If you happen to be among those who comfortably consume 3 warm meals a day, then consider yourself much luckier than almost a billion human beings. These human beings share the exact same planet and the exact same resources with you, yet still suffer from the everlasting problem of world hunger.
We come to the world as helpless infants with the unwritten promise of being provided for, of having our very basic needs fulfilled: food, water, and shelter. The necessary elements we need to survive and sustain a healthy mind and a healthy body lie in the precious commodity that half the world works so hard to supply. Food is our one supplier of energy; it’s the fuel your body needs to burn so it can function. Without it, you are quickly drained until there isn’t power left in you to push your lungs to breathe. Picture your phone battery and how it daily needs recharging. Picture how the phone shuts down when there isn’t enough battery life to support it. That is exactly how it is with our bodies: they can work with full force, and they can as well shut down. So while we shamelessly throw away most of our dinner because it just didn’t taste that well, million others die of hunger, every day, every night. World hunger is humanity’s worst nightmare. Let us figure out how and why.
How Does Food Work?
We just mentioned that food is the fuel for our bodies, but how does that work exactly? In short, humans derive energy from food. The process is called cellular respiration, and it works as follows. Food is composed of carbohydrates, proteins, water, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Energy is derived specifically from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and organic acids. Oxygen joins with the molecules of food and produces large amounts of energy, which then drives the production of ATP. ATP works to transport the chemical energy within the cells in your body for metabolism. Metabolism is basically the set of chemical transformations that sustain life in a living creature. Read a more detailed explanation here.
So What Is Hunger?
We have all felt hungry at one point or another. It usually feels like a painful contraction in your stomach that quickly fades away once you start consuming food. But what is the reason behind the contractions and how would it be like if we couldn’t hurry to the refrigerator for a quick snack? There is a chemical story behind that.
Our bodies are programmed to release a hormone called Ghrelin when blood sugar level gets low. The hormone’s job is to painfully contract your stomach as a means of reminding you to eat. Remember that pain, in most cases, serves as more of a friend than a foe. Pain is your body’s method of communicating with you. If something hurts, then something is wrong and you should do something about it. Likewise, if you haven’t eaten in a while, your blood sugar level decreases and Ghrelin is released, triggering the painful sensation of emptiness in your stomach, alarming you that it needs recharging.
The more you ignore the pain, the more it intensifies. So instead of a light nudge on the arm to remind you it’s dinner time, your stomach starts screaming to be filled. The stomach contractions become severe and are especially excruciating in children and young adults. In this case, we start calling them “hunger pangs.” Older people have less severe stomach contractions but suffer just the same from the low food intake. The longer-term effects of hunger include general weakness, decreased concentration, fatigue, and irritability.
We often jokingly tell our friends that “we are starving!”, but what does starving really mean?
World Hunger and Starvation
Starvation is a case of extreme hunger and thus severe deficiency in caloric energy intake. It is the state of hunger that directly precedes death. Starvation can cause permanent organ damage, so even if the individual is saved from death, his life afterwards would be seriously compromised. Starvation is a physical state as opposed to famine which is more of a phenomenon. Famine is a scarcity of food in a particular area; it is usually accompanied with starvation (vice versa is not correct), epidemic, and high rates of mortality.
Now that you are familiar with the importance of daily food intake and the intense consequences of hunger, what do you think causes hunger in the world? Are the planet’s resources not enough to feed its inhabitants? Is it a result of wars and poverty? Why is world hunger such a grave threat when everyone can fish, farm, or at least afford an apple and a loaf of bread a day? Well, not everyone can.
Is there enough food for the hungry millions around the world? That is probably the first question you’ll ask yourself regarding the matter. The fact is, others asked and have been asking the same question for centuries. We realize that we live in one planet and it is our only source of food, water, energy, and shelter. Contrary to the planet’s constant (and decreasing) resources, we, the inhabitants, eternally reliant on it, are increasing rapidly, like wildfire. So is there really enough food for everyone?
The word for food availability per person is “food security.” It means an ongoing sufficiency of food, where any individual has access to enough food to manage an active and healthy life. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food insecurity, contrarily, is “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
The answer to the previous question of whether the planet’s storage of food is sufficient to feed everyone is yes. For now, world hunger is an issue of access not unavailability. So while we do actually have enough food for the hungry of the world, hundreds and hundreds of millions are food-insecure and continue to starve to death right now as you read this. But if availability of food is not the problem, then what are the real causes of world hunger?
