One billion people – that’s one seventh of the world’s population, 28 times the Canadian population – spend their days with little or no food and say goodnight feeling hungry.
Hunger, defined as under nourishment or malnutrition, is the world’s number one health risk killing more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Although the vast majority of the billion suffering from hunger live in developing countries, hunger and food-related issues are also present in industrialized countries. It is no mystery as to why food-related issues have been increasingly prominent on the global agenda.
So what exactly is hunger and why is it an important global issue?
Hunger can be defined in many ways. Hunger is the lack of important nutrients required to energize and sustain the body to accomplish its physical and mental activities. The daily recommended intake of food for a healthy individual is 2,100 kcal, a daily quantity that is easily consumed by most Canadians, but the many suffering from hunger most often live off considerably less.
Hunger can be caused by adversities such as war and natural disasters, but these types of emergencies only account for eight percent of hunger victims. Beyond this are larger causes such as poverty, agricultural infrastructure and over-exploitation of the environment. Each of these causes can be attributed to politics, governance and unstable economies.
There exists a high correlation between poverty and hunger. In fact, it is a vicious cycle that is challenging (although not impossible) to break. Poverty creates hunger as individuals cannot afford to buy nutritious food and, in turn, hunger creates poverty as individuals lack the ability to work and earn a living. Contrary to what one might believe, there is more than enough food available to feed the world’s growing population of seven billion people and eradicate hunger. So what is preventing this from occurring?
There are many programs in place to help fight the effects of poverty and hunger while providing a better quality of life, such as school feeding programs that encourage children to attend school by providing them with nutritious meals and food for their families (variations also exist in Canada); food for work projects where unemployed members of a community work on new infrastructure in exchange for food; purchase for progress programs that support local farmers by buying staple foods from developing countries; and, an alternative to direct food intervention, the cash and voucher programs that provide the poor in countries where food shortage is not an issue, with cash transfers or vouchers to redeem on food purchases.
These are just a few examples of the numerous programs put in place by aid organizations. Yet despite these efforts, there are other influential factors to consider such as international policy and governance, and economic crisis.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report on the Expert Meeting, How to Feed the World in 2050, states that the worldï¿½s population will increase by about 34 percent, reaching a total of nine billion people by the middle of the century. According to experts, there is and will continue to be sufficient food to ensure the entire population is fed.
Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Programme, has said that “defeating hunger is a realistic goal for our time, as long as lasting political, economic, financial and technical solutions are adopted.”
The realization of this goal is, in fact, contingent on two things: the investment in research and development for technologies and methods that support sustainable food production, agricultural infrastructure, and environmental resource management; and the establishment of governing policies that not only target food production to meet demand but, more important, ensure food access and security for those most vulnerable, ultimately allowing them to lead healthy lives.
Hunger and food-related issues are gaining prominence on the agendas of today’s global leaders. With the world’s wealth in resources and technologies, hunger and food security can be achieved.
The task will require a global commitment to establish and implement fair policies and governance frameworks that guarantee the efficient and sustainable production of food, fair and competitive trading systems, and food security for all. We are all affected by these hunger and food-related problems but it is crucial to be mindful that we are equally all part of the solution to resolve them.
Vanessa Centofanti recently worked at the UN World Food Programme prior to returning to the Executive Policies and Talent Management Sector at Treasury Board Secretariat.