of the North Korean population.

People know the children who grew up during this time as the Lost Generation. These children suffered from growth defects such as stunting, wasting and malnutrition due to the state of hunger in North Korea at that time. In September and October 1998, a joint survey that UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) conducted found that 62.3 percent of 1,762 North Korean children experienced stunting. However, the surveyors cautioned that they did not randomly select the children they surveyed. 

The Continuing Hunger

The impact and continuation of the great famine still shadow over North Korea. In 2019, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 10.1 million people in North Korea are either food insecure or in urgent need of food assistance. The same report pointed to multiple factors such as international sanctions, environmental conditions and governmental mismanagement as roots of hunger in North Korea. Historically, the North Korean government responded to the agricultural shortage by importing most of its food from other communist countries such as the Soviet Union and China. However, the Soviet Union and many other previously communist countries adopted the market economy. As a result, this made it much harder for North Korea to rely on the previous socialist-style barter system which supplied much of its food production and raw materials for its industry.

A Solution to Alleviate Hunger in North Korea

Food aid to North Korea is more than a simple international aid. There are multiple countries sending aid to North Korea, including China, South Korea, Russia, Canada and numerous other European countries. South Korea fulfilled its promise to donate $4.5 million to the WFP in 2019. In addition, South Korea announced that it will further provide 50,000 tons of rice as food aid to North Korea. The United States used to be the biggest provider of food aid to North Korea between 1995 and 2008. It provided over $1 billion in assistance, about 60 percent of which was food aid. However, the accountability of the North Korean regime’s use of this food aid is troubling.

Many skeptics of the food aid to North Korea believe that much of the past aid only fed North Korean leaders and the country’s military. David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, still asked the international community to support food aid to North Korea. Beasley said in an interview with the Guardian that “the concerns have been about not helping the regime. We make the case: don’t let innocent children suffer because of politics.” Beasley’s statement highlights the moral conundrum that many aid providers face when sending food aid to North Korea. However, the question of accountability is not something that one can ignore. In 2019, a North Korean farmer testified that she and her family did not receive or benefit from the food throughout the years.

The state of hunger in North Korea is both a humanitarian and a political issue. Donors of food aid to North Korea wish to help the starving populace of North Korea. However, the same donors also want to hold the North Korean regime accountable. On the one hand, people of North Korea are still suffering from malnutrition. Meanwhile, there are signs that the North Korean government is only providing food and aid to its rich and elite populace. However, the international community also hopes that the devastation of the great North Korean famine will not repeat itself. Many hope for the day when hunger will be a story of the past in North Korea.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Microparticles That Could Alleviate Global Malnutrition
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), iron deficiency is the most common consequence of poor nutrition worldwide. Every year, 2 million children die globally from malnutrition. Efforts to refortify foods date back to the early 20th century, but the technology to stabilize those nutrients in different foods has progressed slowly. In a breakthrough method of encapsulating micronutrients, researchers at MIT have discovered a way to refortify common foods by using biocompatible polymers that have shown in efficacy trials to prevent degradation while being stored or cooked. The new method would allow for better nutrient delivery and absorption. If there were microparticles that could alleviate global malnutrition, such a development, if scaled up, could provide many developing countries with more nutritious food and prevent malnutrition-related diseases that primarily affect children and pregnant women.

Micronutrient Malnutrition

Malnutrition primarily affects those living in developing countries and the malnourished often represent 30 percent of their population. Malnutrition presents itself in a variety of ways, but most notably through anemia, cognitive impairments and blindness. Roughly 2 billion people live in low-resource areas where infectious diseases compound the effects of malnutrition. The lack of micronutrients is a quiet and prolonged killer and can cause premature death and loss of economic activity. There is also a direct correlation between those with the least education and most iron-deficient in these countries.

WHO has worked to tackle the causes of malnutrition using solutions such as promoting dietary diversification with enhanced iron absorption and supplementation, noting that solutions must meet the local population needs. Since many of these communities lack more than one vital micronutrient, efforts to supplement the diet can address multiple deficiencies, such as lack of folate, vitamins A and B12. Part of their plan includes programs that aim to eradicate infectious diseases that contribute to anemia, including schistosomiasis, hookworm, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. Doing so would help end the cycle of poverty that many communities face due to disease and malnutrition.

Microparticles That Could Alleviate Global Malnutrition

The lead authors of the MIT study are Aaron Anselmo and Xian Xu, as well as graduate student Simone Buerkli from ETH Zurich. In the study, they claim to have developed a new way of refortifying foods using a biocompatible polymer microparticle. What is most notable about this new technology for supplementing foods is that the encapsulated micronutrients will not degrade during cooking or storage. Researchers selected the polymer BMC out of the 50 different polymers they tested, after trying them on laboratory rats and later on women. The same polymer is already classified in the United States as a dietary supplement safe for consumption. The next step for the researchers is to advance clinical trials in developing countries with local participants.

The researchers were able to encapsulate 11 different micronutrients using polymer BMC, such as vitamins A, C, B2, zinc, niacin, biotin and iron. They were able to successfully encapsulate combinations of up to four micronutrients at a time. Even after boiling encapsulated micronutrients for hours in a lab, they remained unharmed. Researchers also found that the new microparticles remained stable after experiencing exposure to oxidizing chemicals in fruits and vegetables as well as ultraviolet light. The polymers become soluble in acidic conditions (such as the stomach) and the micronutrients released. An initial trial did not yield a high absorption rate, so researchers boosted the iron sulfate from 3 to 18 percent and were successfully able to achieve high absorption rates, which was on par with typical iron sulfate. This trial added encapsulate iron to flour and used it to bake bread.

History and Limitations of Food Fortification

In its Guidelines on Food Fortification with Micronutrients in 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the WHO noted that the most common deficiencies were in iodine, vitamin A and iron, representing 0.8 million deaths annually. Developed nations typically do not experience these levels of malnutrition because they have access to a variety of foods that are rich in micronutrients, such as meat and dairy products. Underdeveloped countries consume mostly monocultures of cereals, tubers and roots. Prior to the 1980s, developed countries focused their efforts on protein-energy malnutrition. While protein-based foods did help to improve nutrition, it was the addition of iodine to foods in the 1990s that helped prevent degenerative characteristics such as brain damage and mental retardation in childhood.

To combat micronutrient malnutrition, WHO promotes greater access to a variety of quality foods for all affected groups. In addition to a more diverse diet, they strategize to create policies and programs with governments and organizations to educate the public on good nutrition, diversify food production and deliverability, implement measures to guarantee food safety and provide supplementation. Having the support of the food industry has been essential since the beginning of the 20th century to include these guidelines in their production of food. Salt iodization in the 1920s expanded from developed countries to nearly the entire world. However, a number of challenges have remained for the refortification of foods.

For example, early on in the fight against malnutrition, a lack of quality evaluation programs on the efficacy of food refortification left nutritionists wondering if the empirical improvements for certain populations were due to supplementation or a combination of socioeconomic facts and public health improvements. Analyzing the data with a comprehensive efficacy trial became the norm in an effort to better gauge the efficacy of their efforts. Other issues remain such as interactions of nutrients, the stability of polymers, correct levels of nutrients, physical properties of ingredients and how well customers receive the food. For instance, in large amounts, calcium inhibits iron absorption while vitamin C has the opposite effect in refortified foods.

Implications of the Study

The MIT study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, modeled its research on the success of refortifying food with iodized salt from the past, incorporating micronutrients into a diet that would not require people to change their consumption habits. According to researchers, the next phase will be to replicate the study in a developing country with malnutrition to see if the microparticles can feasibly enter residents’ diets. They are seeking approval from the WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. If successful, they will scale up manufacturing of the nutrient additive in the form of a powdered micronutrient.

The initiative could lead to a significant decline in global cases of nutrient deficiencies thereby reducing the effects of anaemia and other preventable diseases due to a poor immune system. By no means would it represent the first technological advance in refortifying foods and increasing access to nutrition, but the addition of microparticles that could alleviate global malnutrition may help many developing nations end a cycle of poverty that disease has perpetuated for generations, increasing their health and productivity in the process.

– Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr

Child Mortality in Yemen
With a population of 28.25 million people, Yemen has been through more turmoil than many other countries. It is currently ranked as the country with the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. This crisis threatens the lives of children through increased malnutrition, inadequate hygiene and other significant health and safety risks. Here are 10 facts about child mortality in Yemen.

10 Facts About Child Mortality in Yemen

  1. Approximately 50,000 infants die in Yemen each year. These deaths are the result of violence, famine, a lack of crucial medical care and widespread poverty. World Food Program USA has been working with Islamic Relief to provide 2 months of life-saving food to families and conducts nutritional programs to malnourished children.
  2. According to the U.N., there are 400,000 children under 5 years old who suffer from severe malnutrition. Some of these issues are the result of longstanding war and conflict. City blockades and airstrikes sometimes make it difficult or impossible for food aid to reach the children who need it the most. One organization working to bring food aid to children and families affected by severe malnutrition is called Save the Children. Save the Children has been working with the children of Yemen since 1963.
  3. Millions of Yemeni children are in desperate need of food to stay alive. Around 85,000 children have died from starvation or health complications caused by starvation since the war escalated in Yemen. In an effort to save Yemeni children from starvation, Save the Children provided food to 140,000 children and treated 78,000 children who were on the brink of death due to severe malnutrition.
  4. In Yemen, 30,000 children under the age of five die every year due to malnutrition-related diseases. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) works to save the lives of malnourished Yemeni children by distributing a nutritional peanut-based paste. With 500 calories per packet, children suffering from severe malnutrition can recover in matters of weeks.
  5. Violence is still a grim reality for Yemeni children. Airstrikes and mine explosions killed 335 children since August of 2018. Many are pushing for the war in Yemen to end so that children can live normal and safe lives. The U.N. estimates that if the war in Yemen continues even until 2022, more than half a million people will have been killed.
  6. Airstrikes are the leading cause of death for children in Yemen. The Civilian Impact Monitoring Project (CIMP) reports that between March 2018 and March 2019, air raids killed 226 children and injured 217. These numbers average out to 37 deaths of Yemeni children due to airstrikes per month. Save the Children is working to help children recover from airstrike injuries. They assist with medical bills and provide emotional support to help manage their trauma.
  7. Conflict in Yemen has caused the destruction of many water facilities, leaving children vulnerable to deadly diseases. Around 5.5 million people in Yemen are currently living in areas at a higher risk for cholera due to a lack of clean or sufficient water. UNICEF is working with the local water corporations to restore Yemen’s water supplies. In 2017, UNICEF installed the first-ever solar-powered water system in the city of Sa’ad.
  8. According to ReliefWeb, 17 million people in Yemen are in need of sanitary drinking water. One potential solution to this is the Life Straw, a small, hand-held straw that filters out 99.9 percent of waterborne bacteria and 98.7 percent of waterborne viruses. Though they have mainly been distributed in Africa, these straws could have a significant impact in Yemen.
  9. More children have been killed by waterborne illnesses and poor sanitation than conflict. Poor sanitation is one of the leading causes of diseases. Many children also lack the proper hygiene supplies needed to stay healthy. Having access to soap would significantly reduce the chances of obtaining hygiene-related diseases. To improve access to hygiene supplies in developing countries around the world, including Yemen, a company called Clean the World recycles partially used pieces of soap from hotels. More than 53 million bars of soap have been distributed in over 127 countries to those who need it.
  10. Diseases caused by mosquitos also contribute to child mortality in Yemen. The country has heavy rainfall and many people collect rainwater as their main water source. Collected water standing idle is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. An outbreak of mosquito-borne illnesses in Yemen killed 78 children under the age of 16, as of the end of 2019. There are 52,000 cases of mosquito-borne illnesses across the country. One potential solution is Kite Patch, which creates a mosquito repellent patch that sticks to the skin and protects against mosquito bites.

