This year, our planet will produce more than enough food to feed the world population. At the very same time, about 3.5 million children will die from hunger-related causes. How can this happen? What is wrong?
Hunger targets the most vulnerable: 98 per cent of the world's hungry live in developing countries. Women account for over 60% of the chronically hungry; often, hunger is passed from mother to child: each year, 17 million children are born underweight to a malnourished mother. Every 8 to 12 seconds, a child dies from hunger-related causes. In fact, hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
While we live in a world capable of feeding every person that lives on the planet (more than twice the minimum nutritional needs, by some measures), about a billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat and go to bed hungry.
The main reason for hunger is not shortage of basic food. Poverty is the principal cause of hunger, along with poor people's lack of resources, unequal income distribution and conflict.
This is why food assistance needs to be smarter than just handing out bags of rice or wheat. For the past five years, the European Commission's Department for Humanitarian Aid and Civil protection (ECHO) has launched innovative projects to fight hunger worldwide, giving cash or vouchers directly to the poorest. Although this approach is not suitable for every situation, it can be very effective if properly implemented, especially when the issue is access to food.
In the Turkana region, in Kenya, ECHO funds an Oxfam project that provides food assistance to the most vulnerable households while simultaneously stimulating local markets. Food vouchers have been distributed to 750 households to purchase dried Tilapia fish. Dried Tilapia fish have a high nutritional value but local fishermen used to sell their catch in faraway market towns. While the distribution of food vouchers benefits those who most need it, it also benefits to the whole community by stimulating local demand for local products.
In the Turkana region, the European Commission also funded a therapeutic feeding programme for malnourished children under five. UNICEF, with financial support from the ECHO, is strengthening the capacity of local hospitals to respond to acute malnutrition throughout Kenya.