People who are chronically hungry are undernourished. They don’t eat enough to get the energy they need to lead active lives. Their undernourishment makes it hard to study, work or otherwise perform physical activities. Undernourishment is particularly harmful for women and children. Undernourished children do not grow as quickly as healthy children. Mentally, they maydevelop more slowly. Constant hunger weakens the immune system and makes them more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Mothers living with constant hunger often give birth to underweight and weak babies, and are themselves facing increased risk of death.
Every day, millions of people around the world eat only the bare minimum of food to keep themselves alive. Every night, they go to bed notcertain whether there will be enough food to eat tomorrow. This uncertainty about where the next meal will come from is called ‘food insecurity’. FAO defines food insecurity as:
“A situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.”
On average, a person needs about 1800 kcal per dayas a minimum energy intake.
Who is most at risk of hunger?
Three main groups are most at risk of hunger: the rural poor, the urban poor, and victims of catastrophes.
The rural poor
The majority of the people who don’t have enough to eat live in poor, rural communities in developing countries. Many have no electricity and no safe drinking water. Public health, education and sanitation servicesare often of low quality.
The world’s most food-insecure and hungry people are often directly involved in producing food. They cultivate crops on small plots of land. They raise animals. They catch fish. They do what they can to provide food for their families or earn money at the local produce market.
Many have no land of their own and work as hired hands to earn enough money to get by.Often the work is seasonal, and the family must move or split up to earn a living.
It is hard work and it is difficult to set anything aside in case of an emergency. Even when there is enough food, the threat of hunger is always present.
The urban poor
The urban poor constitute another group that is at risk of hunger. They produce little or no food and frequently lack the means to buy food.Cities are expanding constantly. In the year 2000, nearly two billion people lived in cities; by 2030, this figure will have more than doubled. As the cities expand, and as more people will migrate from rural to urban areas, the number of the urban poor will rise. Urban hunger and access to affordable food in cities will therefore be increasingly important issues.
Victims of catastrophes
Every yearfloods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters as well as armed conflicts cause widespread destruction and force families to abandon their homes and farms. Victims of catastrophes are often faced with the threat not just of hunger but of outright starvation.
How does FAO measure hunger?
FAO measures hunger as the number of people who do not consume the minimum daily energy requirement,which is the amount of calories needed for light activity and a minimum acceptable weight for attained height. This varies by sex and age, not surprisingly. To calculate these numbers, FAO collects three sets of data:
1. Data on production, imports and exports of all food commodities, along with the calorie content of each food. These data are used to calculate total availability of calories inthe country.
2. Data on population structure in terms of age and sex, since different age and sex groups have different minimum caloric requirements. Using these data, one can estimate the total caloric requirements for the entire population as an aggregate. This varies from country to country because of different population structures.
3. Household survey data. These are used to estimate the...