Tackling Hunger in a World Full of Food: Tasks Ahead for Food Aid (WFP)
1. Food security: sustaining people
Times of plenty do not rule out hunger
Humanitarian crises and acute hunger
Hunger within the household
The chronically poor and hungry
The geography of hunger
The geography of hunger
Hunger is a global problem
Nowhere is immune to hunger if conditions lend themselves to massive failures in
nutrition and health. Recent tragedies in eastern Europe and former Soviet
republics have underlined this fact. That said, hunger affects certain people in
certain places more than others. For example, acute hunger that can lead to
famine tends not to be found in cities (unless they are placed under seige or
devastated by conflict), or in regions of high agricultural output. Widespread,
acute hunger has not been prevalent in temperate climates in the absence of war
or discriminatory policies for 150 years. It tends not to be found where
transaction costs for food marketing are low.
1.18 By contrast, the
kinds of hunger that need to be addressed by targeted food aid are widely found
in regions where economic returns to agriculture tend to be low, and in which
there are high transactions costs due to deficient infrastructure and
inefficient markets. This combination of risks is characteristic of the poorest
countries of the world, particularly low-income, food-deficit countries located
in the semi-arid, warm sub-humid and cool tropics (Sharma et al. 1995; Rosegrant
et al. 1995). Additional nutrition problems are to be found among impoverished
households in urban slums worldwide. The latter are often attributable to
insanitary living conditions and certain micronutrient deficiencies that may not
be best tackled through food assistance.
1.19 Currently, the largest
number of people facing food deficiencies are in Asia (Figure 1). The number of
people not eating a minimum diet in southern and eastern Asia is estimated to be
over 500 million, equivalent to 18 percent of the population of the region
(ACC/SCN 1993; FAO 1995b).
1.20 In South Asia, more than two-thirds of
the hungry are to be found in the driest agro-ecological zones of warm tropics
(Broca and Oram 1991). Their diet is dominated by coarse grains such as millet
and sorghum (with other cereals and cassava acting as important complements).
While rice and wheat were the star performers of the Green Revolution, the
driest areas of the sub-region benefited relatively less from such technologies
than did the moister tropics and sub-tropics.
1.21 Hunger and poverty
increased in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean in the structural
adjustments of the 1980s. The number of chronically undernourished is estimated
to have grown from 46 million in 1980 to over 60 million in the early 1990s;
this amounts to 14 percent of the population (FAO 1995b). Considerable
improvements are anticipated in malnutrition rates in these two regions during
coming decades, as they are relatively less poor than sub-Saharan Africa and
generally enjoy better market and institutional infrastructures.
Sub-Saharan Africa shows the most cause for concern, characterized as it is by a
decline in domestic per capita production, high fertility rates, natural
disasters and the growing problem of emergencies displacing huge numbers of
people. Over 200 million (more than 40 percent) of the continent's population is
chronically malnourished (FAO 1995b). Roughly 50 percent of Africa's poor
inhabit semi-arid regions and therefore depend on low and variable rainfall for
food production (Broca and Oram 1991). As a result, local diets are dominated by
low-yielding coarse grains (traditional maize, millet and sorghum) and roots and
tubers that have so far shown limited potential for productivity increases.