NAM’s Modern Day Issues: Hunger and malnutrition

“The din of weapons, of threatening language, and of arrogance on the international scene must cease. Abandon the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick and the uneducated, but bombs cannot kill hunger, disease and illiteracy.”
– Fidel Castro

“The Vice President of Cuba, ended with this quote at the Non-Aligned Countries Summit in Havana, the summits main focus was world food security. Hunger and malnutrition plague the world, its 2015 and yet the millennium development goals are far from being achieved, according to the Food and Agricultural organization of the United Nation (FAO) approximately 870 million in developing countries suffer from chronic hunger, which means that their daily intake of calories is insufficient for them to live active and healthy lives.

Extreme poverty still remains an alarming problem in the Non-Aligned countries, despite the advances made in the millennium; poverty plagues these countries, especially East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Numbers show that a lack of food is not the issue; world agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. Studies show that world agriculture can produce enough to feed the world in the future without putting excessive pressure on prices or the environment. Despite these advances if there are almost a billion people going hungry every day, there is something going terribly wrong with the distribution of food. 156 million children under five in developing countries suffer from protein energy malnutrition. 90 percent of all anaemic pre-schoolers and expectant mothers live in developing countries. There are specific deficiencies due to malnutrition that are leading to a large number of deaths. Of 12 million deaths each year among children under the age of five in the non-Aligned countries and also the developing world a staggering 55 percent are associated with malnutrition.

Reports show that Vitamin A deficiency weakens the immune systems of a large proportion of children under the age of five in poor countries, increasing their vulnerability to disease. This deficiency increases the risk of dying from diarrhoea, measles and malaria by 20-24 percent. It affects 140 million preschool children in 118 countries and more than seven million pregnant women; it is also the leading cause of child blindness across developing countries. The most prevalent form of malnutrition worldwide though is Iron deficiency, affecting millions of people. Iron forms the molecules that carry oxygen in the blood, so symptoms of a deficiency include tiredness and lethargy. Lack of iron in large segments of the population severely damages a country’s productivity. Iron deficiency also impedes cognitive development, affecting 40-60 percent of children aged 6-24 months in developing countries.“

“According to UN research, around 20 million children are born mentally impaired because their mothers did not consume enough iodine. Iodine deficiency affects 780 million people worldwide. The clearest symptom is a swelling of the thyroid gland called goitre. Zinc deficiency contributes to growth failure and weakened immunity in young children. It is linked to a higher risk of diarrhoea and pneumonia, resulting in nearly 800,000 deaths per year. The Non-Aligned Countries Summit in Havana called for the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world and a just and equitable international order. This is the only way to an end to the food crisis. The summit brought about an interesting proposal; developed countries have more than enough resources to help the developing nations to tackle the issue of hunger. A few measures to tackle hunger were suggested in the summit. Like if the developed countries honoured their commitment to devote 0.7 % of the Gross Domestic Product to Official Development Aid, the countries of the South would have at least an additional 130 billion dollars a year. If only one fourth of the money squandered each year on commercial advertising were devoted to food production, nearly 250 billion dollars could be dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition. If the money devoted to agricultural subsidies in the North were directed to agricultural development in the South, our countries would have around a billion dollars a day to invest in food production.

What’s required is the political will of their governments. Food security must become a national priority, and women and girls have to be fully integrated into these strategies. From India to Brazil, China, Vietnam, Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda, El Salvador, each country should make food security a priority. The good news though is that the global number of hungry people declined by 132 million between 1990-92 and 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world’s population, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent in developing countries, putting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating hunger in the world, within reach if adequate, appropriate actions are taken.

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