World Hunger Is Not Insurmountable

Photo by US Army Africa

Here are some sobering statistics about world hunger and food insecurity:

  • — Hunger kills more people than HIV, malaria, and TB combined. It’s the world’s #1 health risk.
  • — 870 million people do not have enough to eat.
  • — Women make up a little over half the world’s population, but they account for over 60 percent of the world’s hungry.
  • — More than 70 percent of the world’s underweight children (aged five or less) live in just 10 countries, with more than 50 percent located in South Asia alone.

Closer to home we have “food insecurity,” a term still unfamiliar to many because we still tend to think all hunger looks like a news clip from the other side of the planet:

  • — In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecurity, of which fully 16.7 million were children.
  • — 14.9 percent of households were food insecure.
  • — Food insecurity exists in every county in America.

What We Don’t Know

Now here are two things Rene McGuffin of the World Food Programme says that you probably don’t hear enough:

“Hunger is the greatest solvable problem.”

– and –

“There IS enough.”

Neither statement feels true if you watch the news or look at the statistics I started off with. But I can believe that there is enough, that it just doesn’t get to the people who need it–a result of politics, economics, and the challenges of the last mile. This is not new. And I’m willing to hope that I can do something. Because just as old as the challenge is the private citizen’s desire to do something.

We Want To Do Good.

There’s a reason why Live Aid and We Are The World went so big before the Internet. It wasn’t just the star power–which might have been more limited than you might think. It’s the fact that we’re social creatures, and from time immemorial we find strength in numbers. That we respond when we realize we have momentum. We like being a part of something huge, something bigger than us, especially if we think something good might come of it. Even more so if it’s an issue up against big odds that we can’t fathom taking on alone.

We Can Do Good On Our Own.

Fast forward several decades. The Internet and social media means we aren’t bound by star power anymore. Our participation isn’t passive anymore unless by choice, and we are no longer witness only to what McGuffin calls the “emergencies that get the CNN effect.” It means we know that hunger knows no borders, it doesn’t look like we think it does, it doesn’t have to be far away, and it isn’t limited to wrenching disasters.

Little Actions, Big Changes.

McGuffin points out what we know, but can lose sight of in the face of all those scary numbers: little actions do add up. Star power is never wasted, but we are no longer bound and determined by the face of a campaign. We can be (and are) the campaigns if we so choose.

A good example is World Hunger Relief‘s Hunger to Hope Campaign (Yum! Brands), the world’s largest private sector hunger relief effort, where consumers have given in pennies and dollars online, or at point of purchase. Through 38,000 restaurants in more than 120 countries, the effort has raised an impressive $115 million, which has helped the WFP and hunger relief organizations feed millions of hungry stomachs.

The Revolution Will Be Personalized And App-ified.

Even more attractive, and more immediately gratifying, is the seamless integration of advocacy in our lives. I got to watch We Are The World after much lobbying and ensuring that grandpa’s tennis watching wasn’t interrupted. It was appointment TV and other things had to be moved around it. We don’t have to negotiate so much to make our advocacy happen. As McGuffin points out, it’s largely individuals who drive dollars towards hunger relief through online games like Free Rice, a vocabulary game where the right answer drives donations and has fed over five million. And several versions of the web later, there is the power of the app Charity Miles helps you log your workout miles and earn money for your charity.

Basically, you are now empowered to fund the alleviation of one of the oldest, most longstanding social inequalities in human history through the daily course of your day. And with very little effort.

You don’t have to be extraordinarily connected or moneyed or powerful. You simply have to do the things you were already going to do. Take a walk, do your groceries, play a game. As a bonus, your kid’s vocabulary and the family’s health improve. What’s not to like?

7 thoughts on “World Hunger Is Not Insurmountable”

  1. There is indeed enough to go around, but this won’t solve the crisis; this will actually deepen it, by making people feel they are “doing their part,” even as they continue to help prop up a system that’s destroying the planet – a system that survives on ecological degradation, labor exploitation, over-production, and the extraction of profit at all cost. The intentions behind this may be good, but in practice this is the worst, most diabolical form of “charity”: one that is designed to encourage people to feel good about their reduction to the status of consumers, within a catastrophic system of production from which they have been marginalized.

  2. Hi N8 and ST, Thanks very much for your comment. It’s always great to get feedback, even if it isn’t kudos. We do indeed have big problems with world hunger, and we do what we can. But new ideas on how to solve the crisis without deepening it, as you say, are always welcome. – Sohini.

    1. Hi Sohini, Respectfully, I’m not sure you’re open to the kinds of suggestions that need to be made, because it would require confronting the fact that we must find a way to put a stop to capitalism, which is inherently destructive, exploitative, and expansionist. The snowballing crises of hunger and environmental degradation are not ncaused by a lack of “solutions” to technical or distributive problems, nbut by the dominance of a system of production that is chaotic and ncrisis-prone. Unfortunately, that means that solving the problems it creates will require political action outside of the rigged electoral systems in many countries, including the U.S., that are constructed to ensure the continued dominance of wealthy private interests over the strategic productive assets. And that’s a scary possibility to face. You might read David Harvey, John Bellamy Foster or Joel Kovel, for starters, if you’re prepared to think outside the box of “problems and solutions” that don’t require a confrontation with power. Quinn’s novel (Ishmael, suggested by Devon) is thought-provoking and a good read, but doesn’t really speak to the sort of organised, collective political action that I think is required.

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