Hunger can arguably be called the greatest and most intimate of all tragedies, for the reason that the necessity to eat it is the most basic, intrinsic, and immediate human need. Clearly, no one deserves to remain hungry. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every human being’s right to adequate food has been stated clearly. It is speculated that there is enough food in the world to feed the global population twice over (International Food Policy Research Institute [IFPRI], 2007), yet a child continues to die from hunger or other malnutrition-related diseases every few seconds.
It is ironic how in view of the present day technological advancements, issues like hunger, malnutrition, and chronic poverty still persist. Why is the world plagued by hunger and mal nutrition on such a massive scale, anyone with a conscience or common sense may wonder. In the ancient times, natural calamites like drought and famine were responsible for shortage of food. However in modern times, factors like war, environmental degeneration, displacement, unfair trade agreements, trade embargoes, and smuggling are some of the complex reasons behind world hunger, all of which are manmade.
The interdependent nature of these elements needs a closer analysis: First and foremost, the main reason behind world hunger is the problem of poverty, access, and affordability. Under privileged, discriminated, and marginalized segments of the population lack the power to purchase even the minimum amount of food needed for survival. Those having moderate income can afford to adjust , shift, and improvise their spending habits, but those having low-income have lesser flexibility and thus have to cutback the expenditures on their basic needs.
Thus, as long as inflation rate keeps spiraling upwards, people’s purchasing power would continue to diminish, and they would go hungry. According to Koc, MacRae, Mougeot, and Welsh (1999), “access to food has been perceived by many as a privilege, rather than a basic human right, and it is estimated that about 35,000 people around the world die each day from hunger” (p. 1). Over a three year span, prices of basic food commodities have doubled and continue to steep. The main reason behind inflation is the increase in oil prices, which is pushing the production, transportation, and distribution costs of food upward.
The growing demand and diminishing supply rule is also applicable here, where the highest bidder has an unfair advantage over others having moderate means yet an immediate need. In the developing countries, since people spend a bulk of their income on buying basic commodities, making ends meet is becoming increasingly difficult for them. This desperation has a domino effect and has lead to a wave of social unrest and even in rioting in countries around the globe. There has been a shift in the world’s economic trends, which is another reason for world’s food crisis.
Agricultural countries are rapidly moving away from agriculture to industrialization. The agricultural ones are investing more in growing cash crops like cotton, tobacco, corn-ethanol, etc. There is no sense of self-sufficiency anymore. The governments of industrialized countries are willing to buy food from other agricultural countries on high prices, thus providing food to their own populace at higher prices and creating shortage and deprivation in the agricultural economies.
Definitely, when precious agricultural land use is diverted to non-productive, or even destructive use, it has a disastrous affect on the country’s economic and social conditions. Another prominent reason of food shortage lies in its wastage. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) states: It is estimated that 130 pounds of food per person in the United States ends up in landfills. The annual value of this lost food is estimated around $31 billion.
But the real story is that roughly 49 million people could have been fed by those lost resources. (p. 21) Alarmingly, over half the food produced today is wasted or discarded, which is an important factor contributing to the golbal food shortage. Also, excessive consumption of food or gluttony is also taking away food from the mouths of the hunger and destitute into the belly of the well-fed. Not to mention that this wasted food also leads to environmental pollution due to emission of methane gases.
Changing weather patterns, environmental degradation, and soil conditions too are responsible for the decrease, destruction, and depletion of food production. The recent wave of droughts and hurricanes in several parts of the world has reduced the crop production. The world’s agricultural land has become degraded due to the excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides, soil contamination, over drafting of groundwater, etc. Ironically, the measures to counter hunger such as food dumping and foreign aids also form a part of the world hunger problem rather than the solution.
These measures are deceptive and harmful, as they create a sense of dependency in the poor nations rather than encourage them towards self-reliance. Many a times, these donations are conditional, dictatorial, discriminatory, and restrictive in nature. The donor countries may have their own vested interests in an impoverished region, which may lead to military and political insurgency and consequently to social unrest and chaos. Conclusively, issues like hunger, poverty and mal nutrition are a direct consequence of human decisions, greed, insecurity, and cruelty.
It is thus vital for global policy makers to take into account the myriad causes behind hunger, as well as the problems that result in hunger. There is a need to understand that the problem of hunger and the human right to adequate food includes not only the issue of availability of adequate food, but it is also a matter of fair income distribution, reconsideration of agricultural trade and aid policies, curtailment of inflation and poverty, improvement of the agricultural conditions, reduction of environmental pollution, and a reduction of wastefulness.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). (2007). A future with no one living in poverty and hunger: Highlights from an international youth writing contest. Washington: Intl Food Policy Res Inst. Koc, M. , MacRae, R. , Mougeot, L. J. A. , & Welsh, J. (Eds. ). (1999). For hunger-proof cities: sustainable urban food systems. Canada: International Development Research Centre.
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