Hunger in a World of Plenty, Ambassador Edition

Page 1

Spring 2015

UNICEF ACT Action for Children Today

Hunger in an Age of Plenty The world produces enough food for a population of 10 billion. Why, then, does one person in nine go to bed hungry each night?

Ambassador Edition 1



A Crisis of Food and Nutrition

In South Sudan, a mother of two holds one child, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, on her lap.

crucial time of rapid growth and development. Malnutrition at that time causes irreversible slowing of both physical and mental development. It sets children behind for life, but in one sense, they’re the lucky ones. Malnutrition also contributed to almost half of the 6.3 million deaths of children under five in 2013. Hunger and malnutrition aren’t just tragic. They’re violations of people’s rights and huge obstacles to poor countries’ progress out of poverty. The United Nations has taken notice in its new Sustainable Development Goals. Ending hunger and improving nutrition have an important place in this 15-year plan to improve life for all people, everywhere. Many others are taking notice, too. The hungry children of the world have waited long enough.

The term lethargic above means “lacking energy.” What do you know about the other boldface terms? Test yourself, then write your own question.

1. A synonym for deficiency is a) amount. b) shortfall. c) plus.

3. Stunting involves a) slowed development. b) a complicated cure. c) adult malnutrition.

2. Undernourishment a) involves too few calories. b) has no negative effects. c) is same as malnutrition.

4. Malnutrition a) is caused by too much vitamin A. b) can cause problems with thinking. c) never results from lack of food.


(for one of the remaining boldfaced terms above)

2 COVER PHOTO: © UNICEF/INDA2005-02434/Taylor

© U.S. Fund for UNICEF,

© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1390/Nesbitt


hat does the picture of perfect health look like? Being active and alert? Being in the right range of height and weight for one’s age? Now consider the opposite. A child who’s underweight, weak, and lethargic. The child is frequently sick, missing a lot of school. We’ve all been hungry at times. But many people around the world experience true hunger, the weakened condition that is brought about by prolonged lack of food. They become undernourished, lacking the energy needed for the body to perform at a minimum level. Without sufficient calories from food, they can’t be active or concentrate well. When undernourishment includes deficiencies of key nutrients, malnutrition follows. The body begins to fail in its basic workings. For example, not getting enough iodine can result in brain damage. Vitamin A deficiency could cause blindness. Hunger and malnutrition occur in all countries, but in the extremely poor countries of the developing world, there’s a nutrition crisis. Globally, 99 million children under five were underweight in 2013, but almost all of them live in Asia and Africa. Most of the 161 million children suffering from stunting live there, too. These children didn’t get enough feeding to support increased nutritional needs in the first thousand days of life. That’s a

Focus on Geography Use the map below to answer the questions that follow. Rates of Undernourishment in Countries and Regions of the World, 2012-2014

EUR OP E AS I A A F R ICA Key 15% and under Low Undernourishment


Moderate to High Undernourishment

35% and over Very High Undernourishment

Missing or Insufficient Data


This map was adapted from World Food Programme, “Hunger Map 2014,”

(Download a more detailed version at

1. Which continent has the most countries with “Very High” rates of undernourishment? 2. Which region—West Africa, East Africa, or South Asia—likely contains the greatest number of undernourished people? Why? (Need a hint? Research world population data at 3. List at least one thing that surprises you or one question you have about world hunger after reviewing the map. EXTRA: INVESTIGATE! Research the actual rates of undernourishment (also called undernutrition) in the regions identified in #2 above. 3 UNICEF ACT is a publication of TeachUNICEF, the Education Department of U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Visit for additional resources.

Hunger in a World of Plenty

The Poverty Trap

War and Conflict

Hunger exists because of poverty. For someone who is extremely poor, health often suffers because of hunger. That makes it difficult to earn enough to improve one’s life, such as by buying more food. Hunger increases, poverty increases, and so on, in a vicious cycle. A real trap.

About one-third of people living in poverty today reside in countries affected by armed conflict. Amid violence, farming naturally suffers. Sometimes hunger is intentional, though, when hostile armies use it as a weapon against the population. For the millions who flee conflict each year, the next meal is always uncertain.

Inefficient Agriculture Without money, farmers just work to survive. They don’t give some fields a rest to make them more fertile because it means no crops that year. They can’t afford irrigation, fertilizer, or silos to store grain, so harvests are small and spoil quickly. Poor transportation limits how much can be brought to market. An opportunity to stop hunger is thwarted.

Climate and Weather Poor countries tend to be more prone to natural disasters than rich ones. A drought can cripple harvests and kill livestock, but rich countries can usually manage the losses. Poor countries can’t, and the disasters are getting more frequent and intense due to climate change. New climate conditions are partly to blame for the drought in Africa’s Sahel region—the long, narrow region just south of the Sahara Desert—now in its third year.


Women bring their children to a malnutrition screening in drought-stricken Chad.

