World Hunger

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What is “hunger”?

“Hunger” is chronic malnutrition caused by a shortage of food. People tend to think of “malnutrition” as an inability to secure a sufficient quantity of food, but that is an oversimplification. As the amount of food a person eats decreases, the level of nutrients that a person can absorb also decreases, meaning the overall amount of vital nutrients they receive is insufficient. This can influence people’s development significantly.

One of the standards used to judge the adequacy of an individual’s nutritional intake is the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) that measures the lowest level of energy required for human beings to sustain life. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) deems those whose food energy intake is below 1.54 times the BMR to be suffering from malnutrition because people should receive enough nutrition not only to support life, but also to be healthy enough to play an active part in society. However, the BMR, as well as differing significantly according to an individual’s weight and age, cannot be applied to a child who is still growing. So, for children aged under 10 years old, a set amount of food energy requirement per kilogram of body weight is stipulated. If children do not receive this amount of food energy, they are deemed to be suffering from hunger.

Sudden famines and chronic hunger

Hunger can be divided into two main types, depending on their geographical area, their causes and their duration: famines and chronic hunger. Famines occur when sudden incidences such as drought, flooding or similar natural disasters, or conflict, cause temporary shortages of food that lead to many people suffering from malnutrition in a particular country or geographical region. To deal with such conditions, it is necessary to provide urgent food aid to make up the food shortfall, and because such activities are relatively well-reported by the news media, the attention of people all over the world is focused on them. On the other hand, chronic hunger receives much less attention, despite more than 90% of the world’s malnourished population living under such conditions. Many people find themselves continually unable to secure enough food and thus fall into a state of chronic malnutrition. Such problems are caused not only by local level problems such as lack of farming skills and knowledge and limited educational opportunities, but also by global issues such as unfair trade systems and global warming.

The rise in the hunger population

The number of people in the world living in hunger continues to rise. While there was a temporary decline in the world’s hunger population between the 1990-1992 period (842 million people) and the 1995-1997 period (832 million people,) the number rose sharply again as a result of the steep rise in food prices between 2007 and 2008. In 2009 the world’s hunger population eventually surpassed one billion. Among the people suffering from hunger, 99% live in developing countries. Regionally, Asia has the largest number of people suffering from hunger at 642 million. Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger population at 265 million is less in numbers, but the proportion of hungry people against the total population is 32%, the highest rate in a particular region in the world. Although the numbers are not high when compared to developing countries, in developed countries, 15 million people are suffering from chronic hunger, and that number is rising.

Impact of hunger

The people most affected by changes in the international market place, such as steep rises in food prices, are the poor in developing countries. Pregnant women and growing children are affected the most. If one looks at the causes of death among the world’s children aged under five years old, 1/3 are attributable to illness such as pneumonia and diarrhea that are linked to malnutrition. Many lives that could be saved are being lost due to hunger. And even if children suffering from malnutrition survive, it can have significant influence on their development. Retarded body development connected to malnutrition can result in lower productivity once children become adults of working age, and retarded mental development also connected to malnutrition can result in intellectual disabilities later in life. As such, hunger is a serious problem that can affect people throughout their lives.