Published On: Mon, Feb 2nd, 2015

World Hunger Has Decreased, But Economists Say It’s Not Enough

According to economists, 25 developing countries have met an ambitious goal, set by the U.N., to cut their number of undernourished citizens by half. The number of chronically undernourished people in the world, according to Reuters, dropped by 100 million over the last decade. The 2013 Global Hunger Index shows an overall decrease in the proportion of the human population that’s undernourished. The world has also made strides in reducing the number of children under five who are underweight and the mortality rate of children under five.

On one hand, it’s great progress to make that many people — just a little less than the size of the population of Mexico — less food insecure.

However, one in nine people in the world are still undernourished, and some countries have it worse than others. Haiti, for example, saw its hungry population increase from 4.4 million to 5.3 million following the 2010 earthquake. In some parts of the world, particularly South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, hunger is still categorized as either “alarming” or “extremely alarming.” These vulnerable areas have a few things in common: extreme weather, population pressure, conflicts, and economic crises.

A child beggar in the streets of Beijing: the paper in front of him tells a story of his plight 1934 photo by Ellen Catleen public domain

A child beggar in the streets of Beijing: the paper in front of him tells a story of his plight 1934 photo by Ellen Catleen public domain

1. Climate Change and Extreme Weather Patterns

In Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change has made dry seasons more severe. At the same time, extreme weather events have caused flooding from Lake Victoria, which has devastating effects on local farmers. Although this seems like a subject for meteorologists, the effect of climate change on food security is an issue studied by master’s level economics programs. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s most populous areas in addition to being a climate change hotspot.

In Southern Africa, most food is produced on small subsistence farms. These farmers struggle to bounce back after droughts and severe floods. Also, these small farms face economic pressure from larger global producers, who can grow food, transport it, and sell it more cheaply. As climate change worsens, the percentage of hungry people could continue to rise. The region already has the highest proportion of undernourished people in the world — 28.4 percent of people are hungry.

2. Population Pressure

South Asia is home to 60 percent of the world’s population. In that region, about 1.9 billion people live on less than $2 per day. Countries that have significantly slowed population growth, like China and Sri Lanka, have made huge strides in improving food security. Countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and India have also started to curb population growth, but food insecurity is still high in those countries.

Food consumption increases as populations grow, but many small farmers have insufficient land, labor-saving equipment, and pesticides to provide food for their families, much less sell it to others. Although many South Asian countries have made economic progress, their agricultural sectors have seen little or no growth.

3. Conflicts

Regions that are ravaged by conflict have larger proportions of undernourished people. Conflict decreases food production, disrupts access to available food, and prevents families from having adequate access to food-preparation facilities. As food prices increase, so does the likelihood of conflict.

The misery caused by food insecurity tends to fuel additional conflict, creating a Catch-22 that’s extremely difficult to eradicate.

Ironically, although totalitarian regimes are generally undesirable, they do a better job of suppressing conflict, which can alleviate some food insecurity. However, no one wants a world in which people have to choose between oppression and starvation. Policies that can break the cycle, like programs that offer cash or food to people who work to rebuild conflict-ravaged infrastructure, take as many as 10 years to have an impact.

4. Economic Crises

Overall, Africa is a net food importer. Its population doesn’t produce enough food to feed themselves. In countries that are industrialized or oil and mineral-rich, like Libya, Mauritania, or Botswana, importing food costs less than producing it at home. In poorer countries like Eritrea, Burundi, and the Central African Republic, higher food import prices during the recent global economic crisis have drawn funds away from critical development programs.

A Long Way to Go

Despite huge strides in reducing hunger from Latin America and China, the U.N. won’t meet the goal of halving the number of the world’s hungry people by 2015. The key is to help struggling nations adapt to climate change, slow population growth, alleviate armed conflict, and weather an uncertain global economy.

Guest Author: Paul Smith


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