The world’s malnourished population has declined in the last few years, according to a recent United Nations report, but much work remains to be done to strengthen food security globally.
According to the report, compiled by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the proportion of the malnourished fell by nearly two percentage points in the last four years. The report also stated that living conditions have also improved in some parts of Asia and Africa — home to seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world.
While the new figures bring the FAO a bit closer to meeting its 2015 goal of cutting global hunger in half, the agency acknowledged that poor infrastructures and abnormally high rates of poverty in parts of world may stunt efforts to increase access to food to those who need it most.
“Access to food has improved fast and significantly in countries that have experienced rapid overall economic progress, notably in eastern and south-eastern Asia,” the report said. “Access is still a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, where income growth has been sluggish, poverty rates have remained high and rural infrastructure remains limited.”
Key causes of hunger, according the FAO’s sister organization the World Food Programme (WFP), include poverty, lack of investment in agriculture, natural disasters, war and displacement, unstable markets, and food waste.
A combination of these factors creates food insecurity, defined as the condition of not having food readily available. United Nations officials coined the term in 1974 at the World Food Conference in the midst of an ongoing famine in Bangladesh. That year, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared that within 10 years of the gathering, no child would go hungry.
That goal never came to fruition, unfortunately. Hunger still persists in pockets of the world today, even with more than enough food available to feed 7 billion people. Food insecurity continues to ravish entire communities. According to data collected by WFP, malnourished women often give birth to smaller babies and die earlier than their healthier counterparts. Levels of infant mortality increase in places with low food security. Msalnourished children also don’t stand a chance against chronic diarrhea that dehydrates the body.
Even the United States — a country that has stood on the forefront on the global movement against hunger — grapples with issues of food insecurity and malnutrition. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 14 percent of American households, many of which are located within minority urban enclaves and rural areas, experienced stints of food insecurity in 2013.
Previous research suggests that even though food security and poverty aren’t necessarily one in the same, a connection exists between hunger and a host of factors — including unemployment, low household assets, and location with inadequate access to food.
According to a 2013 report, states with the highest rates of food insecurity — including Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina, and Missouri — line the southern poverty belt, a region whose residents suffer from chronic diseases at disproportionate rates. Even with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a spending gap of 30 percentage points still exists between secure and insecure households.
In the years following the 2008 recession, the face of the hungry has changed to include members of America’s college-educated, middle class. A report released in August showed that one in seven people — nearly 47 Americans — now depend on local aid programs for food. That group includes the working poor, recent college graduates and military families.
Maura Daly, a spokeswoman for Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity and sponsor of the aforementioned study, provided insight into the reality that hungry families often face during an interview with National Geographic last month.
“The people we are serving are forced to make very difficult choices on a daily basis between food and other basic needs, like keeping a roof over their head, turning the lights on, getting to and from work or their kids to school,” Daly said. “These are choices nobody in the wealthiest nation in the world should have to be making.”