World Hunger Ever be Eliminated?
World hunger refers to the multitudes of people presently facing
the risk of an insufficient (quantity) or inadequate (quality)
food supply, something known as food insecurity. This problem
has led to detriments from the insidious, such as stunted growth
and a greater risk of contracting disease , to the obvious, namely
starvation and death.
how widespread is world hunger and how great is the problem anyway?
The World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations (UN) reports
that daily, over 800 million people go hungry while the Hunger
Site says that every 3.2 seconds, someone in the world dies of
of the world's hungry (over 40%) are concentrated in China and
India, with the rest found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia
and Latin America . And even developed nations such as the USA
and Britain have millions of hungry people within their borders.
can this daunting problem be eliminated from the world in the
near future? A conclusion can be made if we examine both the causes
of food insecurity as well as the steps being presently taken.
If the former can be eliminated and/or the latter works, it would
then logically follow that world hunger would soon vanish.
what causes world hunger? Immediately, famine-causing disasters
such as droughts or floods, such as those which occurred recently
in Mozambique, spring to mind. The cause is obvious: when farmland
and infrastructure such as roads are destroyed or rendered useless,
an immediate regional shortage of food develops, causing food
insecurity and hunger.
disasters ever go away? Obviously not. And as the effects of human
activity such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels causes
rivers to silt up and the atmosphere to warm up, the frequency
and severity of weather fluctuations looks set to increase dramatically.
Witnesses to this trend include the severe 1995 floods along the
Yangtze River in China and the harsh El Nino/El Nina inspired
droughts in Africa and South America.
the other hand, humans have indeed (of late) been trying both
to reduce the problems causing the disasters (through efforts
to protect the environment) as well as improving their ability
to detect and predict impending disasters and reduce their impact
on humans. Indeed, the advent of weather satellites has meant
that the impending famine caused by the present drought in the
Horn of Africa (poised to affect 15 million people in 8 countries
including Ethiopia, already synonymous with starvation), was actually
predicted over a year ago by scientists. As
a result, the UN long ago began taking measures to prevent it,
ensuring that the victims would not be so hard hit.
disasters are not the main cause of the widespread, insidious
hunger which affects one in seven people on this earth. In fact,
it is not a lack of food which makes people hungry. It is rather
the inability to afford an adequate diet that causes food insecurity.
For instance, out of the 40 poorest and hungriest nations on earth,
a stunning 36 actually export food to richer countries such as
is poverty likely to go away? Unfortunately for the billion people
who still live in poverty todayvi, the prognosis is uncertain.
The main causes of poverty are poor economic policies leading
to economic disaster such as those in Indonesia and Russia a few
years back, as well as the fact that poverty is a viscous cycle.
It is a well-known fact that poor children have less access to
education and thus good-paying jobs, and also grow up to become
less economically-productive adults due to malnutrition and greater
susceptibility to disease. These poor adults then give rise to
the next generation of poor children and the cycle repeats itself.
Both of these causes are rather abstract, complex ones that do
not necessarily lend themselves to being eradicated.
good news is that poverty is in decline - the last half-century
saw a greater decrease than the previous five combined. As a result,
the percentage of malnourished has fallen by a third since 1960
. Also, a 1997 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report
has estimated the cost of eradicating poverty at a mere one per
cent of global income , about $80 billion.
governments actually have a moral duty to help, something most
recently reiterated by world leaders at the 1998 World Food Summit
in Rome. This moral duty to rid the world of hunger is enshrined
in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNHR)
and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 which declare that every human being has
the right to sufficient food .
nations help mainly by providing aid both for emergency relief
as well as for programmes designed to solve the problem of poverty,
such as subsidised education. Also, governments develop programmes
such as the Food Stamp and School Lunch programmes in the U.S.
that provide free food for people with food insecurity . However,
the sad truth is that organisations such as the WFP and C.A.R.E.
are desperately short of funds.
rich donor nations have repeatedly promised to give the UN target
of 0.7% of their GNP in aid to poor countries, a promise most
recently reaffirmed at the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen, only
the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have ever met this
target . In fact, the amount of aid given annually has been steadily
decreasing, with most countries planning to make even further
cuts in aid budgeting. Clearly, the outlook for reaching UN goals
of halving the numbers of hungry people by 2015 are dismalii.
nations also have to fight what UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan
calls "donor fatigue", where donors feel that they have done enough.
Getting governments to provide aid for disasters which have not
yet happened has also proven to be difficult. Despite warning
the global community of the impending famine in the Horn of Africa
over a year ago, the region has seen little of the already insufficient
promised aid, with the result that hundreds of children have already
starved to deathiv.
providing aid is by no means a panacea, because aid can cause
economic dependence in recipient nations, for instance in Rwanda
which received aid amounting to 125% of its GDPx. Also, the nations
which receive the most aid (China, Indonesia, Israel)x are often
chosen for political reasons such as affiliation or business opportunities,
while many other nations (Haiti, Eritrea) go relatively unaided.
possible solutions include a revival of urban farming, with residents
growing food on rooftops and public lands. Such schemes already
account for the half the amount of vegetables eaten in cities
like Havana, Cuba. Yet another possibility to solving world hunger
would be genetic engineering, which promises to increases crop
yields per unit area of farmland and also enable crops to grow
in conditions unsuitable for normal crop varieties. High tech-farming
methods such as hydroponics and aeroponics also point to possible
solutions to producing food in an ever more crowded and urban
the two main causes of world hunger - disaster and poverty are
unlikely to fade away on their own because the former is simply
a fact of living on earth while the latter is a deep-rooted, self-propagating
cycle. At the same time, while the main solutions to these problems,
namely early-warning systems and foreign aid might help to reduce
the problem of world hunger to some extent, the manifold economic
and political complications that surround the giving of aid makes
this unlikely to be a quick fix. Perhaps someday world hunger
will be successfully eliminated since this is by no means impossible,
but sadly this does not seem likely to happen within the next
Jones, Gallagher & McFalls 1988 Social Problems
- Issues, Opinions and Solutions. McGraw-Hill.
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report: The State of
Food Insecurity in the World 1999
World Hunger Year website, quoting figures from the USDA, 1999
CNN report, New famine looms in Horn of Africa, 6 April 2000
UN World Food Programme website New Internationalist Magazine
Rich and Poor - The Facts, issue 310/March 1999 Nikki an der Gaag
Poverty: Challenging the Myths, New Internationalist issue 310/March
1999 World Hunger Education Service Special Report: The right
to adequate food is a basic human right
Hunger Notes Online, June 1998
World Hunger Year website Hunger, Poverty & Homelessness in the
New Internationalist Magazine Aid - The Facts, issue 285/November
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