Child mortality in Yemen remains a persistent problem for the nation. For long-term improvement, the conflict in Yemen must be resolved. However, with continued efforts by humanitarian organizations, Yemeni children will still become safer, healthier and able to live longer lives.

Amelia Sharma
Photo: Flickr

The Tarahumara Runners of Sierra Madre mountain
Since the 16th century, the Tarahumara or Raramuri have been living in the alpine valleys of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico. The name Raramuri roughly means “those who run fast.” Author and journalist Christopher McDougall popularized the tribe’s tradition of long-distance-running in his 2009 best-seller, “Born to Run.” The ethnography follows the search for a mysterious man nicknamed Caballo Blanco, who people said had spent many years living with the Tarahumara runners. McDougall’s book helps the Raramuri gain international recognition as a culture centered on running. Every day Tarahumara villagers traverse steep rocky paths to grow crops, herd goats or attend school while wearing thin leather sandals called huarache. However, the on-going spread of drug violence, mining, malnutrition and extreme poverty in the region threatened their livelihoods.

High and Dry in Copper Canyon

Some 60,000 Raramuri reside in Sierra Madre and many of them live in extreme poverty. Their lack of resources comes mainly from the community’s isolation. Most of Copper Canyon is still inaccessible by 4×4 vehicles and helicopters. This makes travel by foot and horseback the only reliable source of transportation in many parts of the region.

Food Crisis

With limited access to economic opportunities or primary education, 60 percent of the Tarahumara remain illiterate. In addition, many suffer from malnutrition. In 2011, a severe drought combined with an especially cold winter ruined villagers’ crop harvests. As a result, a health clinic in the small town of Creel treated 250 Tarahumara children of malnutrition, including 25 severe cases. Along with the spoiled crops, the slow response in sending aid from government officials may have worsened the famine conditions as well.

Caught in Drugs and Mining Disputes

The Tarahumara runners have also experienced difficulties due to Mexico’s ongoing drug war and mining disputes. State and Catholic Church authorities have blamed cartel gangs as the main problem from getting aid into the region. Drug traffickers will extort Raramuri villages into growing marijuana or poppies by threatening them with violence and land theft. Additionally, mining operations in the area have displaced the Raramuri.

Some suspect that Canadian corporation Minefinders displaced 60 families to open a silver and gold mine in the small town of Madera. Corruption likely played a role in the Raramuri’s exploitation. Consequently, the community has limited options in seeking relief and support from local governmental authorities.

The Silver Lining

The Mexican federal government is planning to set up a new education system in Copper Canyons that teaches Spanish. In addition, the Mexican federal government is planning to preserve the Raramuri indigenous language along with expanding schooling in the area and implementing a $95 million road-improvement plan that the World Bank cosponsored. This plan intends to connect the Tarahumara to nearby towns and to help them utilize their forested lands.

Nonprofit organizations are also joining the effort in helping the Raramuri. NGOs like GlobalGiving distributed food packages of corn, rice, beans, sugar and oil to 542 families in 2012. The extra food is essential during the region’s drought period and can act as a backup meal supply for up to 2 months. In addition, GlobalGiving delivered prenatal vitamins to pregnant women and new mothers to help prevent infant and maternal mortality. With the aid that the nonprofit gave, the Raramuri can continue to live healthy lives and inspire the globe with their ancient tradition of foot races.

Those Who Run Fast

The Raramuri live to run. A story exists that states that they escaped the Spanish conquistadors by running into the Sierra Madre mountains over 400 years ago. Additionally, they have run ever since. Lorena Rameriz, a 24-year-old Tarahumara ultra-runner, is the focus of a new Netflix documentary titled, “Lorena, Light-Footed Woman.” The film consists of Lorena’s homeland Copper Canyon. Also, the documentary features how her family and rural lifestyle have pushed her to become one of the top winning indigenous athletes of the era. She stands out from other runners because of the traditional skirt and sandals she wears while racing in 50 and 60-mile marathons. Lorena Rameriz is taking the running world by storm while embracing her Raramuri heritage.

