We are all familiar with the devastating pictures of starving children from Africa. This terrible epidemic has come into our living rooms for as long as I can remember. The commercials claim that just a few pennies a day is all it takes to make a difference in a starving child's life, yet the epidemic continues. The latest estimated figure is that approximately 800 million people worldwide are starving and living in extreme poverty. Although this number is down from past estimates, this is still a staggering figure. The issue of hunger and poverty is not going away and what is missing from these heart-grabbing commercials is that it spreads beyond the borders of underdeveloped countries. In fact, the majority of starving people in the world live in developed countries. While Asia, Laos, and North Korea stand as some the most undernourished in the world, this is an issue that affects all parts of the globe.
In developing countries, nearly one-third of all child deaths are linked to hunger due to poor nutrition and starvation. Poor nutrition is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five due to a lack of access to healthy food supplies. There are several factors that contribute to this devastating figure including rising unemployment, economic crises across the globe, the ever increasing costs of food, the rising cost of fuel (the major link in the rising cost of everything, most notably food), to name just a few. Another major factor that gets little attention is one that we hear about in consideration of other concerns – the ever growing issue of global warming. We are familiar with the environmental concerns related to this issue such as melting ice caps, the dying population of polar bears, greenhouse gas emissions, and yet there is little mention of how this is directly leading to hunger and poverty.
Rising temperatures across the planet is among the many causes in an increase in natural disasters. Floods, tropical storms, high heat, droughts, and fires are all on the rise and acutely damaging to crops. These disasters and their subsequent damage are a direct link to food shortages and the rising cost of food, making proper food and nutrition unobtainable in both underdeveloped and developing countries. In the last fifty years there has been a shift in the demographics of populations; where the majority of people once resided in rural areas, capable of growing their own food, the larger portion now lives in urban areas where families rely on purchasing food. Rising costs in conjunction with natural disasters has created an overwhelming issue of food insecurities for poverty stricken families unable to afford the cost of food.
Over-exploitation of the environment is another factor in the environmental link to hunger and poverty. Overcropping and overgrazing are crippling the earth's fertility, threating fertile ground with erosion, desertification, and salination. Food shortages are not only a result of environmental disasters, but man-made damage to the earth's delicate landscape. As industrialists and corporations seeking biofuels continue to purchase farmland from poor farmers, these already struggling farmers are pushed to other areas to re-plow and plant. Increased raising of the land leads to increased deforestation, which as it's well known, is a leading cause of global warming. The issue of corporations seeking biofuels is of particular concern; such corporations are solely concerned with crops that produce fuel alternatives rather than food supply which is a direct connection not only to the rising cost of food, but increasing gas prices – and as previously mentioned, affects the cost of everything.
As we sit down this holiday season and enjoy our meals and give thanks for all of the wonderful people in our lives, our loving friends and family, our warm beds, our full plates (which is very deserving of our thanks) let's take a moment and remember that there are 800 million people in the world who do not know where that next meal is coming from or when they will enjoy another meal. And while we ruminate over the many implications surrounding this devastating epidemic, let's also consider what we as a society can do to help overcome such desperate circumstances. Aid is the biggest call to action. Just as the commercials advertise, just pennies a day can make the difference in a child's life, and if millions of people with warm homes and full bellies offer whatever assistance they are capable of, this truly does add up to something substantial. As consumers, it is our responsibility to be informed of our our purchases and to be conscious of our needs over our luxuries. For such luxuries can surely be at the expense and exploitation of those already trapped by poverty. Corporations bear the greatest extent of responsibility since the ever-growing industries directly result in rising prices, overgrazing of land, and deforestation – all leading causes of hunger and poverty. If those of us within the general population band together with corporate CEOs and the leaders of the most industrial of nations to combat this issue, children will no longer go to bed hungry, and live long and happy lives.