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Redoubling efforts

Grahame Lucas
October 14, 2014

In order to tackle the problem of undernourishment affecting two billion people globally, politicians must do more than just focus on national interests, says DW's Grahame Lucas.

Indien Kinderarmut Armut Ernährung
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

At first glance this year's Global Hunger Index report has some positive news. Hunger, it says, has fallen by 39 percent since 1990. 26 countries including Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia have been able to improve their situation since 1990 by moving out of the "alarming" category to the "serious" category. Other Asian countries like China, Thailand, Mongolia and Vietnam have already attained "moderate" status.

The report comes just weeks after the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that world food prices except those of meat have reached a four-year low. Cereal production has reached the highest levels in fifteen years off the back of a series of good harvests. But before we start praising governments and aid organizations around the world, a closer look at some of the report's other findings is needed.

Firstly, the report also contains some extremely bad but unsurprising news. There remains a close correlation between hunger and areas of ethnically and religiously motivated conflict and war. The ongoing fighting in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq, and the resultant mass movement of refugees is exacerbating an already critical situation in these countries.

The number of undernourished people in Iraq has doubled since 1990. Moreover, the experts have issued a terse warning that the present Ebola epidemic in West Africa will lead to a shortage of food in the countries affected in the coming months. Clearly the spread of the disease will have a far greater impact on these nations than we can at present imagine. Those affected need our solidarity now and in the coming months.

Deutsche Welle Grahame Lucas
DW's Grahame LucasImage: DW

The problems of hunger in crisis areas cannot be resolved easily. Aid organizations are often unable to reach the victims of civil war. Their staff face huge risks and, as the case of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has shown so tragically, brutal execution at the hands of Islamist terrorists if caught.

While these conflicts dominate our news broadcasts every day, we tend to lose sight of the terrible suffering endured by the innocent victims. This report is a clear signal that politicians need to redouble their efforts to end conflicts, if possible through peaceful means, rather than focusing on their narrow understanding of their national interests and refusing to do more than a minimum to help.

Secondly, the report also discusses at length a phenomenon that will come as a surprise to many people in developed countries around the world for whom malnutrition is not an issue and will probably never be one. This is what the report describes as "hidden hunger" or malnutrition which for the most part goes unnoticed.

It is caused by a series of factors which shape the lives of up to two billion people in developing and underdeveloped countries: bad diet, disease or the lack of special nutrients during childhood and pregnancy. Of this number, 805 million simply do not have enough calories to eat every day. Thus, for the millions affected, it is not just a question of having enough food; it is also a question of having the right kind of food.

Experts refer in this context to the challenges of undernourishment, dietary deficiencies and obesity. These problems are said to cause over a million of the 3.1 million child deaths caused by malnutrition every year. Moreover, some 18 million children are born every year with brain damage caused by iodine deficiency.

The report suggests how this problem could be resolved namely by dietary supplements. This will, however, require the cooperation of commercial food manufacturers or the use of biofortification to increase the amount of vitamins, iron, zinc and iodine in foods. International action is required to ensure that this happens.

The aid organizations involved in the compilation of the Global Hunger Index have called for greater international cooperation and solidarity to resolve these problems and to provide millions of people with the chance of a better life. They are right. They need the full support of those in the developed world whose closest encounter with a dietary plan will come when they try to lose weight.