“I have seen firsthand that agricultural science has enormous potential to increase the yields of small farmers and lift them out of hunger and poverty.”
Bill Gates, Businessman
Global Hunger: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Global hunger (sometimes also referred to as undernourishment) can be defined as a state where people are not able to get enough food to satisfy their basic nutritional needs on a global scale.
Hunger is a quite big problem, especially in poor developing countries that suffer from extreme poverty. Hunger can lead to enormous adverse effects for the respective persons, including severe physical as well as mental health issues.
In this article, the extent, causes, effects and solutions for hunger are analyzed.
How many People suffer from Global Hunger?
According to the World Food Programme, as at 2019, over 800 million people suffer from hunger on a global scale, meaning that more than 1 out of 9 persons of the world population do not get enough to eat.
The region where people struggle the most with undernutrition is Sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries, more than 35% of the total population suffers from insufficient food supply, which may translate into vast individual as well as in social problems.
Distribution of Global Hunger: Data from FAO Report and World Food Programme 2019
Causes for Global Hunger
- Unequal wealth distribution
- Geographic factors
- Drug use
- Gender discrimination
- Corruptive actions
- Climate change
- Food shortages
- Political goals
- Excessive public debt
- Lack of education
Unequal wealth distribution
Malnutrition is often caused by inequality of the distribution of wealth in a country. In some dictatorships, the top 1% of the wealth pyramid often own almost all the wealth, while the other 99% of the population basically own nothing.
This inequality in wealth can lead to serious levels of malnutrition since the general public may often not be able to afford enough and also high-quality food which would prevent them from a lack of nutrients.
Poverty in general also contributes to malnourishment. People who suffer from extreme poverty will often not be able to provide for their families. They may even not have enough money for basic things like food or water.
This is especially true in countries where there is no social security. If people get sick or suffer from other adverse events, they may not have enough money to get enough food and may suffer from significant malnutrition.
Depending on the country people are living in, there are vast differences in the chances of suffering from malnutrition. Imagine you live in a country that suffers from significant droughts on a regular basis.
Chances are that you will not be able to get enough nutrients since crop yields will be quite low and you and many of your family members and friends will suffer from hunger or even starvation due to climatic conditions.
Unemployment can be a big problem, especially in countries with a low level or even no social security at all. In these countries, unemployment puts people at significant risk for poverty since they will likely not be able to afford their rent or buy food anymore since they just do not have enough money.
This will in turn translate into serious levels of hunger. In the long run, malnutrition can lead to starvation or even death.
Malnutrition can also be caused by drug use. On the one hand, the consumption of drugs often destroys some minerals and vitamins, which may lead to a shortage of necessary nutrients. On the other hand, drug addicts often only care about the sufficient supply of their drugs and do not care too much about other things.
In turn, this could lead to malnutrition if people spend all their money on substances but do not eat enough healthy food to prevent undernutrition.
Another cause of malnutrition may be gender inequality. In some countries, especially in countries which are still quite traditional, women are often not regarded as equally valuable as men. Thus, they are often treated quite badly and may have not the same opportunities regarding education and other important things for their life.
Therefore, these women may also suffer from malnutrition if their husbands leave them since these women may not be able to find a job due to their lack of education and may therefore not be able to buy enough food to prevent malnourishment.
In countries where corruptive activities are a big issue, malnutrition can be a consequence for the general public since poverty levels for the majority of the population are likely to increase and therefore also the chance for malnutrition increases.
While some people with power will have excessive access to money and food, the majority of the population will suffer from significant poverty and will therefore not be able to buy enough food.
Global warming can also contribute to malnutrition in the sense that farmers who rely on crop yields in order to provide for their families will have a quite hard time to do so in the future since many regions will suffer from enormous droughts due to global warming.
This may lead to a state where there will be not enough water left to tilt fields and plants and crops may dry up, which may destroy the livelihood of many farmers worldwide.
In some regions, food shortages are a big issue in general. For instance, there may be some countries where the local food supply is threatened due to climatic conditions or also due to wars or other adverse conditions.
Hence, in those regions, people will have it hard to get enough food since food shortages also significantly increase food prices which the majority of the population, especially in poor countries, may not be able to afford.
In some countries, especially in dictatorships, the leading regime may not even want the general public to get enough food since they fear that if the general public gets more power, the leading regime may get overturned.
Thus, dictators often try to keep the majority of the population poor in order to reduce the power of the public and to preserve their own power. This may also imply significant malnutrition for the general public due to political intentions.
