Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
Tomorrow, October 16th, is World Food Day. Since 1981, this day has been celebrated around the world in honor of the date of the founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. It provides a moment for the world to take stock of how far we’ve come on improving humanitarian food assistance, agriculture and food and nutrition security, as well as to consider what more we can do to end poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
In my international development work, I have regularly visited the world’s poorest countries. Seeing people, particularly children, who don’t have enough food to eat never gets easier. There are few things more jarring than the sight of children so malnourished that they are too weak to smile or even cry.
Children have always had a special place in my humanitarian work. When visiting remote villages, I’ve met with health officials, community leaders, men’s and women’s groups, etc., but when possible, I always try to do two other things—visit the local food market to see what kinds of produce are locally available and spend some time with the children. You can tell a lot about a place by the health of the women and children.
My first encounter with malnutrition’s brutal effects was almost 15 years ago in a rural town in Honduras. I had led a small medical team to visit a nutrition rehabilitation center and home for malnourished children. There, I saw conditions—stunting (chronic malnutrition), kwashiorkor (protein deficiency) and wasting (acute malnutrition)—that I had only read about in textbooks. In a country so lush and verdant as Honduras, I was shocked to see the effects of poor availability and access to nutritious foods. Many think that hunger is about too many people and too little food, but that is not the case. The world produces enough food to feed every woman, man, and child. Instead, its roots lie in inequalities in access to resources.
As a new mother, I now look at nutrition and malnutrition with a new set of lens. It’s not only sad but it’s also unacceptable that more than three million children still die each year from not getting enough of the right food. Malnutrition remains one of the world’s most pervasive problems, especially for women and children. Approximately two billion people (nearly one third of world’s population) are under-nourished. That includes 165 million children with chronic malnutrition who suffer from serious, often irreversible, damage to their bodies and brains.
As children’s nutrition levels are directly tied to those of their mothers, they are at risk even before birth. Many women are unable to provide adequately nutrition to their children due to their own poor nutrition. When more women in developing nations are empowered with the skills, education and resources needed to improve the health and economic stability of their families and communities, we will gain steps toward effectively and sustainably breaking cycles of poverty.
The future is not set, it is ours to shape.
- UN Secretary-General issues Message on World Food Day (en.trend.az)
- World Food Day – October 16th, 2013 (theecotoneexchange.com)
- Rural women feed the world, but cannot feed themselves (devex.com)