Josette Sheeran, director of the United Nations World Food Programme, recently gave a lecture at TED (embedded below) that reflects the idea that nobody in the world should be starving today. Some 40% of all food produced in the world ends up in a land fill, yet over 900 million people are malnourished worldwide. The speech cited some very gut-wrenching statistics about world poverty, but also touched on many potential solutions and pointed out how those solutions are already working in certain places. Here are some of the facts and statistics from the WFP website regarding world hunger:
925 million people do not have enough to eat and 98 percent of them live in developing countries. (Source: FAO news release, 14 September 2010)
Women make up a little over half of the world’s population, but they account for over 60 percent of the world’s hungry.
65 percent of the world’s hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. (Source: FAO news release, 2010)
Undernutrition contributes to five million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries. (Source: Under five deaths by cause, UNICEF, 2006)
Iodine deficiency is the greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage, affecting 1.9 billion people worldwide. It can easily be prevented by adding iodine to salt. (Source: World Nutrition Situation 5th report ,UN Standing Committee on Nutrition2005)
Below is a worldwide illustration of where hunger is most prevalent:
The above are but a few of the statistics that are most shocking. In Joesette’s speech, she points out that malnutrition is also linked to extreme underdevelopment of the brain. This makes sense because some 87% of calories burned by an infant are done so in order to grow the brain. Hence, when an infant child tries to breast feed from a malnourished mother that cannot produce milk, his or her lifelong outcomes are severely diminished as physical and mental development are stunted.
Fortunately, the WFP is taking lessons from places like Brazil that are enjoying success by bringing food into classrooms and helping local farmers get their food to markets where people are most malnourished. The idea of these programs is to tackle many problems simultaneously. For example, by bringing food into classrooms, the number of children that stay in school until graduation increases dramatically. Also, girls that are able to obtain food from schools are much less likely to become pregnant and perpetuate the cycle of malnutrition.
In order to develop a sustainable solution to hunger, Brazil has offered financial support to small farmers and organized proper food storage facilities. Instead of consistently relying on food aid, farmers are able to properly invest in their own ability to produce food for the local community and store it in case of future food shortages. By strengthening the position of local food producers and allowing them easy access to serve their food in schools, Brazil has had a revolution in feeding its malnourished population. Hopefully, with some cooperation with governments around the world, many of these same techniques can be used elsewhere so starvation can become a relic of the past.
For those that are interested we have embedded the TED speech by Joesette below:
NeilS – It seems as if I have been hearing about the problem of starvation since I was a very young boy. Simultaneously, I always heard that obesity was an epidemic and that it was spreading all over the world. Of course, none of this made sense to me until I began to understand the true underpinning societal and structural problems facing the starved populations of the world. Nevertheless, I hope that awareness of statistics like those mentioned above and the hard work of people like Joesette pays off as soon as possible. I would love to be alive when mankind can proudly say that starvation has been annihilated.