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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hunger – The Real Story is in the Not So Obvious.

Even the infrequent news watchers among us can grasp the obvious - hunger is and will continue to be a major threat to the well-being of families in the developing world. In fact, hunger is firmly entrenched in first place on the list of the world’s top ten health risks.

What is not so obvious, however, is the scale of the threat, let alone the long-term consequences.

In moving from the obvious to the not so obvious we discover that worldwide, nearly one billion people live in a state of chronic hunger. This means that 1 of every 7 of us is going to bed hungry tonight. Narrow the geographic scope a bit and you find, in sub-Saharan Africa for example, that 1 in every 4, or 240 million people, will go to bed hungry tonight.

Focus on the plight of children in the developing world for a moment and we discover a very sobering fact. Hungry, undernourished children will account for at least half of the 10 million child deaths worldwide this year.

Mothers are not spared the suffering of their children. While women make up just over half of the world’s population, they account for more than 60 per cent of the 1 billion hungry people in the world today.

What happens to mothers happens to their children. Mothers who are undernourished often give birth to underweight babies. These babies are 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. And when we consider that as many as 17 million children are born underweight every year, the consequences come into sharp focus.

Drilling down a bit deeper, we find that chronically undernourished children suffer up to 160 days of illness annually. Their bodies, beaten down by hunger, are simply unable to cope with the relentless assault of poverty.

Delving a bit deeper still, we see tangible evidence of the long-term ramifications of hunger in that more than 178 million children under the age of 5 are well below the average height for their age - their growth stunted by chronic hunger and undernourishment.

Without taking anything away from the tragedy that is the short-term consequences of hunger, the long-term consequences are equally troubling. Hunger impairs learning and human development in all age groups. It feeds hopelessness, and it enables a status quo that no person of conscience can abide.

In essence, hunger threatens the present and robs from the future.

Even economies are negatively impacted by hunger. In countries with elevated levels of child undernourishment, the loss, in economic terms, can be as high as 3 percent of gross domestic product.

You know the situation is well beyond tragic and well within the realm of the unconscionable when the number of people killed by hunger worldwide pales in comparison to the number of people who survive but remain in a state of chronic hunger and risk.

Next week... Hunger Rarely Shows Up Uninvited