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Global Hunger: Five Things to Know

While hunger has always been a ubiquitous concern among humanitarian and developmental organizations, it is often misunderstood. Here are five things to keep in mind when considering a problem affecting millions around the world:

1. Hunger is widespread.
The United Nations estimates there are 795 million hungry people today, mainly rural people in developing nations. Although hunger is a global problem, it is concentrated primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. India has the most hungry people: 194.6 million, which is roughly 24 times the population of New York City.

2. It affects children the most.
Hunger is the leading cause of death for children under five. That is about 3.1 million deaths per year, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Hunger also causes physical and cognitive stunting; a fourth of children worldwide suffer from this condition. Without proper nutrition, children cannot develop strong bodies and minds. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are especially important.

3. It’s caused by poverty and waste.
A common misconception is that hunger is caused by global food scarcity or overpopulation. In fact, a third of the food the world produces goes to waste every year. Poverty and the unequal distribution of resources are actually the leading causes of hunger. It is often made worse by disasters, both natural and man-made.

4. It weakens the immune system and helps disease spread.
A proper diet is essential to a functioning immune system. Nutritionally deficient people are more likely to become infected with disease, more likely to suffer worse symptoms and less likely to recover. The World Health Programme estimates that iron deficiency is the most widespread nutritional concern, affecting almost two billion people. Vitamin A deficiency is also a cause for concern, especially among children and pregnant women.

5. It can be solved during our lifetime.
José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, recently called on the world to become the “Zero Hunger generation.” Hunger is a problem that can be solved and organizations around the world have made great progress to date. The WFP calls this effort a “best buy” because it can be very cost-efficient. For example, a child only needs 25 cents per day to receive the essential nutrients and vitamins, according to the WFP. That’s why the United Nations made global hunger a top priority in its Millennium Development Goals. That effort was a success; according to a recent report, 72 of 129 nations monitored by the United Nations met their goal by 2015. But the work continues.

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, UNICEF, World Food Programme, World Health Organization
Photo: Humanosphere