What’s the Deal With Hunger in the 21st Century?

Hello all!

Welcome to another edition of “What’s the Deal?” the blog that whets your appetite with a smorgasbord of food for thought.

That's a lot of thinking to do!

November: the month in the United States where everyone (who has a job) has saved a paid time off day for the Friday after Thanksgiving, and dreams of a roasted (or deep fried) bird surrounded by a spread that is only matched by a winter holiday meal the following month.  While most Americans enjoy a large meal with family, too many people in the world (and in the US) are in the midst of persistent hunger and its far reaching effects.

This week’s blog discusses a situation that is not a tragic emergency, nor a current event that dominates the headlines week after week, but a plight shared in all corners of the world.  The issue of hunger in 2011 should be a continuous discussion; as the world population crosses the 7 Billion person mark, it is a crime of humanity that one person goes unfed, underfed, suffers malnourishment, or suffers the effects of hunger.

Who ever is the 7 billionth person, they unfortunately have a high chance of suffering from hunger

Here are some facts about hunger in the world:

  • 925 million people in the world are considered chronically hungry or undernourished: a condition where an individual does not receive the minimum calorie intake of 1800, in other words an unsustainable amount of consumption (burn more calories than consume).  In most cases, it is barely enough to get by.
  • 4.5 million children in the world die from hunger/malnourishment related issues.
  • The economic crisis will expect to push 64 million more people in to extreme poverty.
  • nearly 2 Billion people suffer from a micronutrient deficiency, lack of vitamins and minerals that are vital to living a healthy, fully developed life.

When the Somalian Famine hit the headlines this year, we were all reminded (here in the developed world) that many people suffer through unimaginable pain and decisions, like having to leave their loved ones behind to survive as they are displaced from their home.  Though the famine is as bad as it was from the start, you won’t find it on any major newspaper front page at the moment.  The famine in the horn of Africa, however, is a showcase for the rise in hunger and the difficulties in ending hunger.  Those people in such a dire predicament in Somalia are the faces and voices of the hunger crisis.

Ethanol from corn doesn't have a kernel of sustainability for the environment or the world's food supply

The famine occurs at a time when global food prices have been rising steadily for nearly three years, the food surplus from breadbasket countries has decreased from biofuel use, and most importantly during a global recession that has reached every country in one way or another.  Along with higher food prices, and more concentration on biofuels (from the US especially) food and monetary aid is expected to take a big hit as governments deal with shrinking budgets.

Even with these challenges, there is enough food  production (at the present) to cover the world’s hungry.  The question is how will we as humans living in a global society, reach Millenium Development Goal #1C, in halving the total number of hungry and undernourished by 2015?

Before examining that question, let’s figure out why there are 925 million undernourished people in the world.  

First, it is a simple case of poverty.  There are too many people in the world who cannot afford even to buy/grow their own food and basic necessities: approximately 1.4 billion people live on $1/day or less.   So, poverty and hunger obviously go hand in hand.

Second, war and armed conflict and politically unstable regions devastate agricultural production, and governments (if available) issue more money to arms than to social solutions.  For example, how is Somalia supposed to provide for its people when armed insurgents steal aid meant for starving citizens, and any provisional government cannot stop them?

Third, discrimination keeps poor people from accessing resources needed to escape poverty.  Access to education, jobs, and credit is often blocked because of racial or ethnic discrimination.  This is a factor in nearly every country to some degree. 

Fourth, a powerlessness or lack of clout for individuals keeps them hungry; this is why a disproportionate number of women and children are prone to hunger.

Fifth, an overall inability for people to feed themselves.  This is caused by a number of factors, but in the present, a huge portion of this blame falls on developed countries aid policy and globalization.  In Roger Thurow and Scott Kilmans book Enough: Why the World’s Poor Starve in an Age of Plenty, they argue that subsidies for rich countries who overproduce crops and sell or give food aid hungry countries has two detrimental effects: it makes the population dependent on food aid or imported food, and two it kills any attempt at local scale food production to begin to provide for their fellow countrymen (because how can you compete with free food?).  Hunger continues as people are unable to provide for themselves and the current food system is out of their control.

Where hunger is the most prevalent

So those are the main reasons why hunger is unfortunately abundant in this world.  With this knowledge in hand, we can examine the question of halving the number of hungry by 2015.  If trends continue, in my opinion, I don’t believe we will reach that Millennium Development Goal for the sole reason that we as humans in his age have failed to recognize that we truly live in a global society.

If that sounds like an idealistic statement, you’d be correct but shortsighted.

It is clear that all the problems of hunger are preventable, because enough food is produced.   The fact that 1 in 7 go hungry suggests there is a lack of motivation to address and actively fight the causes of hunger as a human issue, and not as a country specific or ethnic specific issue.  If large food producers and global agricultural giants are given a priority from governments instead of recipients of food aid, if local scale agriculture is stymied, and if crop production is diverted for fuel for cars (instead of fuel for people), then clearly, we are not thinking in the best interests of our fellow humans.

Until we as humans change our ideology and force our governments to change their direction, the year 2015 will be a very lofty goal.  It will be very difficult to effect change in government practice, as business is so entrenched in politics, especially in the US.  Working with powerful human interest groups such as Oxfam and their GROW campaign (as much as I hate their street campaigners) is a good place to begin, but a better way to effect change is through a transformation of the American psyche and media coverage on this issue.  Hunger in 2011 anywhere is unacceptable, and therefore should not be relegated to infrequent headline news.  Addressing the issue is something we can and need to discuss more.

I got this guy to give me his credit card number, his email address, and his Social Security number!

Social issues such as hunger are often the elephant in the room for many people; we know it exists, but we distract ourselves from talking or addressing the issue because we know that many organizations exist to eradicate hunger, and that the US gives a huge amount in food and monetary aid to starving nations (a placating feeling).  It is time to realize that this aid is not being used in a helpful way, and that those organizations face powerful political opponents and need our help more than ever.

Well, I hope I didn’t put everyone in too morose a mood; this blog was meant to discuss an issue that affects and connects us all, whether we want it to or not.  It was not meant to heap shame on everyone, but remind everyone what we still face in 2011.

Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see ya’ll real soon!

Your Faithful Historian,

Eric G. Prileson








Scott Kilman, and Roger Thurow.  Enough: Why the World’s Poor Starve in an Age of Plenty.


About eprileson

I am a historian and writer who wants to bring to light current events through a historical perspective. It is difficult to understand today's current events without having a grasp of what has occurred before. This is a running thread to help keep people informed about the present and remind everyone to not forget their past. Enjoy and please comment!
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2 Responses to What’s the Deal With Hunger in the 21st Century?

  1. jabisamra says:

    whats the deal with the giving out of ssn/credit card info?

  2. Lee Wright says:

    It’s a critical topic, but one that is even more complex than discussed. This piece in the New York of Books does a good job of discussing the relationships between traditional aid and enriching and empowering dictators: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/25/foreign-aid-scoundrels/?pagination=false.

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