Extreme poverty threatens the Raramuri still living in the high mountains of Mexico. But, government development programs and charity work are helping to make a difference. The people who “run fast” have inspired a new global sporting trend of minimal footgear and barefoot running. The Tarahumara runners continue to dominate in 90 km races. Hopefully, their villages will begin to win battles against poverty as well.

Henry Schrandt
Photo: Flickr

The Struggles of Single Parents in YemenThe current civil war in Yemen is a bloody one. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2015, the reported casualties reached 100,000 in October 2019. Among this number, about 12,000 were civilian casualties who attackers directly targeted. This ever-mounting amount of civilian casualties has multiple effects on many families in Yemen. On a surface level, these civilian casualties reflect the numerous children who lose their parents during the on-going conflict. Some reports suggested that there are currently more than 1.1 million orphans in Yemen. On the other hand, the casualty number also reflects the single parents in Yemen who are trying to raise their children in a war zone.

Single parents in Yemen are struggling due to many reasons including a lack of access to basic goods, or professional services such as maternal care during and after pregnancy. This struggle of being a single parent in Yemen falls mostly on many Yemeni women who lost their husbands in the on-going conflict.

Struggles of Single Parents in Yemen

Being a single parent, especially a single mother, in Yemen is difficult. Yemen’s female participation in the workforce is extremely low. This means that many women in Yemen rely on their husbands for financial support. However, the conflict in Yemen took many Yemeni men from their families. As casualties rise, both military and civilian, many women lose their husbands. However, because the majority of women do not have much work experience, they lack the experience or qualifications to go out and find employment.

The challenge of single parenting in Yemen begins even before a child is born. This is especially true for mothers, single or otherwise, in Yemen. According to UNICEF, one woman and six newborns die every two hours from complications during pregnancy and childbirth in Yemen. This is the reflection of poor conditions in Yemen where only three out of 10 births take place in regular health facilities. WHO’s 2016 survey of hospitals in Yemen reported that more than half of all health facilities in Yemen are closed or only partially functioning.

For mothers and newborns, this means that they lack essential natal care, immunization services and postpartum/postnatal interventions. This lack of natal care and medical services for newborns resulted in one out of 37 Yemeni newborns dying in the first month of their lives.

Malnutrition is another challenge that single parents in Yemen struggle against. Multiple factors contribute to malnutrition in Yemen. Some reports suggest that the Saudi coalition intentionally targeted Yemeni farms. A report suggested that the Saudi-led coalition launched at least 10,000 strikes against food farms, 800 strikes against local food markets and about 450 airstrikes that hit food storage facilities. This made civilian access to food extremely difficult on a local level. The Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of Yemeni ports and other entry points for food, medicine, fuel and foreign aid worsened this food shortage. Yemen’s impoverished civilians, 79 percent of whom are living under the poverty line, find it difficult to afford the ever-increasing food prices. For single parents in Yemen, this makes feeding their children a difficult challenge. An estimated 2.2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished.

Organizations Helping Yemen

Numerous organizations help single parents in Yemen. Doctors Without Borders, between 2015 and 2018, provided natal care for pregnant mothers and delivered 68,702 babies in Yemen. Oxfam provided multiple humanitarian services in Yemen. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, Oxfam provided cash to Yemeni families so that they could buy food. On top of this, Oxfam delivered water and repaired water systems in remote regions of Yemen. UNICEF launched the Healthy Start Voucher Scheme in 2019. This program provides coupons for poor and vulnerable pregnant women to help them cover the cost of traveling to hospitals for childbirth. The coupon also gives these women access to newborn care in case of complications.

The Future for Single Parents in Yemen

Single parents in Yemen struggle against the difficult daily conditions in the country. Lack of access to food, water, health care and basic goods makes it extremely difficult for single parents in Yemen to provide for their children. Malnourished children dying of hunger are truly a disheartening image of the current conflict in Yemen. However, there are signs of peace. In November 2019, the combatants of the conflict held behind-the-scenes talks to end the conflict in Yemen. In the meantime, the international community is relying on many relief organizations that work tirelessly to help the people of Yemen.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr