Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hunger deaths comparable to World War 2 deaths

I decided to write this article and put it on my blog for World Food Day. Maybe I’m a dreamer but it would be great if one day we lived in a world where no one went hungry.

No one knows for certain how many hungry people die every day but according to United Nations figures, malnourished and starving people are dying 3 times faster than people were dying on an average day of World War 2! Chronic mass starvation and malnourishment deaths are not well reported – they are not typically considered newsworthy because by many people's thinking they are not news if they are a chronic problem (news being something that's new, chronic problems being something that’s old). The lack of worldwide knowledge of the scale of this problem is staggering. Even if the United Nations’ published numbers [1] are grossly exaggerated, the problem is still of massive proportions.

The United Nations estimates that there are 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world and 1.4 billion that live on less than $1.25 each day [2]. However, there are varying estimates on the size of these problems: in an article in the prestigious journal Science [3], Dr. David Pimentel of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University states that the true number of malnourished people may be as high as 3 times this amount when we include a wide variety of definitions of malnourishment (including calorie, protein, vitamins, iron, and iodine deficiencies). According to the United Nations World Food Programme and the Commission on Human Rights almost 100,000 malnourished people die every day [1]. Even if these estimates are a gross 10-fold exaggeration we are still looking at a ridiculously massive and widely neglected problem. Currently only small amounts of money are spent on world hunger. The United Nations World Food Programme has an annual budget of only about 3 billion dollars and there are many hungry people that they are unable to feed. A relatively small wealthy country like Canada could double the UN World Food Programme’s budget with just over 1% of its federal budget.

If you want to read more on this topic, there’s more in this blog and in my book Spontaneous Combustion: What you don’t know about Science and Humanity will blow your mind! Chronic hunger is the scourge of our times. Here’s to hoping for a better world.

Jacob Levman, PhD (Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto)
Sunnybrook Research Institute
University of Toronto, Canada

[1] Jean Ziegler, “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” United Nations Economic and Social Council, February 2001.

[2] Sudeep Mozumder, Merrel Tuck, “New data show 1.4 billion live on less than $1.25 a day, but progress against poverty remains strong,” The World Bank.

[3] D Pimentel, L Morse, "Malnutrition, Disease, and the Developing World," Science, April, 2003 300(5617):251.