Conflicts can also be a big cause of insufficient food supply. Through conflicts, significant parts of the local infrastructure are likely to be destroyed. Moreover, people often have to leave their homes in order to survive.
However, these people will now have a quite hard time since they often leave all their belongings behind and may have no money at all, which may cause significant malnutrition since these people may not be able to afford enough food.
Another reason for malnutrition may be migration activities. Many people from poor countries hope to find a better future by migrating to other countries since they have heard many nice stories about living in foreign countries. However, the reality may be quite different. Migrants may not be able to get a permanent residential allowance.
Moreover, they may not be enough qualified to find a job. All this may lead to a state where these migrants may run out of money and may suffer from significant malnutrition due to that.
Excessive public debt
Some countries may also have quite high levels of debt. This may result in a state where these countries cannot provide sufficient social security schemes for the local population.
If people in those countries get unemployed, chances are that they may suffer from serious levels of malnutrition or also homelessness since they do not get financial government support and may therefore no longer be able to buy food and other things for daily life.
Lack of education
People who are suffering from a lack of education may also have a higher risk of suffering from malnutrition. Since education is directly linked to job chances, a low level of education often results in low-paid work or unemployment for the respective persons. In turn, unemployment may lead to malnutrition since people may no longer be able to buy enough food.
Effects of Global Hunger
- Undernourishment of children
- Mental health problems
- Physical health problems
- Weak immune system
- Long-term health effects
- Heart attacks and strokes
- Organ failures
- Low life expectancy
- Insufficient education levels
- Radical movements
Undernourishment of children
Malnutrition can lead to serious health issues, especially for children. Since children have to grow, they need plenty of vitamins and minerals in order to do so in a healthy manner.
However, if they lack these things, they may suffer from severe health problems. Moreover, their brain may also not work in a proper way. Therefore, the health effects of malnourishment of children can be quite horrible.
Mental health problems
Malnutrition not only has severe consequences for children, but may also lead to plenty of issues for adults. For instance, if our body does not get enough food or lacks certain vitamins or minerals, chances are that we will suffer from significant mental issues.
This may include that we will not be able to focus anymore or that our motivation to work will suffer significantly. Moreover, a lack of nutrients may also lead to depressive states or paranoia.
Physical health problems
Apart from mental issues, there are also severe physical health issues associated with malnutrition. For instance, this could include sudden feelings of faintness or also cramps due to a lack of minerals.
There are also more severe physical health problems from malnutrition, like circulatory failures which may even result in death in extreme cases.
Weak immune system
Malnutrition often also contribute to a weak immune system. Our body has to be in good shape in order to be able to fight bacteria and diseases of several sorts.
However, if the immune system is weak, the chances for infections with bacteria that cause severe diseases increases since due to a lack of nutrients, our body may not have enough power to fight pathogens.
Long-term health effects
Malnutrition not only increases the risk for immediate infections with diseases, but also increase the probability of long-term health issues, depending on the severity of the lack of nutrients.
For instance, a constant lack of vital minerals can harm our organs and may also lead to a dismantling of our muscles, which may in turn cause several additional issues like the loss of ability to walk normal distances.
Heart attacks and strokes
In extreme cases, malnutrition may also lead to stroke or heart attacks. If the lack of nutrients is sufficiently high, our heart may long be able to work properly which may lead to several health issues related to our heart. In the worst case, heart attacks can even lead to the death of the respective person.
Organ failures may be another consequence of malnourishment, especially if the lack of nutrients is quite severe. Our body is a complex system and our organs have to perform many tasks that are crucial for our health.
For these tasks, our organs need a sufficient supply with minerals and vitamins in order to work properly. If this supply is insufficient due to malnutrition, chances are that our organs may suffer, which may lead to organ failures in extreme cases.
Low life expectancy
Life expectancy may be much lower in general for people suffering from serious levels of malnutrition. For instance, people in poor developing countries commonly have a much lower life expectancy compared to people living in rich countries in the Western world.
This difference in life expectancy is partly due to the fact that malnutrition due to poverty causes several health issues which may turn into death in some cases and therefore lower the life expectancy of these people.
Insufficient education levels
Since poverty and malnutrition are closely linked, people who suffer from poverty often also suffer from a lack of education since poor people often cannot afford to send their kids to school due to financial problems.
Moreover, people suffering from malnutrition may also not be able to focus since their brain has not enough nutrients to function properly which may also result in low levels of education. In turn, a lack of education may trap these people in poverty, since they may not find a well-paid job.
Malnutrition may also indirectly contribute to radical movements since people who do not have enough food may become frustrated and may join radical organizations due to this. Moreover, poor people who cannot afford food may be willing to join radical movements who promise them enough income to survive.
Especially if this is the only way to provide for their children, parents may accept joining these organizations due to desperation even though they may not actually their values.
Food shortages that lead to malnutrition may also lead to conflicts since people literally have to fight for their food supply in order to survive.
Therefore, a lack of food and the resulting undernourishment may lead to increasing social tensions and the probability for conflicts increases dramatically due to that.
Solutions for Global Hunger
- Mitigate corruptive activities
- Mitigate gender discrimination
- Global support for poor countries
- Redistribute wealth
- Give companies incentives to open branches in poor regions
- Reduce waste production
- Reduce consumption levels
- Avoid food delivery
- Use alternative means of transport
- Educate yourself
Mitigate corruptive activities
In order to reduce the issue of malnutrition, governments all over the world have to take measures to reduce corruptive activities. This means to reduce corruption in their own country but also to stop corruption in other countries.
This could be accomplished by stopping trade activities with countries that are known for high corruptive activities until they change their political system.
Thus, these countries will have a big incentive to change their system since they would otherwise suffer from serious long-term economic consequences. In turn, a reduction in corruptive actions will also lower the problem of malnutrition.
Mitigate gender discrimination
Many women all over the world suffer from gender inequality. Women are often not regarded as equally important as men and therefore have plenty of disadvantages in their daily life, including an increased chanced for malnutrition.
Hence, it is crucial to reduce gender inequality so that women get equal rights and can protect themselves from poverty and the resulting malnutrition issue more properly.
Global support for poor countries
Governments all over the world have to make sure that there are sufficient global aid programs for poor countries in place to stop extreme poverty and the resulting hunger issue.
In fact, fighting extreme poverty and hunger is one of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. There are also some additional programs in place which try to prevent hunger and malnutrition, like the World Food Programme.
Thus, we are on a good path regarding fighting hunger and malnutrition. However, there could always be done more and governments from rich countries all over the world should feel obliged to increase their efforts to support poor countries.
It is crucial that governments try to distribute wealth in their country more equally. In many poor developing countries, small groups of elites often own almost all of the wealth.
Through redistribution, poverty levels of the general public could be lowered and therefore also the malnutrition problem could be mitigated.
Give companies incentives to open branches in poor regions
In order to mitigate poverty and the resulting hunger issue, it is crucial that poor regions try to attract companies in order to create more jobs. This could come in the form of tax advantages or other financial subsidies.
By doing so, the incentive for firms to relocate to these areas increases and through the creation of jobs, more people may be able to escape poverty and therefore to buy enough food to avoid hunger.
Reduce waste production
One measure against global hunger that everyone of us can take in our daily life is to reduce our waste production.
Since part of our waste is burned, it leads to the emission of harmful greenhouse gases which in turn contribute to global warming which eventually contributes to hunger and food shortages.
Therefore, everyone should try to reduce waste whenever possible. This could mean avoiding the use of disposable plastic cups or buying items with excessive packaging.
Reduce consumption levels
Another related point to indirectly reduce hunger due to global warming is to reduce our consumption levels. Everyone seems to need the newest versions of electronics and the hippest clothes in our nowadays society. However, this also often implies that many items that are still working are disposed into the trash bin.
This consumption behavior results in enormous amounts of unnecessary waste, which in turn contributes to global warming and hunger for many people. Thus, it is crucial that everyone of us tries to lower their consumption in order to fight hunger on an individual level.
Donations for organizations that aim to fight hunger may be another suitable measure to reduce worldwide hunger. For instance, you could donate to the World Food Programme or other organizations. Just make sure that you donate to official organizations and not scammers who just want to rip you off and keep the money for themselves.
Avoid food delivery
Since food delivery also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases and therefore to global warming, you should refrain from using food delivery services and instead cook your own meals at home. By doing so, you can further improve your ecological footprint since you also reduce waste production.
Use alternative means of transport
You should also try to use your car less often and to switch to public transport or other alternative means of transportation instead. By doing so, you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and therefore also mitigate the hunger issue in regions that will be heavily hit by the effects of global warming.
You should also educate yourself on a constant basis regarding what you can do to fight world hunger. Maybe you want to join an organization that fights global hunger or you take other measures. Whatever you prefer, you can make a big contribution to mitigate the global hunger issue.
Hunger is a serious global problem, especially in poor countries that lack basic social security schemes. Hunger can have tremendous negative effects on the respective persons, which may eventually result in serious health conditions or even death.
Therefore, it is crucial that governments as well as we on an individual basis take suitable measures to fight hunger. By doing so, we could improve the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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