The reasons why 783 million people continue to suffer hunger in the 21st century

It seems to be one of humanity’s oldest problems and, despite this, it is one that has not yet been solved. 783 million people are still hungry in the world, according to the report ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, by the United Nations. Added to this is that practically half of the world’s population cannot access a healthy diet. At the same time, more food is produced than ever and quite a bit of it ends up as waste.

But why is hunger still there? Why hasn’t it been possible to put a plate of food on everyone’s table? The key to answering all of this is that the answer has more than one face and is connected to many geopolitical factors, it is much more than simply giving each person a plate of food. “I wish the issue was just a matter of a plate of lentils,” concedes Amador Gómez Arriba, director of R&D&I at Ayuda en Acción.

“It’s a complicated issue,” adds Sharon Marshall, senior director of Public Engagement at World Vision. Hunger, she remembers, was in the process of falling since the 80s, until it reached a valley area. The problem in recent years is not only that evolution has stagnated, but, as the expert explains, they have noticed an increase in people who confess that they do not know how they are going to feed their family.

Perhaps that is why, although the aforementioned United Nations report had a positive element (the numbers had remained stable between 2021 and 2022), the figures continue to be very improvable (and show growth compared to 2019). There are still disparities between regions. While hunger has decreased in Latin America and parts of Asia, it is increasing in Africa, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Africa is, in fact, the most affected region of the world: according to UN estimates, one in five people on the continent is hungry. It is more than double the global average.

“Meeting the SDG goal of achieving zero hunger by 2030 represents an overwhelming challenge,” its authors acknowledge in the introduction to the United Nations report. “In fact, it is expected that almost 600 million people will continue to suffer from hunger in 2030,” they add.

The reasons for hunger

Gómez cites three basic elements as the reasons why there is still a gap in access to food that allows people not to go hungry. They are economic extraction, climate and conflicts. They are also, broadly speaking, the questions that Marshall talks about when asked to respond to the same question.

The first of these elements includes factors such as the economic capacity of people, crises or the effects of issues such as inflation. It is this point, in fact, that helps understand why there is also talk of food insecurity in developed countries. It is not what is traditionally thought of when talking about hunger, but it is not being able to access nutritious foods.

Although a lot of food is produced each year, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry or undernourished. Economic gaps, climate change and wars are to blame

“We think that food insecurity has to do with malnutrition, but in countries like Spain it translates into obesity,” says Gómez. Terms like “food deserts” have become increasingly common when talking about food. “People have to go further to get food,” says Marshall, who points out that it is something they are seeing in each country they analyze. A gap is occurring in the populations, connected to an economic one, and for part of the population the distance increases and the quality of accessible food decreases.

46% of people around the world acknowledge that they have worried about finding money to pay for their food and 30% confess that they do not know how they will access their next meal, World Vision points out based on data from a study by Ipsos. It is “a global problem,” explains Marshall, “but with different paths.” Developed countries do play, however, as Gómez recalls, with an element of advantage, which is that they usually have protection systems that are activated to face the blows of the economy.

As far as climate is concerned, the effects of climate change on world hunger are not something to think about in the future because, as Gómez indicates, “it is already happening.” “It translates into a recurrence of climate disasters,” says Gómez. They mean droughts, floods, land erosion… All of this makes crops become more precarious. For those who depend on subsistence agriculture—as is the case in many of the areas where hunger has worsened in developing countries—this is especially problematic. What they produce “is not enough”, which leads them to enter a spiral of precariousness and hunger.

And, finally, conflicts are one of the great drivers of global hunger. A recent study by World Vision has asked the world’s population why there is still hunger in the world: 45% of respondents point to wars. The figures are much clearer in those countries that are in the middle of a conflict situation. There, one in five people claims that this is why their children go hungry. “Conflicts are destroying the lives of millions of boys and girls around the world,” summarizes Dana Buzducea, leader of this NGO for Advocacy and External Commitment, based on the results.

Children, Marshall remembers, are not a combatant part, but they are one of their damages. When they have to leave these areas, they face the loss of both food and quality food. And this is important, because going hungry or receiving a diet of poor nutritional value has effects not only on the moment in which we live but also on our future development.

Girls and women are usually last on the family food pyramid

Gómez explains that in some areas the conflicts have established themselves as “entrenched” elements, although they have become somewhat forgotten news at a general level. “There are gray areas that are not talked about in the media,” he says. That does not mean that the war continues there and its inhabitants continue to suffer hunger.

Furthermore, a gender factor can be added to this entire context of hunger. Girls and women are often the last on the family food pyramid or are exposed, as Marshall points out, to having certain decisions made due to hunger that harm them. It increases the likelihood that they will marry early or leave education earlier.

The end of hunger

Both one expert and the other are categorical about the idea of ​​a possible solution. “Of course we can end world hunger,” Gómez promises. He exemplifies this with initiatives that have already achieved this, such as the Zero Hunger program in Brazil or the movements in some Asian countries or in Tanzania. Marshall adds the projects that start from the school, because they help improve the nutrition of families and add education in parallel.

“There is food in the world, it’s really a matter of will,” notes Marshall. «It is not a technical challenge. “It is a political challenge,” summarizes Gómez, who points out that we already know what needs to be done and how, but we must give it priority and set an agenda with resources for it.

Doing so is a question of ethics and justice, but also a more pragmatic one of geopolitics. “Less hunger creates safer, more stable environments,” explains Gómez, who talks about it being “the key to development and a sustainable future.”

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