It is hard for me to imagine hunger. Sure, I say the words all of the time, but I have never actually been hungry and certainly not starving. My children have never known the true meaning of these words either. This morning, they filled their stomachs with fruit, toast, and hot chocolate while I packed their sandwiches (with the crusts cut off) and snacks for school.
It is easy for me to think that most families live this way. That most children have an abundance of food to eat each day. That maybe some poor children go hungry in other countries and other worlds far removed from my own, but that most children have enough food to eat.
But this is not the case. In fact, a new report has found that many of the world's children are going hungry each day. That one out of every four children is not getting enough nutrients to grow properly. And that 300 children die from malnutrition every hour. Every hour??!! I'm not just talking about skipping breakfast. These children are so hungry that it is affecting their growth and development. And for some, it is literally killing them.
According to the report, A Life Free From Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition, which was sponsored by the charity Save The Children, there are 170 million children under age 5 whose development has been stunted by malnutrition. And the situation is getting significantly worse. If things continue, almost half a billion children could be physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years.
Why has the hunger problem become so serious? The rising price of food around the world combined with extreme weather conditions, and the diversion of fields from farmland to biofuels production have all combined to make food more scarce and more expensive around the world. And in all countries, it's the poor who are hit the hardest. The report found that one in four parents in the countries surveyed have been forced to cut back on food for their families. One in six have had children skip school to help their parents at work.
The worst part is that malnutrition often goes undiagnosed and unaddressed as a social issue because it is rarely listed as the cause of death on a child's birth certificate. Malnutrition may leave children weakened and vulnerable, but it is diarrhea, pneumonia or malaria that is likely to kill them.
So what can we do about it? Contrary to what your mothers might have told you, it's not necessary to send your child's uneaten dinner to the kids in poorer countries who can't afford the food. But it is necessary to get informed about the issue and step in to donate time, money and non-perishable food items to local and global food pantries. Save The Children is a good place to start, as is UNICEF, Heifer International and the United Nations World Food Programme.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in a world where all children grow up with enough food to eat?