When Hunger Strikes

from Muslim Aid
Published on 24 May 2012

There are many parts of the world suffering from malnutrition and hunger that adversely affect mental and physical growth of the affected individuals. Many a times, these effects are irreversible. Apart from being an unacceptable phenomenon morally, hunger also acts as an obstruction to the economic and social growth of the poorest nations. Recent food crises and economic downturns have further deteriorated the situation especially in areas like the Horn of Africa and Sahel.

Economists attribute the growing food insecurities to factors such as decline in food stocks, population growth, volatile prices of energy and food, recent climate changes and link between current financial markets and the future of agriculture. These factors have both short and long term consequences that can push certain economies deeper into poverty.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines poverty as a state which “encompasses different aspects of deprivation that relate to human capabilities including consumption and food security, health, education, rights, voice, security, dignity and decent work”. But poverty can’t be seen merely as an effect of hunger. Both phenomena are part of a bigger vicious circle. Poverty is one of the primary causes of hunger. It can be caused by malnutrition that affects the physical and mental capacities of people, lowering their economic productivity and outcome. Malnutrition is one of the results of extreme hunger. Thus, there runs a cycle of cause and effect that impacts the human capital as a whole.

The development and growth of the most vulnerable of communities will seem an unachievable target until issues of hunger and malnutrition are not catered to. In this context, development essentially means combating food insecurities in order to fight poverty. Most of the international NGOs and charities work towards the common goal of alleviating poverty and responding to food security issues forms an integral part of their action plan. Providing food assistance to the poor and vulnerable can be undertaken both as a short term as well as a long term response.

The short term responses cater mainly to countries which are currently facing a crisis or are in a post crisis situation. Such scenarios require immediate and effective mobilisation of resources for improving the nutrition levels of affected people, restoring their livelihoods, at least at the basic level, and re-establishing a zone of food security. Various tools are employed by international humanitarian agencies for ensuring these goals, including monitoring of nutrition levels, screening, treatment, restoring access to resources and services for livestock rearing and agriculture and providing supplies and cash vouchers for food to the affected populations. Muslim Aid, for instance, distributed over 80,650 food packets to the Tsunami affected regions of Sri Lanka to help restore food security.

As a long term response, the international community has realised the importance of agriculture for tackling food insecurity and thereby, poverty. Thus, humanitarian projects to revive and promote agriculture are essential in the current global situation. Also, concentration should be more on food production for local needs rather than export in the developing countries. Social transfer also provides direct support for the vulnerable communities by allowing a better management of unprecedented shocks through provision of regular contributions or services by NGOs or the government to individuals and households. Unlike acute interventions during emergencies, these transfers, via food, voucher or money distribution, can be scheduled enabling households to keep their livelihoods intact during difficult situations like flood or drought. This will ultimately accelerate the rehabilitation process if a crisis or disaster strikes.

Malnutrition or under-nutrition also needs to be addressed in order to break the vicious circle. Specific attention needs to be paid to women and young children who usually fall victims to malnutrition first. It is also vital for international NGOs, like Muslim Aid, to address the other aspects that cause malnutrition, such as access to drinking water, healthcare, hygiene, access to education and better livelihood opportunities etc. Therefore, the impetus falls on the international humanitarian institutions to devise plans and projects that cater to the problem of food insecurity and malnutrition for breaking the cycle that is affecting various international communities and taking a heavy toll on the individuals and the economy at large.

The copyright of this article is held by the Information and Public Affairs Department of Muslim Aid, UK. Use of its contents is allowed subject to acknowledgement. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent the point of view of Muslim Aid.

By: Marya Jabeen, Information & Public Affairs Assistant, Muslim Aid