Growth for Who? Defining Progress by Under-Counting the Hungry Masses
by Moses Seenarine, 12/15/17
Malnutrition affects one in every three people worldwide. It affects all age groups and populations, and plays a major role in half of the 10 million annual child deaths in the developing world. In the children who survive, malnutrition continues to be a cause and a consequence of disease and disability.
The most visible form of hunger is famine, a true food crisis in which multitudes of people in an area starve and die. There are over 850 million people who are chronically hungry. This is the largest number and proportion of malnourished people ever recorded in human history. Plus, being underweight is a major problem globally. A quarter of women in India and Bangladesh are underweight. And a fifth of men in India, Bangladesh, Timor, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Ethiopia are underweight. Being underweight put a person at risk for multiple health problems including anemia, infertility and osteoporosis.
In the entire developing world, or Global South, hunger and poverty are intense and may worsen as economic growth across the world stalls. From 2005 and 2008 food prices almost doubled. To make matters worse, from 2007, there has been a sizable slowdown in food aid, bringing hunger reduction "essentially to a halt for the developing countries as a whole."
As many as 2.8 billion people on the planet struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and upwards of one billion people lack reasonable access to safe drinking water. There is an enormous and persistent food gap between the global South and the developed north. To illustrate, the average person in the industrial world took in 10% more calories daily in 1961 than the average person in the developing world consumes today. The large numbers of poor and malnourished people in the world are unacceptably high, but these numbers may be much higher due to under-counting.
Misleadingly, the UN set the threshold for hunger as the minimum calories needed for a "sedentary lifestyle." In reality, the number of hungry people could be as high as 1.5 billion, or in excess of 25% of the world's adult population if the threshold was set as the minimum needed for "normal activity." And numbers of the hungry would jump to 2.6 billion, or nearly 45% of the global adult population, for "intense activity."
Currently, 4.3 billion people live on less than $5 a day. Although this figure is higher than the World Bank poverty criteria at $1.25 a day, one report showed that a realistic poverty measure would be around $10 a day. By this standard, over three-quarter of humans live in poverty. One-fifth of the Earth's 7 billion people have no land and possessions at all. These "poorest of the poor" are non-literates lacking safe drinking water and living on less than a dollar a day.
Many spend about 80% of their earnings on food, but still they are hungry and malnourished. The average US house cat eats twice as much protein every day as one of the world's poorest of the poor, and the cost to care for each cat is greater than a poor person's annual income. Half of the world's population have enough food to provide energy, but suffer from individual nutrient deficiencies. Billions of people lack iron, iodine, vitamin A, and other vital nutrients. In addition, racial, ethnic, and religious hatred along with monetary greed cause food deprivation for whole groups of people.
The IPCC's AR5 report suggest that climate transformation will affect poor countries the most, and inflate food insecurity. While Oxfam predicts world hunger will worsen as planetary heating inevitably affects crop production and disrupt incomes. The number of people in the peril of hunger might climb by 10% to 20% by 2050, but daily per capita calorie availability is falling across the world.
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