The causes of hunger are complex. So is its impact. While hunger is overwhelmingly concentrated in developing countries, not all people there are affected equally. About 80 percent of the world’s hungry people live off the land as farmers or herders, far from the help of government or others. Also, women lose relatively more than men when hunger strikes. Their poor nutrition may lead to death in childbirth and to low birthweight children. Then there are the children themselves. They are more vulnerable to malnutrition than adults, and they are dependent on adults for food. If it is a world of plenty that we live in, then there is plenty of work to do to solve hunger.

Read Between the Lines: To what extent is hunger a natural condition? A human-made condition? Use evidence from the text in your answer.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1160/Gangale


onsider this number: 7.2 billion. It’s the population of planet Earth. That’s a lot of people, and they all need to eat. There couldn’t possibly be enough food to satisfy them all, right? Wrong! Advances in agriculture and transportation can provide enough food for a population of 10 billion. Why, then, does one person in nine go to bed hungry each night? Why is one child in three underweight in some countries? Why does hunger exist in a world of plenty?

Journalist’s Notebook: What I Saw Journalist Roger Thurow is an expert on hunger and food insecurity. His report below from Ethiopia, supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, is on the devastating effect of malnutrition on one boy.

15-year-old Hagirso has suffered the consequences of the 2003 famine.

© Roger Thurow


n the first-year classroom of Shemena Godo Primary School, in Boricha, Ethiopia, three dozen children study the alphabet. I am watching one boy in particular, Hagirso, who sits in the back. He copies the letters in his notebook, a triumphant milestone in early childhood development. Hagirso, though, is no child. He is 15 years old. I first met Hagirso 10 years earlier during the Ethiopian famine of 2003. He was in an emergency feeding tent, on the verge of starvation. Miraculously, Hagirso survived, but he became stunted, the damage of severe malnutrition. Stunting means diminished physical and mental capacity. It means as a teenager, struggling to keep up with seven- or eight-year-old classmates, being one of the smallest in school for his age, getting sick more often because of a weakened immune system. It means, in all likelihood, a life sentence of underachieving. This is the life of Hagirso. Hagirso stands just over four feet tall and most days walks to school barefoot and on an empty stomach. His parents are poor farmers, tending less than an acre of land. The family has rarely known a year without a hunger season, the time between harvests when the food runs out. His father had hoped that with an education, Hagirso would be able to get a job in a city somewhere and send some money home. But that’s still many years away for a teenager only beginning to read and write. His dream is to be a teacher, “a teacher who makes a lot of money,” he tells me in class while his own teacher laughs. At least he’s made a start.

Think, Write, Discuss… • Why is stunting (see page 2) considered to be one of the greatest injustices a person can face? • How is stunting the result of poverty? How does it cause more poverty for an individual and family? • In Ethiopia, about 44 percent of children under five are stunted. What could that mean for the country’s future?

© Roger Thurow

Step In Yourself:

Imagine you are traveling to Ethiopia with Roger Thurow to investigate the problem of hunger. Compose one central question about hunger you will investigate while on assignment. Explain why this question is important to you. Then write three interview questions that you will pose to the people you meet to help uncover the answer to your central question.


Eleven-month-old Jignesh is given food by his mother to go along with breastfeeding, in the slums of Mumbai, India.

The World Health Assembly has issued this challenge: a 40 percent reduction in stunting by 2025. That’s around 62 million children saved from this tragedy. More and more countries are scaling up their nutrition programs to reach children during the critical period from pregnancy to the age of 2. These programs are working.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Getachew

Ethiopia When the rains in Ethiopia don’t come, hunger results. But the government strives to ensure malnutrition doesn’t follow. It sends health workers like Wudnesh Zebdios into rural areas to bring nutrition services to each community. During one visit, she discovered oneyear-old Tesfnaesh was severely malnourished. The worker got Tesfnaesh help and advised her grandmother on feeding her a balanced diet. “In the past, we would take our milk and butter to sell in the market because we didn’t know its importance,” said grandmother Kumete Alaro. “Now, we keep and feed it to the children at home.” One year later, Tesfnaesh—like all the children in her community— is no longer malnourished. The country as a whole has shown improvement, too.

Bangladesh Crop-destroying floods and cyclones contribute to malnutrition rates in Bangladesh that are among the highest in the world. But the country is taking action, including scaling up communitybased nutrition services. This includes the work of Rehana Parul, who brings her nutrition message door to door. She gives mothers packets of micronutrient powder so that their newborns get proper nutrition. It contains zinc to help with diarrhea, iron to prevent anemia (a condition of extremely low energy), and iodine to enhance brain development. Mother of two Sufia Khatun appreciates the effort. “I need to mix this powder with regular food when my new baby will be six months old,” she said. “I know this is important for my baby’s good health.” It’s important for the health of the country as well.

Scaling Up Nutrition Ethiopia and Bangladesh are not alone in their commitment to nutrition. They are members of a 54-country partnership called Scaling Up Nutrition, or SUN. It is founded on the principle that all people have a right to food and good nutrition. From these countries’ agricultural policies to their support for poor mothers, nutrition is taking center stage. Together, the partners of the SUN Movement are achieving what none can do alone.


Meet Clara!

Children in Latin America learn about nutrition when they watch “Clara in Foodland.” In her dreams, this seven-year-old girl has adventures—and learns about nutrition—in the fun and strange universe of Foodland. Check it out at

© UNICEF/BANA2013-00457/Haque

© UNICEF/INDA2012-00123/Vishwanathan

Scaling Up Nutrition Around the World

Meanwhile, At Home… Nutrition During Pregnancy

Rich countries have problems, too, though of a different type from poor ones. The United States is the world’s richest country. But compared with other rich countries, the U.S. ranks near the bottom in the overall well-being of its children. As in developing countries, hunger and malnutrition are problems in the U.S., too. Nutrition During Childhood

Hunger Created by Alfonso Melolonta Urbán from the Noun Project

Over 8% of infants are low birthweight babies. This suggests that nearly 1 in 10 pregnant mothers aren’t getting the right nutrition.

Children get around 10% of their daily calories from highcalorie sweetened drinks, like soda.

Over 14% (17.5 million) of U.S. households struggled to put enough food on the table at some point in 2013. Of households with children, nearly 20% struggled.

Despite the serious hunger problem in the U.S., it is rare to see anything like the undernourishment in the developing world. On the contrary, there is an obesity epidemic among U.S. children. Among rich countries, the U.S. has the highest percentage—around 30 percent—of overweight children. Being overweight or obese can lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes, and also contributes to a problem common in the developing world: malnutrition. Highly processed food tends to be lower in vitamins and minerals and higher in fats and sugars. So eating too much of it leads to weight gain and not getting the right nutrition—that’s malnutrition. It’s not just a result of undernourishment! FOR DEBATE

Many people and institutions are working to reduce hunger and advance healthy lifestyles!

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes “the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” and charges governments to provide adequate nutritious foods. This is a legal right in countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, but not in the U.S. Should there be a right to food in the U.S. Constitution?

Federal Programs Initiatives such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, help keep lowincome people afloat. SNAP gives credits for purchasing food to millions of individuals and families. Unilever’s Project Sunlight This campaign of the Unilever corporation encourages people to combat child hunger. Its #ShareAMeal toolkit provides many options to make a difference locally.

© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/2014/Snell

What’s Being Done?

Youth Groups The youth group of Henryetta Church of the Nazarene in Henryetta, Oklahoma, partnered with the Feed the Children organization to raise money for hungry kids in their town. Asking for $20 for each hour they fasted, their efforts raised over $10,000! UNICEF Kid Power Classes participating in this program learn about nutrition and get active while earning “points” with their Kid Power wristbands (photo above). Sponsors convert these points to dollars that treat malnourished kids around the world.


Kid Activist: Joshua Williams

© Fine Vision Studios


ecently TeachUNICEF spoke with anti-hunger youth activist Joshua Williams. In kindergarten, a chance encounter with a hungry man inspired him to start a foundation to fight hunger. He got friends to help out with fundraising and food collection and distribution. Then those friends told their friends. Today, the Joshua’s Heart Foundation has over 2,200 youth volunteers and has distributed nearly 1 million pounds of food. And Joshua shows no signs of stopping! The 13-year-old freshman at Ransom Everglades High School in Coconut Grove, Florida, is especially interested in opening more people’s eyes to hunger. “We bring awareness to kids and adults who don’t realize there are hungry people in their neighborhood, in their own backyard,” he said, “and show them they can do something about it.” Do you have to have something special in you to make a difference? Absolutely not! “As long as you’re persistent, passionate, and motivated, you can do it,” Joshua said. “Your age doesn’t matter.” “Stomping out hunger,” as Joshua puts it, requires everyone to pitch in and help. “There are over 7 billion people in the world; 1 billion are hungry, but 6 billion can help out,” he said. “We can easily solve the problem if we join together.” It takes heart. Joshua’s got it. You can have it, too.

What You Can Do to Help Fight Hunger and Malnutrition Locally: Get involved in your school and community • V olunteer at your local anti-hunger organization. Examples include food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, or any place that helps people learn about hunger or helps people get food. • Volunteer as a group. It could be with your school or another organized group you belong to. You might educate others about hungry children, conduct a fundraiser or food drive, or organize another creative project. • Plant a school garden. School gardens can be a fun way to learn about how healthy food is produced and how to make healthy food choices. Talk to your teachers about planting a fruit, vegetable, or herb garden or working with gardening groups. SOURCE: USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Ending Childhood Hunger Stakeholder Guide,


Globally: Support UNICEF’s nutrition work around the world Your fundraisers can help greatly: • $15 can provide 226 packets of micronutrient powder, plus one soccer ball to promote healthy lifestyles. • $68.99 can provide 90 packets of therapeutic milk to stabilize children suffering from acute malnutrition. • $72.80 can provide 10 malnourished children with lifesaving ready-to-use therapeutic food for five days. See these options and more at inspiredgifts.unicefusa. org. For fundraiser ideas, see works in more than 190 countries to help kids survive and grow. UNICEF supplies medicines and vaccinations, clean water, nutrition, shelter, and education. UNICEF also responds when emergencies occur, such as earthquakes, floods, and war.

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