Due to the ongoing mistreatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, humanitarian issues in Southeast Asia have been front and center in conversations among the international community. Hunger in Southeast Asia is one of many complex issues that need to be addressed for the region to improve its quality of life. Here are five things you need to know to better understand the problem as well as four ways to help.
Five Facts About Hunger in Southeast Asia
- In Southeast Asia, 9.8 percent of the total population is undernourished. This amounts to 27.8 million people, the equivalent of the entire population of Texas.
- Over 80,000 children in Muslim-majority areas of western Myanmar are classified as wasting (low weight for height). One-third of homes in the Maungdaw region of the country are suffering from extreme food deprivation. These are the areas where the violence against the Rohingya has taken place. This crisis has also led to 480,000 refugees fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 25, 2017. Many of these refugees are now suffering from malnutrition.
- The U.S. cut assistance to Southeast Asia from $182.1 million in 2010 to $147.6 million in 2015, a 19 percent drop. During that same time frame, the U.S. increased assistance to the Middle East by 19 percent, from $6.7 billion to $8 billion.
- In Timor-Leste, one of the most malnourished countries in Asia, half of all children suffer from stunting (low height for age). Lack of access to nutritious foods as well as lack of nutrition education can lead to stunting. The country’s extreme reliance on agriculture also leaves it open to food shortages caused by natural disasters and climatic cycles such as El Niño.
- An Asian Development Bank study found that climate change could cause Southeast Asia’s agriculture-dependent economies to contract by 6.7 percent by the year 2100. This would cause food shortages and poverty to increase across the region.
Four Ways to Help
- The U.S. Foreign Assistance planned budget has decreased each year since 2015 (with the largest cuts due to take place in 2018). Foreign Assistance goes toward things like health services, peace & security and environmental protections, all of which can help decrease hunger in Southeast Asia. Calling on Congress to protect the U.S. Foreign Assistance budget can help make sure that this trajectory is changed.
- Get involved with organizations that help fight hunger and poverty. The World Food Programme delivers food assistance in emergencies and works with communities worldwide to improve nutrition and build resistance. Oxfam tackles the root causes of poverty and creates lasting solutions. These two organizations are a great starting point, but there are many others doing great work to help eliminate hunger and improve people’s quality of life.
- If climate change continues at the current pace, poverty and hunger in Southeast Asia and other developing regions will increase. Live sustainably and help others do the same. Advocate for environmental protection agreements such as the Paris Accords.
- Stay positive and focus on the progress that has been made. The Global Hunger Index for South and Southeast Asia dropped 36 percent from 2000 to 2015. The United Nations reports that more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty worldwide since 1990.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, the global community is taking many positive steps toward reducing, and eventually eliminating, hunger in Southeast Asia. The problem can seem overwhelming at times, but with ongoing innovation and advocacy, the number of people suffering from malnutrition in the region will continue to decrease.
– Aaron Childree