By Sarah Barden
International Women's Initiative News Writer
A Look at the Figures
As many of us settle in for another round of seasonal celebrations, dashing about to fill our bags and pad our bellies with food and drink, let’s pause for a moment to take stock of what reality is for others.
In 2016, countless individuals have been displaced and forced deeper into poverty and hunger. Those forced from their homes in Syria, among them, residents of Aleppo – once the country’s largest affluent city – have joined the numbers in camps where a warm meal in freezing temperatures, while huddled up in flimsy tents, will be scarce. The resources to feed the hungry; all too often injured, famished or ill, are not available.
“We ask the world to look at the tragedy that we face; hunger, siege, destruction and now cold,” said one Aleppo resident.
The past year has seen 14 million rise to the ranks of the hungry in Yemen. Or, to repeat the words so often applied by the United Nations, that portion of the population classed as: “food insecure”. That nation, imported over 90 percent of its food before the latest round of fighting began in March 2015.
Funding shortages are threatening the lives of thousands in the Central African Republic (CAR). The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an appeal urging donors to provide immediate support so that 150,000 highly vulnerable people, displaced by violence, can continue to receive life-saving assistance. Without further financing, food distributions will not happen until February 2017.
“Our food stocks are at their lowest. Without additional resources, we will be forced to make new cuts in January and distribute a ration with no rice, a reduced quantity of peas, vegetable oil, iodised salt, and specialised nutritious food,” said Felix Gomez, WFP Country Director in CAR.
Women and Hunger
Women are the primary victims of hunger. Both manmade and environmental crises undermine food security and nutrition. Women are more likely than men to be affected and their access to aid can be undermined by gender-based discrimination. Moreover, when a crisis hits, women are generally the first to sacrifice their food consumption, to make sure their families have more to eat. This is according to two of the UN’s hunger agencies; the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Research consistently demonstrates that world hunger is not a problem of supply, but rather of poverty, lack of democracy and unequal access to land, water and other resources, especially for women,” explains Friends of the Earth Europe.
Moreover, surveys in a wide range of countries indicate that between 85 to 90 percent of the time spent on household food preparation is women’s time. In some countries, tradition dictates that women eat last, after all male family members and children have been fed.
Yet studies also confirm that, in the hands of women, an increase in family income improves children’s health and nutrition. Investment is needed to help women working in agriculture, who often have less access to improved seeds, fertilisers, and equipment. UN Women asserts this could bring the number of hungry people in the world down by up to 150 million.
It does not end there. Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight babies. Underweight babies are 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. So says UNICEF in its report, Progress for Children: A World Fit for Children. What is more, around half of pregnant women in developing countries are anaemic. This causes some 110,000 deaths during childbirth every year.
Enough of the numbers now. From developed to developing countries, the message is clear: mothers, farmers, teachers, and entrepreneurs hold the key to building a future free of malnutrition. Let us all provide tools they need to turn their circumstances around.
We know that donor lethargy is increasing. Even those lucky enough to be able to care and share the cash that cures, it seems almost impossible to keep up as the scale of calamities our world faces intensifies. The charity within our reach may well begin at home.
My Mum works for a food bank, run by a church group in a town local to her in the North of England. She helps give out food parcels to poor families and women, often responsible for the upkeep of single families and ex-offenders – who have invariably turned to crime as a means of survival. It is a small gesture, a commitment of time, because as the slogans of countless humanitarian organizations stress: “every little bit helps”. We need action against hunger, however small, and we need it now.