Causes of World Hunger
Hunger in the world can be attributed to many causes, some of which we can do something about and some others quite out of our control. Here is a summary of the possible causes.
Poverty can cause a vicious cycle of inability and hunger. Poor malnourished mothers bring poor even more malnourished children to the world. Those children are not physically capable of finding another path for their lives, so they end up following the same steps of their parents, bringing their own set of diseased and malnourished children. With no external help, the same story repeats itself, and the conditions only get worse.
Natural disasters can leave behind thousands of people with no jobs, shelters, or food. In a developing country, if a community doesn’t get help to get back on its feet, it will sink in poverty, need, epidemics, and hunger. Other environmental changes can hugely affect the agricultural conditions of an area, leaving it with no other source of food.
Occupation and/or civil wars can be the root of all evils. Wars require lives and eventually the deaths of the supporters of the family can leave it homeless and hungry. The destruction of institutes and fields is a strong hit to recover from. Countries can take years and years to rebuild. Armed conflicts, street violence, and the lack of safety are not the optimal conditions to leave your house for a job or to the market. The dead are not the only victims of a war.
Half of the food that goes on our plates ends up in the garbage. The world is struggling between two extremes: those who have too much food and those who have none at all. Huge amounts of food are going to waste, intensifying the issue of world hunger and draining the resources of the Earth.
For more causes of world hunger, check the World Food Programme.
Most of the causes up there can be either fixed or at least improved to end world hunger or, in the worst cases, reduce the terrifying number of the hungry in the world. Let us better understand our role in the issue.
World Hunger Facts
We are partially responsible for the hunger in the world. Why? Take a look at these unpleasant world hunger facts.
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 850 million people across the world don’t have enough food to lead a healthy life. That is about one of every 9 individuals in the world.
- The majority of the world’s hungry people are in developing countries, where an estimated percentage of 13.5 of the population are malnourished.
- Malnutrition is the reason behind nearly half of the deaths of children under the age of five.
- According to the World Food Programme, hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
- According to Hunger Notes, Africa is witnessing a 2% rise in the rate of hunger yearly since 2007. The number of the hungry moved from 175 million to 239 million, 20 million of which only in the last few years.
- According to the World Food Programme, $50 is enough to feed a school child for a whole year, and $0.25 is enough to feed him for a day.
- According to the Hunger Project, women constitute 60% of the world’s hungry, and 50% of these women in developed countries lack the proper nutrition and maternal care, resulting in 240.000 annual deaths of childbirth.
The world hunger statistics up there expose a very ugly reality that we cannot evade. But how are we exactly responsible for the starvation and death of millions in a far, poor country? The following set of world hunger facts would clear that up for you.
- Consumers in rich countries waste approximately the same amount of food the entire Sub-Saharan Africa area produces.
- According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2000, food supply was meant to provide each individual with 3800 calories; 1100 of these were lost to spoilage.
- According to the University of Arizona, the food a family of four squanders is estimated to cost $589.76 annually.
- According to National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, food waste rose from a percentage of 30 to 40% in recent years.
Obviously, there is enough food for the hungry, but it is usually mislocated in the garbage. Check here for more horrifying world hunger statistics.
What Can We Do to End World Hunger?
You must realize by now that world hunger is an issue of the distribution of the food and not of its shortage. The world is big and broad and sometimes unfair: at the time food is left to rot in our kitchens, whole families are battling over a meal that is too small to shut up any stomach screams.
Did you know that those who are always hungry might refuse an extra meal offered to them today because their body would demand the extra food at the same time tomorrow and the stomach pangs would be too painful? So in a way, they try to train their stomachs into getting used to the constant hunger!
The world hunger statistics point out to the main shortage. If anything, we’re only short of charity. Half the world throws its food and the other half has no access whatsoever to it. How is it that the world is not capable of handing the extra food to the needy and managing to end world hunger then and there? The answer to this is because it starts with each of us.
Hunger can sometimes be used as a political weapon. Politics and economics can interfere and make any governmental help impossible. Corruption can interfere and make any governmental help unattainable. But that is where we come to the rescue. We, with our access to 5 meals a day, with our weekly visits to fast food restaurants, with our cookies, fried chickens, and cheese burgers, can make a difference. Donate a little of your money for a faraway hungry family today. It might not make a difference for you, but it will most probably save a life for them
And if you don’t have the money you can use a few minutes of your time playing a quick game on Free Rice. With each correct answer you get, the organization will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger.