Global malnutrition is becoming an epidemic
Review by Steve Fouch
CMF Head of Allied Professions Ministries.
It is sobering that in the 21st Century we still face a malnutrition epidemic affecting millions. In 2011, according to recently published figures in The Lancet, (1) 3.1 million under-fives died from undernutrition – 45% of total child deaths. This is improving, but much too slowly. However, the impact goes wider; malnutrition in adolescent girls affects the health of their children (and grandchildren) born years later, while malnutrition during pregnancy has an even more dramatic impact.
Malnutrition in the first two years of life leads to permanent physical and mental stunting of children, increases their vulnerability to obesity and non-communicable diseases, and reduces job and educational opportunities in later life. Under-nutrition today causes health and economic problems for the next two generations at least.
A staggering 165 million children are affected by malnutrition. This is a global health problem of crisis proportions. The causes are complex – land controlled by vested interests driving off subsistence farmers, labour exploitation, financial austerity measures, fluctuations in global commodity prices (exacerbated by agricultural subsidies in the developed world) – the list goes on. The structure of global trade and food production is forcing many into hunger, often in areas where local food production is more than adequate to meet the need. The problem is systemic injustice, not a lack of food. (2)
The recent hunger summit in London (ahead of the G8) and the accompanying 'Big IF' rally in Hyde Park (3) aimed to galvanise global political commitment to make the policy changes necessary to end this kind of hunger. Critics commented that the rally and campaign did not address all the causative issues, and that the campaign and government policy seem very much in accord. (4) More seriously, it looks as if some of the measures being put forward (especially tax transparency) are being ably resisted by many governments with the help of big business lobby groups. (5)
The Scriptures remind us that hunger is not a part of God's plan for humanity – there will be no hunger in the new creation. (6) We are urged to feed the hungry, and to allow our surplus to meet the deficit of others. (7) However more than just caring, we are also enjoined to stand up for justice. (8) We will be picking up the pieces of these malnutrition-induced health crises all over the world for years to come. There can be no doubt that this cannot be allowed to continue; we need to continue to lobby for real action as well as to care for those affected. (9)