By Mehak Talwar
The renowned Indian freedom fighter, M.K. Gandhi once remarked, “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” This holds true even today, as nearly 8.9 percent of the world population is steeped in hunger (World Action Against Hunger). Its pervasive influence is very evident, as ‘Zero Hunger by 2030’ is one of the aims of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations).
The cruelest manifestation of this problem can be seen in the disturbing presence of childhood hunger and malnutrition world over. Ironically, this is not caused due to lack of food production. The agricultural system, when it comes to food production is satisfactory, efficient even, as it outstrips population growth. Therefore, it is pertinent to understand the causes of this severe ‘food drain’. “Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted” (United Nations Environment Programme).
This problem is exacerbated by the prevalence of poverty. Poverty is one of the prime reasons underlying food insecurity. Those who are caught up in its vicious cycle, with no access to education are unable to break free. A child, who has not received nutrients, grows up with cognitive and physical deficits. Due to these problems, he or she has to drop out of school. In other cases, the necessary skills for increasing one’s social status may not be learned. This child grows up, marries and starts living again in yet another insecure household. So, the poverty cycle continues. Such people are also at-risk to lifestyle related and other diseases due to a weakened immune system. “Research conducted by UNICEF in 2018 stated that 3.1 million children die from under nutrition every year, that’s 45% of children under 5 years old in developing nations. One in six children (100 million) in developing nations is underweight and one in four of the world’s children are stunted” (Food For Life Global).
Poverty may be caused due to a variety of other reasons like wars and natural calamities as well. Whatever it may be, it has long-lasting and irreversible impacts. Further, the issue of child hunger is present both in developed and undeveloped countries. Of course, the latter clocks more cases of child deaths from hunger or under nutrition, but those who live on streets and slums in developed areas might face the same issues. The negative impact of poverty and hunger is manifold, when combined with ostracizing practices (such as caste, religious and racial discrimination) or concentration of development in only a few regions. Sometimes, even the free food drives fail to serve food with proper nutritional supplements. Oftentimes, it is prepared under questionable hygienic conditions, which makes the consumer susceptible to diseases and illness.
At such a juncture, it becomes imperative to address the food problems faced by young children. Fortunately, many international, national and society-based organisations are working to resolve or at least minimise the problem. International organisations involved in eradicating child hunger problems include the United Nations, World Bank, Food and Agricultural Organisation amongst others.
Even in my country, India, child hunger co-existing with poverty remains one of the biggest problems deterring the nation from achieving its full potential. Stunted growth, discoloured hair, marasmus and other illnesses are common among the poor children. Akshaya Patra and Feeding India are some of the non-governmental organisations involved in combating these issues. Government legislation and work of non-governmental and other allied organisations does help in alleviating the problem. However, citizen-centric action is also needed to reach in areas where not much has been done. A plan, which also involves action from those at the grassroots, can be formulated. This would help to increase public participation in such pressing issues.
Moreover, a movement could be initiated to unite healthcare and other workers at the local level, who help in supplementing the basic vitamin pills and other nutrients to the children. Any suspicion regarding their ingestion could be cleared through posters as well as sensitisation programmes, in the language the people understand. Involving school and college children in such hunger alleviation drives is a great idea and the youth can actually brainstorm to make such drives ‘palatable’ to the intended community.
Concurrently, strict legislation or guidelines need to be implemented, which detail the action to be taken if the food being distributed does not meet the basic standards of hygiene. In India, midday-meal schemes-where primary school students are typically served a meal in schools - have been guilty of violating the norms of hygiene. When implemented properly, these have been successful in addressing the twin problems of health and education. Some children come to school only to eat, but at the same time end up studying which also helps them to gain the necessary skills to liberate themselves from the cycle of poverty.
From a macroscopic perspective, improved and efficient agricultural practices are the need of the hour. Smart agriculture and efficient storing practices can actually help alleviate food loss due to natural disasters or infestations. Various methods of sustainable organic agriculture can be devised. Better connectivity and transportation facilities may also ensure that the harvest reaches the right place at the right time.
Additionally, programmes and awareness around food wastage needs to be initiated - both at the societal and national levels. This may help in eradicating one of the biggest problems which lead to unavailability of food for those who truly need it.
Overall, child hunger remains one of the most complex problems to be dealt with in the twenty-first century. Much like a Pandora’s Box, it keeps on showing thread upon thread of linkages to other pressing concerns. With climate change, agricultural practices and eating habits are likely to change. There is an urgent need to evolve a dynamic, multi-pronged approach to address it. This should be done not from a bird’s but a snail’s eye view, by providing those affected a safe and cooperative platform to reclaim their right to food.
Bread For The World. “What Causes Hunger.” Bread for the World, 9 July 2015, www.bread.org/what-causes-hunger. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.
Food For Life Global. “Children Hunger Statistics – Food for Life Global.” Food for Life Global, 13 Feb. 2020, ffl.org/15280/children-hunger-statistics/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.
“Hunger Quotes (465 Quotes).” Goodreads.Com, 2009, www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/hunger. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.
United Nations Environment Programme. “Worldwide Food Waste.” ThinkEatSave, www.unenvironment.org/thinkeatsave/get-informed/worldwide-food-waste#. Accessed 29 Sept. 2020.
United Nations. “Goal 2: Zero Hunger | UNDP.” UNDP, 2017, www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-2-zero-hunger.html. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.
World Action Against Hunger. “World Hunger: Key Facts and Statistics.” Action Against Hunger, Oct. 2018, www.actionagainsthunger.org/world-hunger-facts-statistics. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.