World Hunger Crisis: Food for Thought & Action
Our life is synonymous with hunger. Hunger for fortune and riches, hunger for fame, hunger for a salaciously exciting life. So much that the true meaning “hunger” today lies beneath the thick grime of double entendres that have come to attach with the word. The flaming, broiling uneasy churning of the stomach when digestive acids eat into the gut as their rightful victim – food – gives them a miss. Over 1.02 billion such stomachs abound worldwide – almost about the population of India. That is one out of every six people in the world facing starvation. More deaths are accounted to hunger and malnutrition than by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis put together.
Hunger is often a case of collateral damage unleashed by avoidable or unavoidable adversities like natural disasters, conflict, poverty, poor agricultural infrastructure (including transport facilities) and over-exploitation of the environment. The recent economic crisis leading to the crumbling of the financial fortress in many countries has aggravated the hunger calamity in affected territories. Food production has never taken place at as feverish a pace as today, but rising fuel prices and overall inflation leading to the jacking up of food prices push away subsistence level nutrition from within the pocket of the poor. Hunger is not only a personal catastrophe but is a developmental hindrance as hunger-impaired individuals cripple a country’s human resource facilities and labour productivity and lead to a crushing burden on its economy. Completing the daily quota of about 2100 calories is rendered useless if nutrient security is not ensured in one’s diet. Micronutrient deficiencies (hidden hunger) of Iron, vitamin A, Iodine and Zinc make one susceptible to infectious diseases and stunt physical and mental development, impeding productivity to the tune of a loss of 10-15% of one’s lifetime earnings and in fatal cases, death.
Food and nutrient security in the world tops the list of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The aim is to halve world hunger by 2015. While chronic hunger has seen a slowdown in the last two decades, hunger is on the rise still. Most of the world’s hungry live in the developing world; about 915 million out of 1.02 billion. The multitudes of those employed in agriculture, in the developing world, sans sophisticated mechanization and irrigation methods are dealt a fatal blow if droughts or floods lead to crop failures. Twenty-five percent of the world’s hungry comprise of children. Often born to starving mothers with bodies too weak to produce breast milk, these children bear the brunt of a low birth weight which carries on into toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence to a famished stunted adulthood. Children are the proverbial and logical successors to this generation. It is imperative that they be provided with sufficient and substantive access to wholesome food. This is where the role of international agencies comes into play. The World Food Programme has taken giant strides in ensuring food and nutrient security to the world. One can say that WFP strives for womb-to-grave food and nutrient security to the grossly underprivileged. For the young, it begins by focusing on the earliest phase of life (-9 months to 24 months) to eliminate early childhood malnutrition that could cause irreversible physical and mental damage. The plan sees action in the form of supply of essential nutrients and minerals to the vulnerable age-group.
A very disturbing trend that is observed in poverty-ridden and war-torn countries is that children are often denied a chance at education. Abject poverty makes them breadwinners at an age meant for playing, observing and learning. Girls are worse hit as they are expected to fill in as nannies to younger siblings and for household chores. This trend has been shown to drop drastically if a local, governmental/non-governmental and international School Feeding Programme is in place in the affected areas. WPF provides one-third of school feeding assistance of all such programmes in the world, working in over 70 countries of the world. School feeding is a powerful tool – an investment in future human capital. Under this programme, free fortified blended meals or high energy biscuits are served to children every working school day (sometimes even during vacations). Most of the grain is produced in the target country itself hence helping build the economy. It takes under USD $50 to feed one child for an entire year. School feeding offers an incentive to parents, who are too poor to afford requisite nourishment, for sending their children to school regularly. It also offsets the costs of other school requirements namely uniforms, books, bags etc. The programme also called Food for Education endemically, also provides take-home ration to support equitable education among the most vulnerable and food-insecure groups in the world. Having a full stomach enhances the cognitive abilities and concentration of children making them respond better to school instruction. The efficiency of SFPs in keeping children in school has been proven time and again. To quote history, the school attendance in Dominican Republic fell to alarming levels when floundering of government planning in the process of transferring the task of SFP to local agencies led to the rollback of the previously foreign-sponsored programme in 1979.
In India, an era of self sufficiency in food grains was heralded in the mid 1970s thanks to Indira Gandhi and M.S Swaminathan’s stellar Green Revolution. But the lack of socio-economic inclusiveness and inflation rates going through the roof have resulted in plummeting food security for the poor. A Public Distribution System managed by the Food Corporation of India makes essential food items available to those below the poverty line. Farmers are guaranteed a Minimum Support Price for their yield shielding them from crop failure losses. India’s version of a school feeding programme is the Mid-Day Meals (MDM) Programme launched by the Central Government in 1995, revamped by the UPA government in 2004. It draws assistance from state governments with sprinklings of external help. The Government is clear in its stance that mid-day meals are an addition and not a substitute to home meals. Despite being tarnished a tad by corruption and mismanagement and coming under suspicion for the quality of food provided under the programme, MDM Programme has been shown to improve school attendance and overall health of children. It is heart-wrenching to observe children bring their younger siblings for meals, highlighting in crimson, the pressing need for food security to the poor.
The Red Cup has become the symbol of WFP school meals program (selected for its catchy tone to gather attention) in which the beneficiaries are provided with a nutritious meal during their school day. With the help of virtual games like FreeRice and Food Force, and programs like Universities Fighting World Hunger, WFP aims to create awareness about food crisis in the younger generation. Its End Hunger: Walk the World initiative which is a global march against hunger by 150,000 people across 70 countries raised enough money to keep 10,000 children under the safety net of school meals for an entire year. Large hearts and generous pockets can fill the largest of food basket. Donations can be made to WFP joining in the endeavour to end world hunger though the website http://www.wfp.org/how-to-help. Remember – Every penny counts. Just as every grain does.
Youth Ki Awaaz is helping WFP in the fight against hunger by raising awareness through its website and attracting proactive bloggers from around the globe. Hunger will be eradicated, if we fight against it together.
Spread the word, share the food.
The writer is a Senior Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz.