The Extent of World Hunger
- 795 million people suffer from hunger, malnutrition and famine across the world.
- Of those, 60% are women.
- 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less.
The causes of world hunger include political, economic, and environmental factors.
War is a primary cause of hunger. Conflict destroys crops and takes labor and other resources out of food production. In addition, food may be used as a political weapon during times of conflict.
The latest example is the Syrian refugee crisis, which has rapidly developed into the largest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. More than 11 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes and many are now living in abject poverty.
The primacy many governments place on military spending is connected to hunger. Government money often goes to military purposes as opposed to agriculture, education, fishing and preservation of natural resources. Many countries make decisions based upon political considerations, often at the behest of more powerful nations. For instance, more than half of U.S. foreign assistance is “security aid” going to military and political allies.
Many developing countries face tremendous external debt that creates or exacerbates hunger crises. This debt is largely the result of international trade imbalances and mainly affects developing countries in Latin American, Africa, and Asia. Governments must often decide between feeding people and paying off external debt; pressure and threats from lenders often result in persistent hunger and poverty.
The disproportionate competition between small family farmers and powerful agribusinesses is an increasingly common cause of hunger and poverty. Many farmers in developing countries produce cash crops like coffee, cocoa, sugar and cotton for export in order to support their families. However, big agribusinesses are able to shut out any competition from small farmers by buying up the best land, cutting deals with other corporations and governments, and driving prices down so low that small farmers cannot make a living.
The influence of multinational corporations and other special interests is connected to poverty and hunger in many venues beyond military construction and agriculture. As a result of policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), multinational corporations have more leeway than ever to hire workers at low wages and pressure foreign governments for favorable treatment at the expense of the public. In addition, the influence of special interests over foreign aid from countries like the United States negatively affects poor communities; for example, a large amount of U.S. aid goes to fund large infrastructure projects that are often built by U.S. companies and whose profits benefit U.S. shareholders rather than local communities.
Land degradation and the deforestation of lands are a cause of hunger. As lands are clear-cut for cattle ranching or farms, they are left unprotected from wind and water erosion. In addition, economic pressures force many farmers to adopt farming practices which meet short-term needs but cause long-term damage to the environment. This results in unsustainable farming techniques that often ruin land for future use. Damaged land produces fewer or no crops and is more vulnerable to erosion in the event of drought, floods, or heavy winds.
We have the resources and knowledge to end world hunger. There is plenty of food produced across the world each day to feed every living person. However, the aforementioned factors lead to skewed access and distribution, leaving millions in desperate need.