1. Hunger disproportionately affects children
Children are the most affected by hunger because their young and developing bodies are more vulnerable to illnesses like diarrhoea and measles. During a crisis, children are also susceptible because they may not be getting the nutrients they need from their food – for example, because of difficulties with breastfeeding, or because they are not being fed foods that are appropriate for their age group. Pregnant women, the elderly, and those living with disabilities are all at greater risk.
Malnutrition stunts more than just physical wellbeing. A malnourished child’s learning capacity and normal growth is also compromised, leaving them unable to participate in everyday activities for their development. However, with proper treatment, children can begin to recover from malnutrition and start reclaiming their childhood.
Watch Angar’s story to see the transformation that is possible.
2. Conflict and hunger go hand-in-hand
More than half of the 10 countries facing the most severe food crises in the world are affected by or recovering from conflict. Conflict disrupts food production and supply chains, forces families from their agricultural land, and contributes to unattainably high food prices. Nearly 80 percent of all stunted children in the world live in countries affected by conflict.
Medair works in six of the 10 countries most affected by food insecurity. All six are affected by or recovering from conflict.
Source: FSIN, GRFC 2020, Oxfam 2020
3. The problem is about more than a lack of food
Unsafe drinking water is an often-overlooked accelerator of hunger.
Contaminated drinking water and limited sanitation infrastructure such as handwashing stations or quality latrines contribute to rapid spread of diarrhoea and related illnesses. With illnesses like these, the body struggles to absorb nutrients. If left untreated, the result can be severe malnutrition.
A lack of or inability to access quality healthcare also contributes to severe malnutrition. Without health services to address treatable illnesses such as pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea when they arise—particularly in children—vulnerable people can become severely malnourished.
Another less commonly known contributor to malnutrition is a diet that lacks diversity or variety, often because few other foods are available to eat. A diet consisting of mostly potatoes or bread, for example—as is sometimes the case in remote places in Afghanistan—can also lead to malnutrition if not addressed. That’s because the person is not receiving all the various nutrients needed to maintain a healthy body.
4.The COVID-19 pandemic is only making things worse
The trickle-down economic effects from the pandemic have resulted in millions of vulnerable people sliding back into poverty, after decades of progress.
The situation is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Lockdowns severely restricted the ability of many who rely on daily labour to earn a living, while the job losses of those living overseas reduced remittances being sent to families back home. Disruptions to open-air markets and supply chains have contributed to food insecurity in some communities and have increased the price of food at a time when families have less to spend.
The effect of the pandemic on hunger cannot be understated. The World Food Programme estimates that the number of people who are at risk of starvation has doubled within this one year, for a total of 270 million.
5. A solution is possible
It is impossible for us as a single organisation to put an end to all the factors that contribute to hunger. We can, however, act to first treat, then prevent malnutrition by addressing the causes that fuel hunger. We’ve been doing so for more than 30 years. We focus on the hardest-to-reach places where the most vulnerable people are often forgotten.
In our programmes, that means we:
Treat severely malnourished women and children in our clinics worldwide, and form ‘Care Groups’ in vulnerable communities that teach parents healthy feeding practices for kids and encourage them to bring their children to the clinic at first sign of illness.
Bring safe drinking water to communities, install handwashing stations, and carry out hygiene trainings to help prevent the spread of diseases, which can contribute to malnutrition.
Improve food security
Teach and equip communities in places like Afghanistan to grow their own vegetables to ensure their children have the nutrients they need to grow up to be strong and healthy.
Perhaps now more than ever, we are all acutely aware of just how interconnected we are in this world. It’s sobering, but it’s also encouraging—because it means each action matters and as result, we can all make a difference right where we are with what we have.