PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The year 1988 showed mixed results in the fight against hunger: The incidence of famine decreased somewhat and food production increased in many countries, but household food poverty is increasing in countries burdened by debt repayment, drastic reductions in health and nutrition expenditures, and rampaging inflation. While hunger is retreating in a few regions, “it persists in most and worsens in some where it previously diminished.” It should be possible within a decade “to cut in half the number of the world’s hungry.”
These findings are among those cited in The Hunger Report: Update 1989, compiled by researchers at the Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Program at Brown University. The 16-page report will be released April 6 in conjunction with the presentation of the Alan Shawn Feinstein Awards for the Prevention and Reduction of World Hunger at 8 p.m. April 7 in Sayles Hall on the Brown campus. The awards program is part of the second annual Hunger Research Briefing and Exchange, April 5-8, 1989, on the Brown campus, to promote greater communication between researchers and practitioners concerned with alleviating hunger worldwide.
[Editors note: The Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Program moved off the Brown campus in the late 1990s.]
According to Robert W. Kates, director of the World Hunger Program, no one really knows how many hungry people there are in the world. Beyond the difficulties inherent in gathering such statistics, “we may not know how many hungry people there are in the world because we many not want to know,” Kates says. “To know how many hungry there are in a world of plenty is to measure the inadequacy of our economies to sustain all, or our societies to provide for all, and of our common humanity to care for all.”
“The Hunger Report: Update 1989” presents a hunger profile of the world’s hungry by looking at 10 indicators in three conditions of hunger that emphasize different causes—shortage, poverty and deprivation. Food shortage exists in countries where there is not enough food; food poverty exists in households where there may be sufficient food but not enough means to obtain it; and food deprivation describes a condition of sufficient food for individuals, where food may be withheld, or if given, little is absorbed. These 10 indicators reflect the major foci of disciplinary and professional hunger attention: food production and availability, distribution and entitlement, and the consequences of underconsumption.
Global food shortage
Is there a food shortage on the global scale? Yes and no. Currently, if available foods were distributed equally according to recommended U.N. caloric standards, there has been enough to feed six billion people, or 20 percent more then the world’s current population, since the early 1960s. But if the diet were slightly improved beyond basic vegetarian to what is similar to what many South Americans eat today, enough food exists to feed only about four billion, or 80 percent of the global population. And if a full but healthy diet were chosen, only enough food exists to feed about 3 billion, or 60 percent of the world’s population.
- A U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) study found that in 1986 1,570 million people, 31 percent of the world population, lived in 49 countries where the total dietary energy supply, including imports, was less than that required for health, growth and productive work. Thirty-one of those countries were in sub-Saharan Africa, six in South and Southeast Asia and six in the Western hemisphere.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture figures for 55 countries in 1989 that that an estimated 480 million people, 9 percent of the world’s population, live in 35 countries “where crops and import capacity will fail to meet their usual levels of consumption. These 35 countries are the countries at highest risk for national food shortage in 1989 unless they receive food aid.”
- Famines occurred last year in at least five countries with a combined population of 205 million, 4 percent of the world’s population, according to the New York Times. War was responsible for a substantial part of this tragedy. In 1987, wars were fought in 23 countries. In 17 of those countries, significant disruption of food systems occurred. In 1988-89, armed conflict in the southern Sudan took the lives of some 260,000 people by starvation, and relief operations had to be suspended at various times in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Some success has been noted in overcoming food shortage, as food production increased at a rate “significantly greater than population” in countries that totaled 73 percent of the developing world population between 1964 and 1985. But progress has slowed and Asia and Latin America has joined Africa in a decline of food production. Famine has been on the decline for the past four years, with famine locations shifting from populous Asia to less-populated Africa. Famine could be virtually eliminated in the 1990s were it not for the prevalence of armed conflict.
The food-poor suffer from “insufficient land, unemployment or low wages, excessive rents or taxes, poor prices for produce or handicrafts, or the failure of customary food-security entitlements.” They live mainly in South Asia and Africa.
- World Bank studies estimate that in 1988 1,015 million people, 20 percent of the world population, lived in households too poor to obtain the energy sufficient for work.
- Using a different measure, the FAO estimates that 455 million people, 9 percent of the world population, lived in households too poor to obtain “the energy sufficient for minimal activity among adults and for the healthy growth of children.”
While these statistical bases do not accurately reflect recent fluctuations in hunger, worldwide reports document “deteriorating living standards in many countries and civil disorder in countries as diverse as Panama, Sudan, Venezuela and Yugoslavia in response to increases or anticipated increases in the prices of foodstuffs and other necessities.”
To address rural food poverty, countries must increase agricultural productivity and income opportunities in the countryside while improving wages for food. Programs doing this can be found in the state of Maharastra in India and Botswana.
All hungry people are food-deprived. They live in regions of food scarcity or food-poor households. Theirs is also the hunger from intentional abuse, neglect, self denial, or disease. Many of the afflicted are children and women.
- Low birthweight affects about 21 million infants, about 16 percent of the world’s children.
- Some 168 million children, 29 percent of the world’s children, are underweight for their age; about 5 million die each year because they cannot retain food and water. While high proportions of underweight children are found in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, China has made considerable progress in recent decades (though 18 percent are still considered underweight for age).
- An estimated 190 million people, 4 percent of the world population, suffer from iodine deficiency, leading to goiter and iodine-related cretinism.
- Anemia, caused by iron deficiency, afflicts 600 million people, 12 percent of world population; 51 percent of the world’s pregnant women lack sufficient blood iron.
- Vitamin A deficiency, affecting some 42 million pre-school children, 15 percent of the world’s children aged 1-4, as well as the health and vision of pregnant and lactating mothers.
Encouraging news is reported concerning a worldwide program to immunize infants and provide oral rehydration therapy to treat and prevent diarrheal disease and prevent death from malnutrition. Breastfeeding is on the increase in many developing countries. Selected regions and countries have made significant progress in eliminating iodine deficiency disorders and Vitamin A deficiency. With such progress, “it may be possible to eliminate most diarrheal deaths, prevent new cases of Vitamin A and iodine deficiencies, and reduce by half the common forms of childhood wasting and stunting in the 1990s.
Renewing the effort
Few international initiatives to eliminate hunger have been introduced since 1974 except UNICEF’s child survival program. “An integrated attack on famine, rural and urban food poverty, the nutritional deficiency diseases, and childhood wasting and stunting, while differing in regional emphasis and national application, can constitute a comprehensive effort to end half the world’s hunger within a decade. Such a program will require renewed social energy and political will, the creative employment of local institutions and underutilized resources, the avoidance of hunger-aggravating policies, and billions of dollars more per year in additional financial and food resources.”