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Causes of World Hunger

Updated July 12, 2022
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Causes of World Hunger essay

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Everyone feels hungry on a daily basis. Most people are able to satisfy this craving and need. Even if not immediately, they can count on having a meal or snack within hours. This is not the type of hunger I am concerned with in this case study. The type of hunger I will be talking about is a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat and aggregated to the world level. Around the world, approximately 17 people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every minute. By the time you finish reading this case study the number will be risen to at least 100. After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise again, affecting 815 million people in 2017, or 11 per cent of the global population. The increase – 38 million more people than the previous year – is largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks.

The world produces enough food to feed the 7 billion people living today, and even the estimated 9-10 billion population in 2050. Global agriculture produces 17% more calories per person today than 30 years ago, despite a 70% increase in population. Then why does the hunger exist? Unfortunately, there are many reasons for the presence of hunger in the world and they are often interconnected. Sometimes we wrongly assume that major food crises are only due to climate change. However, the problem is more complex than that. Usually, disaster on this scale is “man-made”. Conflicts, poverty trap, governments’ poor management of resources, corruption, special interests and poor food and agricultural policies, they all aggravate the problem. The goal of this case study is to explain why does the world hunger occur and what is the responsibility of government in tackling the problem. Recognizing the persistence and protracted nature of food crises, the paper also questions how prevention and response mechanisms could be improved to help decision-makers better address the underlying causes of vulnerability and hunger.

Causes of Hunger

Natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms and long periods of drought are on the increase – with calamitous consequences for the hungry people in developing countries. Drought is already one of the most common causes of food shortages in the world. In 2011, persistent lack of rain caused crop failures and heavy livestock losses in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. In 2012 there was a similar situation in the Sahel region of West Africa. In many countries, climate change is exacerbating already tough conditions. The world’s fertile farmland is under threat from erosion, the process by which fertile land destructs gradually, as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture. Meanwhile, deforestation, the action of clearing a wide area of trees by human hands accelerates the erosion of land which could be used for growing food. With the vast majority of the world’s hungry exposed to climate shocks, eradicating hunger requires bold efforts to improve people’s ability to prepare, respond and recover. Failing this, it has been estimated that the risk of hunger and malnutrition could increase by up to 20 percent by 2050.

People living in fragile state, meaning in a low-income country characterized by weak state capacity and/or weak state legitimacy are more vulnerable to a range of shocks. They cannot afford nutritious food and this makes them both physically and mentally weaker, less productive and hence less able to earn money that would help them escape poverty and hunger. As figure 1 illustrates, according to the World Fragile State Index, the most fragile states are South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and Central African Republic. At the same time, they are the states most affected by hunger and food insecurities. Farmers in these countries cannot afford basic seeds, so they cannot plant crops that would otherwise generate wealth and provide for their families. They also don’t have access to tools and fertilizers. Others have no land, water or education. In short, the poor are hungry and this hunger traps them in poverty.

The international community cannot afford to ignore the challenges in fragile states. Conflicts spill over national borders and threaten regional security, with ramifications for the security of nations around the world, as we’ve seen repeatedly since the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Violence in Syria and Central America drive refugees and undocumented immigrants into Europe and the United States. Fragile states are a breeding ground for terrorism and hence it is the responsibility of the international sector to act immediately.

Conflict is another important factor leading to hunger and in some extreme cases even to famine. Famine is an extreme scarcity in the country and it can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.

The proportion of undernourished people living in countries in conflict is almost three times higher than that in other developing countries. 93% of people living in extreme poverty and hunger come from the politically fragile or environmentally vulnerable country. Armed conflicts undermine the food and nutrition security in many respects. Flight displacements and destroyed roads result in regular loss of the entire possessions for farmers. Seeds, fertilizers and fuel are no longer available or they are limited and extremely expensive. Moreover, trade suffers due to limited security which affects the country’s economy and further intensifies the problem.

