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Hunger Crisis

Hunger Crisis

The seven things humanitarians want you to know about the hunger crisis

The seven things humanitarians want you to know about the hunger crisis

I have the privilege of spending time with some of the most passionate humanitarians working in some of the most difficult situations. What I hear from them are moving stories of hope and resilience, but also of the obstacles they must face to reach the most vulnerable. However, with the 24-hour news cycle the media doesn’t always report on these situations so not everyone is aware of how millions of people around the world are currently facing extreme hunger. Here are just a few of those stories and thoughts from experts in the field:  

1. The heart-rending generosity of the starving 

What would you expect to happen when desperately needed food assistance arrives in some of the hungriest communities on earth?

Scuffles breaking out in a heaving queue? A riot, even? Far from it. Time and time again, humanitarians share moving stories of the startling generosity they have witnessed at food distributions.  

Joseph Kamara, World Vision’s director of humanitarian emergency affairs in East Africa, says it has brought him to tears. 

impacts of drought
Joseph Kamara meeting with community members in Marsabit Kenya accessing the impacts of drought

“I’ve seen this so many times. You give food to a family, and then they go and share it within their community. They say: ‘As long as we share, we don't eat alone.’ Even in times of adversity, they still care for each other, still show up and have this abundance of generosity.” 

On a visit to a drought-ravaged town in Kenya, Dr Kamara describes how the hosts prepared a precious goat as a meal to honour their group. He was shocked to find out as they were leaving that it was their last one. 

‘That broke my heart’, he says. 

“There is this incredible generosity and a need to take care of visitors in these communities. The humanness, the generosity . . . in times of adversity, it grows.”  

2. The world needs to get ANGRY before this crisis can be solved  

Every day, more than 10,000 children die simply because they can’t get enough nutritious food. 

It is the worst form of human suffering. When hunger becomes extreme, children suffer a slow, painful death from infections that ravage their weakened little bodies. 

Children who die from hunger are too weak to cry. But what is worse, is the world seems deaf to their plight.  

The number of people on the brink of starvation has nearly doubled from 135 million in 2019, to a record 258 million in 2022.   

So why isn’t the world angrier?  That’s the question World Vision’s Global Hunger Response director, Mary Njeri, most wants to know. 

"Until the world gets angry about this, children will keep dying," she says. 

"Angry that families are walking for days on end to find food and water. Angry that some mothers are forced to bury their children in a shallow grave along the way. Angry in an abundant world, children and babies are dying from an entirely preventable problem - a lack of nutritious food."

Somalia hospital
Mary Njeri visiting a hospital in Baidoa, Somalia

One of the confronting scenes she will never forget was seeing twin babies writhing in pain in the intensive care unit of a Somali hospital.  

The 8-month-old babies, Ali and Abshir, were suffering from acute malnutrition and were so tiny they appeared to be newborns. 

"Normally, an 8-month-old can sit up on their own and crawl. But they were so thin and weak, so fragile, you were afraid to cuddle them. No mother should be sitting by the bedside feeling helpless at the thought of losing their child to the entirely preventable condition of malnutrition."

She says raising the necessary funds to help the millions on the brink of famine has been challenging in the face of other crises and wars around the world.  And, ultimately, given a lack of anger at a problem that can be solved.   

Despite an estimated US$39–50 billion annual price tag to avoid the deaths of 3.7 million children under 5 and prevent stunting in 65 million children, only US$3.9 billion has been committed since 2015.   

3. Child labour and marriage are linked to food insecurity  

A hunger crisis does not just attack children’s bodies. It threatens their safety as families are forced to make devastating decisions to survive, says Njeri.  

A lack of food leads to hunger, which sparks an increase in child marriage as parents become desperate for income.  

Hunger also causes a spike in teen pregnancies, as girls will often go with men in exchange for food or money. Hunger forces children to beg on the street, exposing them to terrible danger. Hunger takes children out of school and funnels them into child labour.  

‘In the most extreme situations, hunger forces children to turn to armed groups or violent gangs in search of food, work, and protection, which exposes them to violence and harm’, Njeri says. 

