World Hunger Day

171 - HungerA guest post by Eimear Rigby from the global hunger charity Concern Worldwide.

The 28th of May is World Hunger Day.

There are 875 million people in the world are hungry today.

It’s hard to comprehend that figure – 12 times the population of the UK, or one in eight people worldwide.

At Concern Worldwide we believe that no one should have to live with hunger and the damage it causes. We work hard alongside the poorest and most vulnerable, in order to build a world where lives are not limited by lack of access to enough nutritious food. 

One location Concern Worldwide is working is South Sudan, where poverty, drought and families returning home after years of civil war are all contributing to a significant food crisis.

Our staff in Aweil in the north of the country shared their stories of just some of the people affected by the crisis earlier this year, including  four year old Avur – one of thousands of children who were badly affected. Avur and her grandmother Amou had walked for miles from their home in the north of the country, an area with widespread hunger and soring child mortality rates, to one of 34 health centres supported by Concern in the south.

Avur was not only malnourished; she was also suffering from diarrhoea and coughing fits that were further weakening her. Concern’s specialist staff at the center admitted Avur to an intensive feeding programme, providing special therapeutic food designed to bring malnourished children like her back to health over six to eight weeks. This removed Avur from danger and set her on the road to recovery.

A nurse weighs Avur as she waits for treatment

There are many more children like Avur in South Sudan and Concern Worldwide provides help and support in order to help improve their own lives, such as training local volunteers to spot the signs of malnutrition so that families know when to seek treatment. Concern is also distributing therapeutic food and teaching mothers how to use it, so that malnourished children recover in the safety and comfort of their own families.

As well as providing urgent crisis response, Concern works within communities to help them protect themselves from the prospect of future crisis. In Tanzania around 75% of the population are poor rural farmers who can’t afford the tools, seeds or crops they need to grow food in a country susceptible to both flooding and drought. Concern is able to offer support in these rural areas by proving simple tools and resources, and transfer skills to local communities: Marcelina Bedastus and her husband used to struggle to feed their four children and usually survived on just one meal per day.  In 2009 Marcelina joined a Farmer Field School run by Concern and received training and three chickens to help boost her farm. Marcelina was able to breed her chickens and now has coop of 20.

Reflecting on the difference this has made to her life she says, “I had nothing before, but now I have something. I can sell eggs to get money for items like clothes and food. We have three meals a day and I can vary the types of food we eat. I can also pay for school uniforms and I hope for all of my children to go to school – education is the most important thing for them.”

Christopher and mother with chickens

Concern would obviously welcome your support for its work, but even more importantly this World Hunger Day, asks that you tell as many people as possible about hunger in the world, the damage it does, but how many, including Concern Worldwide, are working hard to tackle the problems and transform lives.

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Voices From Ethiopia

Guest post by Siobhan Sheerin who has recently returned from Ethiopia after three months working with the organisation Concern Worldwide.

I’ve been in Ethiopia for almost three months now, working for Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide, but sadly, I’ll soon be saying goodbye to Addis and returning home.

I’ve worked for Concern for over two years, based mainly in their London office, but I’ve always been eager to see Concern’s work on the ground first-hand.  I was just waiting for the right opportunity to take the plunge.

Like many people, I was deeply affected seeing the suffering of millions of people during last year’s devastating drought in East Africa, when Ethiopia was hit pretty badly.  So when the opportunity came to work here, I knew this was my chance. I upped sticks, leaving behind my comfortable existence in the UK.

The first thing that hit me was the altitude. At a height of around 7,500 feet, Addis is the world’s second highest capital. For the first week, I flipped between exhaustion and a strange feeling, similar to being underwater, and even the smallest exertion left me gasping for breath. Thankfully, this ‘air hunger’ as the locals call it, soon subsided.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has suffered from food insecurity for many years. Most people rely entirely on local agriculture, so when the are late, or fail, like they did last year and again this year, people’s harvests fail and they simply don’t have enough food to eat. It’s a cycle that, sadly, keeps repeating itself.

One of the worst affected areas over the last two years is the Amhara region in the north. Concern works across this entire area, in some of the most hard to reach mountainous villages, delivering emergency nutrition, providing seeds and livestock, and helping people get access to clean water.

Access to water is a real issue in the area, with many walking for hours every day just to get to the nearest water source. It was while in Bugna, a remote village in the Amhara, that I saw both young children and old ladies carrying 25kg water containers on their backs, and clambering barefoot up mountains that I could barely manage wearing my sturdy walking boots!

The inaccessibility of these areas in the north has to be seen to be believed. Getting around by car is almost impossible at times, and in many places travelling by foot or donkey is the only option. The people here eke out their living from the land – life is hard.

Yet despite living in extreme poverty, the people don’t just want hand-outs, they are resilient and hard-working – and want to help themselves and build sustainable lives.

People like Getu, who had received a container of potato seeds from Concern and planted them all himself in one day. He proudly showed me his field, and told me his first priority was to feed his family, with any surplus being sold at the market.

Or like Shewaye, the young mother whose children were treated for malnutrition by Concern last year, and who wanted to display her newly-acquired knowledge of breastfeeding with an impromptu practical demonstration.

Of course I’ve found some of it hard going. Two bouts of horrendous food poisoning had me floored for weeks, and wishing I was back at home, and the poverty I’ve seen on the streets of Addis is distressing. But I can’t really complain . . . I’ve never had to walk for four hours to get water, then carry it barefoot back uphill, and I’ve never worried about where my next meal is coming from.

The rainy season here is now in full swing, which makes going out difficult at times,  and I’ve never really gotten to grips with the staple food injera, a sort of sour pancake eaten at every meal. But there are many things I will miss now I’m leaving: hearing hyenas howling in the distance when I am dropping off to sleep, my daily commute through a bustling market whilst negotiating donkeys, chickens, goats and shouts of ‘farangi’ (foreigner), the hordes of children keen to practice their English and shake my hand; and of course, the people.

It has been the Ethiopian people who have made the real impression on me, particularly Concern’s Ethiopian staff.  Generous and friendly, and rightly proud of their country, my colleagues work long hours in remote areas, travelling on foot to help people because there is simply no other way.  The staff in Bugna have to drive for almost three hours to the nearest town just to use the internet, which certainly put my office IT problems into perspective.

My Concern Ethiopian colleagues are true humanitarians.  The work they do here makes a huge difference. They are saving lives – helping people to help themselves out of poverty, feed themselves and their families and make a living.

I’m proud to have been a part of the work they do, even for just a short time.

Photo by treessfts via Flickr

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The Hunger Games ?

The world is watching the 2012 Olympics – me included – an amazing spectacle, and so many remarkable personal stories.

And while the eyes of the world are on the London Olympics, something else remarkable is scheduled for the last day.

A Hunger Summit.

I think it’s important to be critical of our Governments when they get things wrong, as they so often seem to do, but I also think it’s at least as important to give them a bit of a pat on the back when they get it right – and this is one of those moments.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently said:

“It’s really important that, while the eyes of the world are on Britain and we are going to put on this fantastic show for the Olympics, we remember people in other parts of the world who, far from being excited about the Olympics, are actually worried about their next meal and whether they are getting enough to eat.”

He may never have been righter.

Despite what we might assume, the world has made tremendous strides in tackling extreme of poverty, hunger and malnutrition over the last few decades. The total number of hungry people in the world fell from 850 million in 1971 to 780 million in 1997. This might not seem that impressive, until you consider world population also increased from 3.7 billion to 5.9 billion over the same period !

Unfortunately things have changed.

The number of hungry people in the world is rising again, and now stands at around 925 million, with many millions more threatened with food insecurity from rising prices.

Population has continued to rise, now standing at more than 7 billion, with another 219,000 more mouths to feed every day.

The price of oil has massively increased, from around $12 a barrel in 1976, to over $90 today – affecting our fuel intensive agriculture and transport, and pushing costs higher.

Several formerly productive parts of the world are struggling to find enough water, or retain enough soil quality to maintain yields. Floods, droughts, natural disasters and conflict have all also caused significant disruption.

Several countries, most notably the US, have begun using farmland to grow crops for fuel, rather than food production.

Demand for food has also been increasing, as the world’s better off have been eating more and more, and more meat in particular. Westernised diets are increasingly popular and affordable in China, India, Brazil and many other developing countries.

It’s not just China of course, the rest of the rich world has been eating more too.

In 2008 1.4 billion people across the world were overweight, 500 million of them obese.

It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true: half the world is starving, while the other half is over weight !

We’re not just passive observers – we’re all partly responsible.

Our governments and food companies have negotiated unfair trading agreements with poor world producers, and as individuals we eat too much, waste too much, and focus on buying our food cheaply too much, oblivious to the consequences for the producer.

Keep watching and enjoying the Olympics – but spare a thought for the world’s hungry who have other things on their mind.

Perhaps take 5 minutes out of your busy day to fire off a quick email to your MP. Perhaps tell your friends about the proposed food summit or post something on your next Status update – don’t let this opportunity to promote food justice just pass by.

Of course , we all know our Governments are often hopeless at making and sticking to meaningful commitments. Many NGOs and charitable organisations are a little worried about what measures may be agreed at the summit. More private business involvement ? More promotion of GM ? Perhaps not ideal, but I personally have no problem with either, so long as more hungry people get fed, and the poor are not exploited.

We can also make a difference through our own lives.

If we bought a little less meat, bought a little more Fairtrade, and wasted a little less of the food we bought, then global markets would adjust, and a little more food would be left on the plates of the world’s hungry poor.

