Debt crisis means more people go without food - in rich states, too | Globalization | DW | 27.10.2011

Visit the new DW website

Take a look at the beta version of We're not done yet! Your opinion can help us make it better.

  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


Debt crisis means more people go without food - in rich states, too

When we think of people going without food, we often think of the developing world, but hunger is also a problem in rich and developed nations.

A beggar on the streets of Essen, Germany

The EU is not alone in wanting to make hunger a thing of the past

In the relatively affluent European Union states, hunger is only a limited problem. However, there are people in Europe who lack adequate nutrition. This applies above all to those don't have a home and are forced to live on the streets. They may be small in number, compared to the 500 million people who live in the EU, but estimates suggest there are between 100,000 and 1 million homeless people in Europe. As recently as September, the European Parliament issued a renewed plea to get rid of homelessness in Europe by the year 2015.

Poverty and neglect are more widespread that many people think. Though they don't directly lead to hunger, they do contribute to social exclusion and poor education. According to the European Commission, 20 percent of children in the EU are threatened by poverty. In Germany, that figure lies at around 16 percent.

In the eastern German city of Schwerin, for example, some of these children go to school on an empty stomach. Peter Grosch is a volunteer who looks after such children in a soup kitchen.

Lunch served at a soup kitchen

In Schwerin, lunch for some kids is provided by a soup kitchen

"Some children really do go hungry," Grosch explained in an interview with German public broadcaster ARD. "When I think of one school principal for example, he told us that his children were coming to school in the morning without breakfast and that they had to stay in school until 4 p.m. without any food." It wasn't clear whether there would be something to eat when they arrived home, he added. Grosch called it a scandal that soup kitchens had to step in and care for such children in a rich country like Germany.

Roma at the sharp end of poverty

People are considered poor in the European Union if they earn less than 60 percent of the average income. That definition differs from the concept of poverty in developing countries. One of the larger minority groups that is most affected by poverty is the Roma. In eastern Europe they often live in run-down, ghetto-style settlements.

Europe's social affairs commissioner, Laszlo Andor, said candidly earlier this year: "Millions of Roma are suffering from economic and social exclusion, discrimination and racism."

Janos Gizella is a Roma man living in Hungary with his wife and two children. They have 200 euros to get by on each month. He has little chance of finding a regular job. "The situation is chaotic," Gizella said. "I think there's no way out. It's hopeless."

Roma in Romania

Roma families face severe poverty and social exclusion

In Slovakia, people even resorted to raiding supermarkets in 2004. Hungry Roma families said they had no other way of getting food.

Laszlo Andor has often said he wants to make real improvements to the situation for the Roma and other poor communities in the EU.

However, at the moment the situation looks rather somber.

"The number of people living in poverty has not fallen in the last few years. On the contrary, it's gone up," Andor warned. "Against the backdrop of the financial crisis, some 80 million people in the EU are in danger of remaining poor, or becoming poor."

The EU has promised that by the year 2020, 20 million of those who are currently threatened by poverty should be able to look after themselves.

The poverty trap

Key to improving the situation is tackling poverty. At the moment around 23 million people in the EU are unemployed, roughly seven million more than before the economic crisis. In 20 of the 27 EU countries the risk of poverty for children without working parents is particularly high. Poverty is rampant not only in the new member states, but also in rich industrialized states like Italy.

Dozens of homeless youths sleep rough at the main train station in Rome. Fabrizio works there as a social worker. For him, it's crucial that the young people find work, so they can afford to pay rent on a flat. He says no one has to go hungry.

"When you take away people's work and their home, then they not only lose a roof over their heads, but also any kind of protection. They lose everything," Fabrizio said in a report by the European Commission.

Financial crisis adds to the problem

For Commissioner Andor it's clear that within the EU there is a poverty trap. The further north or west you go in Europe, the better the situation for the poorer populations. The poorest areas in the EU are in eastern Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, along with parts of Slovakia.

"In some member states those in need have no access to help or they don't take their requirements seriously. Others are dependent on benefits, which make it possible for them to escape from poverty," Andor explained.

Laszlo Andor, EU Commissioner

Laszlo Andor has pledged to tackle poverty and social exclusion

The economic crisis is forcing many states to reduce their benefits systems. That will directly affect the poor and destitute, the commissioner fears. Some surplus food produced by European farmers was distributed by the EU to those in need via soup kitchens. However, recently the program was cut drastically, because the food donations were deemed to be illegal state subsidies.

Beyond Europe

Hunger and poverty are on the increase not only in Europe, but also in the United States. According to the organization "Feeding America," which operates 200 soup kitchens in 50 states, 37 million Americans don't have the means to feed themselves adequately and therefore rely on state support or charitable organizations. Since 2005, the number of people who get support from Feeding America, has almost doubled. Around a third of those in need in Chicago have to endure "temporary hunger" before they can get help, according to Feeding America.

Author: Bernd Riegert / ji
Editor: Nancy Isenson

DW recommends