4. Hunger is not caused by ‘a lack of effort’  

"For the millions of people on the verge of famine, it’s not due to a lack of enterprise or initiative," says Njeri.

Rather, a cocktail of climate change, conflict, and the lingering socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 has conspired against the world’s most vulnerable, eroding livelihoods and making it harder than ever to put food on the table.  

The effect of a changing climate also cannot be underestimated in many hunger hotspots, where the environment has become so hostile that practically nothing can survive.  

Water Crisis
Children have to walk many miles to collect water from a source outside a village in Afghanistan.

“This is beyond their control. This is not about a lack of effort. How can these people make an income from land so parched they cannot even sow let alone grow, crops? They try but this is land which has been either dried out by year after year of drought, or rendered useless by flood.”  

Dr Kamara says farming families in East Africa work from sunrise to dusk, tending to their flocks, to their gardens, but nature fights them. "They have no idea that the impacts of climate change they are faced with is a global phenomenon that they have zero contribution towards," he explains. 

5. Hunger is sparking a generation of children with long-term developmental issues  

Nutritious food is critical especially for pregnant women, says Terry Ferrari, World Vision’s regional leader in East Asia. 

But many vulnerable women in fragile communities are not getting the nutrition they need to bring a baby to full term or give the child what it needs during the first 1,000 days of its life where brain development and learning are so crucial. This, in turn, affects a child’s long-term earning potential. This presents a particular problem across the Asia and Pacific regions which has countries with ageing populations. 

"In the next 20 to 30 years, these countries will not have enough working adults able to support the ageing population," says Ferrari, "and on top of that we are seeing a cohort of children born in the region who start at a deficit because they are malnourished. But these are the very children we expect to grow and support an ageing population."  

This will eventually affect economic productivity, and the poverty cycle will continue. 

Njeri says if the underlying factors driving malnutrition are not addressed, children will end up stunted, which will, in turn, affect their mental development, lead to poor school performance and reduced intellectual capacity. 

6. Just when you thought the hunger crisis couldn’t get any worse . . . 

It has. Again and again. At various points over the past several years, the hunger crisis seemed like it had peaked.  

Climate change has taken its toll, with lands parched by drought or soaked by floods, leaving people struggling to produce enough food to merely subsist.

What crops did grow were ravaged by clouds of locusts in East Africa. Then COVID-19 rolled in like a tsunami, crushing lives and livelihoods. When the pandemic wavered, the war in the Ukraine sent shockwaves through the Middle East and Africa with shortages of wheat and fertiliser, sending food prices soaring. Then came rampant inflation, pushing up the prices of essentials. 

‘To me, it’s similar to what you read in history, the Biblical plagues’, says Dr Kamara. 

As many as 783 million people faced hunger in 2022 and nearly a third – 2.4 billion girls, boys, women, and men – did not have enough food to eat.  

Njeri says the crisis is undoubtedly getting worse: “Many people who were not suffering hunger before COVID are now, with more people and countries becoming part of the crisis.”  

7. Hunger is gripping not just Africa and the Middle East 

Terry Ferrari says that the Asia and Pacific regions have also been hit by the hunger crisis, but it receives less media attention because it is considered more of a slow-burning crisis. She adds that, since COVID-19, millions of people in countries across East and South Asia and the Pacific have slipped back into poverty, with around 185 million people living on less than $US2.15 a day. Asia is home to the majority of people facing hunger – 402 million – 55% of the global number of undernourished people, while children in many countries suffer from stunting and wasting - the most severe forms of malnutrition. 

World Vision's Global Hunger Response is responding to the staggering needs of millions of the most vulnerable people in 28 countries who are facing unprecedented levels of hunger, malnutrition, and other long-lasting health issues and harmful indirect impacts. As we work alongside communities to support the most vulnerable girls, boys, women, and men in these countries, it is my hope to bring you more views and stories of these families and our Response’s efforts to help end hunger and malnutrition alongside World Vision’s recently launched global ENOUGH campaign.  

Micah Branaman is Communications Technical Director for World Vision's Global Hunger Response. Learn more about World Vision's Global Hunger Response here

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