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Hunger kills five million children under five every year

Hunger and malnutrition contributes to more than half of the 10 million deaths of children under five every year, according to the Director General of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Speaking in Dublin at the launch of a three-way international research initiative on world hunger, involving Concern, the Kerry Group and IFPRI, Dr Joachim Von Braun said that in spite of improvements in Asia, the number of undernourished people in developing countries has increased during the past 15 years. “While the number of undernourished people in East Asia fell by 18%, largely reflecting declining poverty in China, the number in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 26%.”

“Today, there are 0.9 billion people hungry and 146 million children underweight throughout the world. At the same time, there are 1.6 billion overweight and 400 million obese,” he said.

One death every three seconds

Dr Von Braun said that while the level of child deaths has declined from 13 million a year in 1990 to just under 10 million in 2006, the crisis in parts of Africa has deepened where one child in every four dies before the age of five. On a global basis, 1,200 children under five die every hour, or one every three seconds, and half of these deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Hunger sets in motion an array of outcomes that perpetuates malnutrition, reduces the ability of adults to work and to give birth to healthy children, leading to an erosion of children’s ability to learn and lead productive, healthy and happy lives. This truncation of human development undermines a country’s potential for economic development for generations to come,” said Dr Von Braun.

He added that rapid economic growth, particularly in agriculture, in many developing countries has advanced global progress in reducing poverty and hunger. However, in countries of high inequality and poor governance, growth without a framework that pays explicit attention to nutrition and health often does little to improve the livelihoods of those at the bottom of the income scale. This is particularly the case in sub-Saharan Africa.

Progress with new initiatives

Dr Von Braun stressed that all is not gloom and doom. Programs and policies that target nutrition have improved in a number of countries. But they are not yet at appropriate scale. To move towards ending hunger and to further reduce poverty will require a new set of actions and new partnerships between civil society, the private sector, development aid and research. He said the unique partnership now established by Concern, the Kerry Group and IFPRI should serve as a model for the development of policies and solutions to alleviate hunger.

Dr Von Braun said that world food stocks are now at their lowest level since 1982 and serious food shortages persist. While world grain prices have rocketed this year, production has increased only marginally in the poorest countries. The poorest one billion that spend about 70% of their earnings on food cannot cope with that. Their diets will further deteriorate, unless new actions are taken with safety nets and increased agriculture productivity in the developing countries.