Besides, most of us could do with eating a little less anyway (me included).

If you’re too hardened to motivated by the plight of starving children to act, then I saw a couple of news reports this week that might ‘press a couple of different buttons’ for you . . . I’ll let you read them for yourself: ONE and TWO.

Photo by Alexander Kachkaev, via Flickr

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An Avoidable Injustice – Not an Inevitable Condition

A guest blog by Natasha Adams, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer for Concern Worldwide UK. Concern is an international humanitarian and development charity that operates in 25 countries. Natasha works on Concern’s Unheard Voices campaign, which champions the cause of smallholder farmers and works to reduce global hunger.

It’s clear the global food system is in crisis.

We live in a world where an astounding number of people go hungry every night, the latest estimate from the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) is that just under one billion people don’t have enough food – one in seven of us.

Even more than this suffer from malnutrition as they don’t have access to properly nutritious food. And these figures don’t take into account acute crises -in the Horn of Africa, more than 13 million people have been affected by food shortages since last year, and now 13 million more are at risk in the Sahel.

We get bombarded with these numbers all the time, yet they’re too big to make sense of.

Even if we stop and reflect that these statistics represent individual people – each with families and hopes like everyone else, the scale of the suffering is still unimaginable. To get my head around it, I try to imagine one in seven of my friends or family members as the ones who don’t have enough to eat. It’s can sometimes be easy to forget about hunger in far away places, but aren’t the values of human lives across the globe of equal worth? We may have got used to hunger in ‘Africa’ (although there are actually more hungry people in Asia), but it still matters and it can be changed.

It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way. We live in a world of plenty – farmers the world over actually produce more than enough food for everyone. As highlighted by Next Starfish, in wealthy countries like the UK, we throw away £20 billion worth of food a year, while one in seven humans go hungry because they either can’t grow enough food, or they can’t afford to buy enough.

Unfortunately, there is no single silver bullet to end global hunger. The problem is complex, and so are the answers, but workable solutions have been found on many levels and these solutions could be implemented if the public and political will was there.

Support to farmers is a good place to start, because ironically smallholders make up more than half of the world’s hungry people. Concern’s report Farming for Impact demonstrates that with the right support , smallholders can grow more, eat more and better food and even go on to employ others, helping their whole communities to thrive. The report also explores how the Rwandan Governments’ commitment to spend 10% of their budget on agriculture helped to increase staple crop production, and to shield the country from the food price rises experienced catastrophically elsewhere in East Africa last year.

The most obvious role the UK can play in tackling global hunger is through continuing to provide important aid.

On May 19th David Cameron will represent the UK at the G8 summit in the US. The previous G8 commitment to provide aid to tackle hunger (the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative) is coming to an end. A new commitment to tackle world hunger is clearly needed, and the UK is in a strong position to push for and follow through on this as we will be hosting the G8 in 2013. This is a good way for the UK to use its wealth and power to try and make meaningful progress towards ending global hunger – by pledging new funds and encouraging other countries to do the same.

If you would like to support Concern’s campaign for a new G8 hunger commitment, you can email your MP with our easy e-action.

But it’s not all about aid.

The UK is still a wealthy country, and because our economy is relatively large the way we do business has a big impact globally. One important driver of global food price rises is increasing food speculation on international markets, much of which is happening in the City of London. The organisation World Development Movement is running a campaign to raise awareness of this issue and support EU proposals to limit financial speculation on food prices.

Another factor driving high food prices is the amount of land turned over to growth of biofuels, and the charity Actionaid are currently running a petition in the UK to try and change UK and EU support on this issue.

I got involved in campaigning professionally to try and play a small role to right some of the world’s wrongs, but you don’t have to be a professional campaigner to help make a change.

By educating ourselves about issues and taking small actions to show you know and care about issue like hunger, everyone can make a difference and help to build political will for genuine change that will transform people’s lives across the globe.

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Meet Narayanan Krishnan

A new series of ‘Meet….’ articles focussing on a diverse range of individuals, who are all currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

Krishnan was an award winning chef in a five-star Taj Hotel in Bangalore, when one day he saw an old man living on the street eating his own human waste out of hunger.

Shocked and moved, Krishnan started feeding the man, and then others, and before long had decided to leave his job, and devote all his time and his life savings to feeding the forgotten and uncared for hungry and destitute of his home city Madurai.

He founded the non-profit organisation Akshaya (undecaying or imperishable in Sanskrit), which now feeds over 400 people three meals a day. He takes no salary and for many years slept on the floor of the kitchen where he prepares the food. Akshaya is now also building shelters for Madurai’s homeless.

In 2010 Krishnan was named in the final 10 CNN’s Heroes of the Year.

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Photo from Abundancein10minutes