Too many times a billion: Ending world hunger

[I originally posted this essay on an old blog on September 3, 2011 and re-posted it on October 16, 2012, for World Food Day. It is published here slightly edited.]

An estimated billion people worldwide live in hunger. At the same time world agriculture produces “enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day. The principle problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.

The causes of hunger:

  • Poverty (The principle cause of hunger): “The causes of poverty include poor people’s lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries, conflict, and hunger itself.”
  • Harmful economic systems: “Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.”
  • Conflict: “the last three years have witnessed a significant increase in refugee numbers, due primarily to the violence taking place in Iraq and Somalia.”
  • Hunger as a cause of poverty and thus itself (cyclical): “By causing poor health, low levels of energy, and even mental impairment, hunger can lead to even greater poverty by reducing people’s ability to work and learn, thus leading to even greater hunger.”
  • Climate change: “Increasing drought, flooding, and changing climatic patterns requiring a shift in crops and farming practices that may not be easily accomplished are three key issues.”

(Info from World Hunger Notes @

We tend to ask “So? What does that have to do with me?” To that, I say someone suffering has EVERYTHING to do with me. Or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I hope that you, too, feel that people starving and dying is an injustice. But let’s bring it home to the West – more specifically to the U.S. – to paint a picture we at home might see a little better.

The AARP asked people to estimate how many people go hungry in America, one of the richest countries in the world. People estimated a few hundred thousand, 3 million, or just said “many.” The answer is 51 million. 51 million people go hungry in America. Maybe you say “Well, that’s just around 16% of the population. That’s not too bad.” It’s not just anything if you’re among the hungry. If there is but ONE hungry person in America and you’re that one person, one is too many. Imagine how you feel when it’s been a while since you had a meal. Your body is telling you it needs nutrients, you need something to eat. Now imagine you have that feeling all day, every day, and you can do little to nothing about it. Maybe you don’t know where your next meal will come from, when it will come, or if it will come. If you can put yourself even near that frame of mind, you know there is no such thing as an acceptable level of hunger in any part of this country or the world.

(If you can’t put yourself near that frame of mind, try fasting. Many people in the world did that last month in observance of Ramadan. Sun up to sundown. That’s not the whole day, but you try it. Try it even for a week. Then imagine when the sun goes down you still don’t get to eat.)

We have the resources in this world to tackle a massive humanitarian crisis. Yet we don’t know, don’t care, or simply refuse to do anything. We need to address the causes: help people get out of poverty, fix our economic systems and imbalances of resources and income, end and prevent conflicts, feed people, and allow/encourage the scientific community (and all of us) to deal with climate change honestly and intelligently and work for solutions. We need to challenge our attitudes, improve how we interact with each other, evaluate our own use/misuse of resources, and call on each other to care and to act.

We have to end world hunger.