State Sponsored Starvation: the case study of Ireland, Ukrainian SSR and China

In order to understand the role of government in solving the problem of hunger, we must also realize its responsibility in creating the problem. History shows that the state sponsored starvation is one of the most important causes of world hunger. Misguided or deliberate public policy, repressive political system and natural or human caused disasters result in reduced food availability. Adam Smith was right that ‘bad seasons’ cause ‘dearth,’ but ‘the violence of well-intentioned governments’ can convert ‘dearth into famine.’ Three important case studies of Ireland, Ukrainian SSR and China demonstrate the devastating consequences of some government policies.

To start with, the Irish potato famine of 1845-48 happened as a result of British parliament’s slow reaction to the national hunger. By the early 1840s almost half the Irish population, but primarily the rural poor, had come to depend almost exclusively on the potato for their diet. The rest of the population also consumed it in large quantities. And when potato crop failed in successive years, many Irish families were left without food and the number of undernourished people increased excessively. Government disregarded the fact and continued to export corn and livestock despite the widespread starvation of citizens. British policies exacerbated the problem since it made landlords responsible for supporting peasantry. And because the peasantry was unable to pay its rents, the landlords soon ran out of funds with which to support them, and the result was that hundreds of thousands of Irish tenant farmers and laborers were evicted during the years of the crisis. The relief programs on the other hand were short lived or ineffective as well as politically unpopular. The British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel authorized the import of corn from the United States, which helped avert some starvation. However, when in June 1847 the liberal cabinet of Lord John Russel assumed power, they shifted the policy to the emphasis of relief efforts to a reliance on Irish resources.

This resulted in the deaths of 1.1-1.5 million Irish and in drastically higher emigration rates.

Ukrainian SSR famine of 1931-1933 also known as the Holodomor on the other hand is a consequence of Stalin’s repressive political system and poor socioeconomic policies. Unsuccessful reforms like industrial expansion, collectivization-combining villages into large collective farms, redistribution of crop land from grain to sugar beets and cotton and the procurement policy, requiring provision of large amount of harvest to government led to massive famine in Ukraine. Another important factor was the Great Purge, also known as the Great Terror, a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union.Already starving population had to face another problem of decreased working force and production decreased even more. Some historians believe that the Holodomor was purposefully intended to happen and was organized by the USSR. The Ukrainian nation – the second most populous in the USSR – had a great cultural and historical heritage, its own traditions of state building and national liberation struggle. It therefore posed a serious threat to the imperial intentions of the USSR’s leaders who wished to merge by any means all of the nations and nationalities of the USSR into a single “Soviet people”. It was for these reasons, historians argue that Stalin’s totalitarian regime consciously resorted to the physical elimination of the Ukrainian nation by exhausting its material and spiritual resources and exterminating the peasantry as its natural social base. All these resulted in severe malnutrition in Ukrainian SSR, estimated population loss of 6-7 million and reports of cannibalism.

The Great Chinese Famine in mid-20th century is another example of a state sponsored starvation that killed 16.5 to 45 million individuals, more than any other famine. Frank Dikötter describes China’s starving millions as the “unintended consequences of half-baked and poorly executed economic programs”. The British historian John K. Fairbank describes the heavy loss of life as “a Mao-made catastrophe… an all time, first class, man-made famine”. Many agree that even though natural disasters played a role in causing the great Chinese famine, Mao Zedong and his policies worsened the situation. Farmers were forbidden to use chemical fertilizers and large amounts of land were left fallow, with poor results. Moreover, from 1953, according to the procurement policy, all Chinese farmers were required to sell grain to the government, at prices and levels decided by the government. Some of this grain was redistributed back to the farmers. Most, however, was either sent to the cities, was sold as export grain or distributed as foreign aid, to create the illusion of a booming Chinese economy. With the state commandeering such high levels of grain, communes were left with insufficient food grain of their own.

The following table shows that while grain production fell between 1959 and 1961, grain procurement remained disproportionately high. In the first two years of the famine grain output plummeted by 15 per cent and 29 per cent – yet the government still carted away more than one third of grain produced.

Causes of World Hunger essay

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Causes of World Hunger. (2022, Jun 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/causes-of-world-hunger/

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