Hunger is health risk number one

by Ruth Bücker, 2010/06/04

While I am writing these lines, my stomach is growling. After work I can fortunately go home and prepare myself something to eat. My body will be satisfied with this energy supply and I will have a full belly and feel content. This scenario I am describing may seem normal to us, but for about one billion people in the world it is an unattainable dream.

This unbelievably large number of people I have mentioned is suffering from existence-threatening hunger. And hence, under- and malnutrition are among the most serious threats to humankind worldwide. According to the World Food Programme, ten million people a year starve to death – this rate is higher than the rate of deaths caused by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis together.

Hunger means more than a growling stomach

In particular children which are still in the process of growing up are affected worst by undernutrition. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg

A person’s energy requirements can vary considerably, depending on age, body height, sex, climate and bodily activities. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), one person requires an average amount of 1,800 to 1,900 kilocalories per day in order to keep up a functioning metabolism and the function of important organs. Those suffering hunger are forced to live much longer on the same amount of calories which we are used to take in over one day.

If daily energy supply is below the minimum requirements necessary for a healthy life for a longer period of time, this lack of energy leads to undernutrition. More than 900 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

Another serious threat is permanent malnutrition. Besides the quantity, also the quality of food is essential when it comes to supplying the body with sufficient vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. If there is enough food which, however, does not contain the right nutrients, this kind of malnutrition can be as serious a threat to health as permanent hunger.

Bodily reactions to hunger and malnutrition

Permanent hunger, under- and malnutrition can cause a number of grave deficiency symptoms. At first, the body will try to compensate for the lack by slowing down bodily and mental productivity and performance. However, a lack of concentration is a relatively harmless deficiency symptom.

In comparison, the weakening of the immune system is much more serious, since it causes allegedly harmless diseases such as diarrhoea, measles or respiratory illnesses which can lead to death. According to estimates of the World Food Programme, more than ten million children a year die under the age of five, with 53 percent of the deaths caused by hunger and malnutrition.

What are the reasons for hunger and malnutrition?

War and expulsion often are the reasons for the ground falling out from underneath one’s feet and for losing everything one owns. Photo: humedica

Almost one in seven people in the world suffers from hunger, although, statistically, enough food exists to feed every person in the world. But why then do hunger and the ten millions of deaths caused by it every year exist? And why are more than 900 million people in developing countries forced to suffer from permanent hunger?

The first obvious reason to be mentioned is poverty. Without financial means people are unable to buy neither food, nor seeds or livestock to meet their needs. The fatal downward spiral is moving faster: those suffering hunger lack money to buy food, hence they do not have the strength to work and this lack of work, in turn, leads to them having even less money at their disposal.

Further reasons for hunger and malnutrition are:
      • wars and expulsion
      • natural disasters
      • increasing prices for staple food
      • strong population growth due to high birth rates
      • lack of education
      • adverse climatic conditions

What can we do?

When fighting hunger, under- and malnutrition, there are two paths we can go down: we need to supply the bodies of those already suffering from extreme undernutrition with special food in order to provide a large amount of energy and lacking nutrients in as short a period of time as possible. Patients are cared for and supplied with sufficient food at special undernutrition centres, such as the one humedica is currently establishing in Niger.

Furthermore, humedica coordinator Simone Winneg has recently reported that work prior to treatment is of great importance: “We are not only concerned with those already suffering from extreme undernutrition, but in particular also with those who have not yet reached this state. Unfortunately a large number of people in Niger are constantly living on the edge of acute undernutrition and we need to prevent an impairment of their state by means of providing them with special food.”

In order to give starving people new strength, humedica runs an undernutrition programme in Niger in cooperation with the organisation UNICEF and the United Nations World Food Programme – please support this programme by means of your donation.
      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference "Hospital Niger"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Please also donate online for those suffering from undernutrition in Niger or contribute to improving the situation in Niger by means of a text message:
send DOC to the abbreviated dialling 0049 8 11 90 and support us with a one-time donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into the humedica project work. Thank you very much.

Help us to fight hunger and make children laugh by means of special undernutrition centres. Photo: humedica

This article contains information of the United Nations World Food Programme, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation of the United Nations, Children of this World and Bread for the World.

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