Population Matters

The Growing Hunger Epidemic

July 21st, 2010

It’s not headline news, but hunger is on the rise in places like Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Niger.

In fact, Zimbabwe’s 2010 National Nutrition Survey reported that more than a third of the nation’s children under the age of five now suffer from malnutrition. This chronic malnutrition accounts for nearly 12,000 child deaths annually.  Dubbing the issue as a, “significant public threat,” the Director of the Zimbabwe Food and Nutrition Council, George Kembo, urged that, “we must continue placing nutrition at the center of our development agenda.”

Kenya is facing a similar malnutrition crisis with Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). This deficiency prevents the absorption of nutrients, cripples the immune system and globally kills 600,000 children annually. Kenyetta Hospital—Kenya’s oldest hospital—admits more than 20 children each week, exclusively to deal with malnutrition.

In Niger and other parts of the African Sahel, drought is leading to widespread hunger.  The World Food Programme urgently needs to raise $100 million to help feed 4.5 million people in the region.

Hunger and poor sanitation is clearly a global epidemic—one that has killed three times more people than all of the wars fought during the 20th century.

While U.N.’s World Food Programme and other relief agencies have worked tirelessly to fight the scourge of famine, world hunger still persists. The question remains: what more can possibly be done to prevent the spread of global hunger?

Population lies at the heart of both the problem and its solution.

Many of the one billion people suffering from hunger live in developing countries with high population growth rates and a growing dependence on external food aid.  This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, but it’s also true in many parts of South Asia. In fact, a recent United Nations report revealed that hunger levels in South Asia have not improved at all in the past two decades.

The fight against hunger is being fought on multiple levels, but in the long run family planning and reproductive health services are pivotal to addressing hunger. They allow women to have the number of children they want, when they want. For families who are already struggling to feed themselves, the power to space or limit pregnancies can save lives, fight malnutrition, and break the cycle of poverty.

In recent years, the global economic downturn, rising food prices, and changing weather patterns have conspired, along with population growth, to push the number of hungry in the world above the one billion mark.  But to understand the global food crisis, it’s important to see it in terms of people, not statistics. That’s why I put together this video.

Posted by Elizabeth Bourassa, Media Fellow

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