In 2015, world leaders created a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The second of these is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030.
Even before COVID-19 struck us, the world was not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal for hunger, according to World Vision. But now that the pandemic is ongoing, an estimated additional 88 million to 115 million people will fall into extreme poverty with more people thrown to hunger.
The situation on the world hunger issue is indeed alarming, especially among nations severely hit by it such as regions like Africa and Asia, where the poorest of the poor dwell. It is more often that we thought of Africa being the epicenter of world hunger but Asia, having a huge population and being in the front row seat of political, economic, and social conflicts, faces equally terrifying perils in terms of hunger and starvation issues.
Myanmar in three dimensions
War comes together with famine, and in countries such as Myanmar that is currently under a military coup, these two have been more aggravated by a disease plaguing the world today.
Myanmar, one of the least developed countries in the world, has an estimated 13.6 million or 38 percent of the population living near or below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program (WFP), around 298,700 people don’t have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food and are in need of food assistance and it is the sectors of women, children, people with disabilities, and minorities who are the most vulnerable from hunger.
Nearly 70 percent of its population resides in rural, even far-flung, areas which means there are more areas far from progress. Because of poverty and lesser access to basic services, 16 percent of women who are in reproductive age are considered undernourished. Hence, leading to an equally undernourished pregnancy and birth. In fact, 4.5 percent of children die due to hunger and malnutrition even before they turn the age of five, while 8 percent of the children in Myanmar are experiencing wasting.
In terms of the food product situation in Myanmar, pre-COVID years, although food cost has increased by 1.2%, production remains enough with agriculture, forestry, and fishing as their main drivers of economy.
However, things drastically changed when the pandemic reached the country in the beginning of 2020 until now, with 70 percent of their population having stopped working due to mobility restrictions and economic losses. With this number, a quarter of their population was forced to take out loans for food, medicine, and basic necessities. Also, an additional 2.8 million people were considered food insecure, or those without reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable and nutritious food. Meanwhile, it has been projected that there will be an additional 6.7 million children under five years of age expected to be vulnerable to wasting, globally, adding even more to those who already are suffering in Myanmar.
What’s even worse are reports of people left with no choice but to eat rats and snakes to feed their family’s hunger in the midst of the lockdown. A lot of people sitting in privileges would already complain of having to eat sardines and other canned goods, but this is even more heartbreaking, that because of poverty, not enough cash aids granted by their government and with prices of commodities continuously rising, they are forced to eat just whatever they think could suffice their empty stomachs.
Despite these desperate situations faced by Myanmar locals, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank optimistically predicted that Myanmar would bounce back strongly from the economic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with 6 percent growth in 2021. Not until the military coup started on February 1 of 2021. As Myanmar fights for its democracy, another battle is to be won over since food scarcity will multiply in the next six months, leaving 3.4 million people in hunger, according to the UN's World Food Program (WFP).
Two months after the onset of the military takeover, hundreds were already killed including the innocent lives of over 40 children and life has become even more difficult and poor especially now in urban areas mostly affected by unrest, protests and violence and wild price hike in common goods.
But why does the world experience hunger, anyway?
Several non-government organizations (NGOs), Myanmar-based and international, throughout the years have led in assisting the poor and vulnerable in combating hunger, providing these people with food, financial aid, and services that support their health and well-being. But the goal to achieve zero hunger by 2030 is still a blur. Why is this happening? Is it because there are just really an uncontrollable number of people and we have limited resources or maybe we are just targeting the wrong problem? Let us look at these social issues that become roots of the world hunger problem:
Poverty and hunger go hand-in-hand. Families living in underdeveloped communities with no work or means to sustain living, cannot afford nutritious food. When these people can’t eat enough food, then their bodies will become weak making it hard for them to work properly to earn for a living. And the cycle goes on.
2. Food shortage
There are certain seasons in farming, fishing, and even forestry when harvests are just not enough to even feed the farmer’s families. The most affected people are those who are also poor, who only depend on the harvest while those who are more privileged can just have their processed foods prepared during these times. This would also include the shortage of nutritious food. Anything can be food, but the question is, are the available resources nutritious enough for people’s consumption?
3. War/ Conflict
Wars cause displacement of people and disruption of economic activities. Businesses, with the aim to recuperate and still make the best out of the situation tend to increase prices of basic commodities, leaving food unaffordable for many food-insecure. Also, sometimes hunger becomes the weapon of attackers to target the vulnerable to eventually surrender or flee, just like in the case of Rohingya in Myanmar.
4. Climate change
Climate change, aside from polars melting, also means fields and crops drying out and more natural disasters to hit the community. When these patterns of unpredicted circumstances come in the way, it is the poorest regions affected and will push more people into poverty.
5. Poor Public Policy
Without a systematic approach, world hunger can not be resolved by just individuals alone. Issues such as agricultural sufficiency, economic resilience, equal opportunities for people, and the like should be backed by policies and laws to make sure that nothing is being left behind and those who dissent will pay. In the case of hunger, when poor infrastructure, low investment in agriculture and other natural resources, corruption, will continue, projects and programs intended to provide food will be unachievable.
6. Food waste
Businesses dealing with food will always produce and manufacture food but since not everyone can afford them, billions of tons of food are not consumed and wasted. Imagine the amount of money and natural resources used to produce these foods, when it could have been fed to millions in the globe who are hungry and undernourished. Moreso, producing this amount of waste contributes more to the greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere.
7. Gender inequality
You might be wondering why gender is being talked about here. Hunger does not see gender. It strikes both men and women, children and the old people. But it is important to take note that if only women are given equal access to food resources and given equal representation in policy discussions about hunger, then the world will know a different perspective coming from the women’s sector. Women are also in the frontlines of providing food to feed their families. One simple way we can do to solve this problem is to recognize the efforts of everyone, regardless of gender and social status.
Now, what can you do?
Hunger is not just about because people have no money and ability to purchase food. But it is also about the question “why?”. Why do people have no access to food supplies? Why are poor people deprived of basic opportunities? The root of the hunger problem lies not only in the lack of resources of a person but the lack of opportunities that the system provides for the people. With this being said, and with all the alarming data presented above, we know that hunger is a multisectoral issue and will always be a cycle leading to other problems in health, economy, and the like. If we will not stop this cycle, it will only haunt us until the world’s doom.
The world’s problem of hunger, big as it may seem, can be solved gradually through small steps of not wasting food, donating to charities and humanitarian organizations that provide food for the hungry, eventually speak out and engage in developing policies that target agricultural and environmental sustainability, among others.
The year 2030 is just nine years away. We need to double our effort in achieving the goal of a zero-hunger world. Let us feed the world and hope that the next generations will no longer have to deal with hunger.
For further reading on the actions you can do to solve world hunger, you may refer to these links: