Worldwide hunger remains one of the most critical needs facing our world today. Countless men, women, and children suffer from swollen bellies, hollow cheeks, and the constant, gnawing pains of starvation. But who are these people? Where do they live? And why is global hunger still such a big issue today?
Here’s a look at some of the countries facing a food crisis — and what you can do to help.
What is a hunger crisis?
Though it is a relatively new term, hunger crisis (or food crisis) is defined as “a long and extreme shortage of food, which results in deaths.”
In most cases, an official declaration of famine is not made until a certain percentage of people is experiencing malnutrition or have died from starvation. Until then, a country or region is considered to be experiencing food insecurity.
Regardless of the official name, many families around the world wake up every morning, unsure of where their next meal will come from — or if it will come at all.
Where are people affected by famine?
On any given day in Zimbabwe, women can be found taking turns near the fire, stirring steaming pots of sadza. The sticky paste, also known as ugali, is made from adding corn flour to boiling milk or water. It is a staple in many East African countries — usually served with some sort of vegetable or meat.
But for people living in countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Uganda, a growing hunger crisis has left them to face the brutal realities of malnutrition. Many people struggle to even afford one bag of corn flour … much less a serving of vegetables.
To the northwest is the country of Nigeria. Home to hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, this West African country has a vibrant and colorful culture — and equally vibrant and spicy food. But reports estimate that approximately 3 million people will face starvation in Nigeria this summer, the time of year when food is scarcest.
Terrorist attacks have caused farmers to abandon their farms and agricultural activities. The subsequent fall in production and rocketing food prices has created one of the world’s worst food crises.
Farther north, the people of Iraq and Syria enjoy a culture steeped in tradition. But they struggle to survive after years of ongoing violence by extremist groups. Families have made dishes like fried, heavily spiced kibbe or fresh tabbouleh for hundreds of years. But now, those same families are on the run — nomads who can’t find fresh ingredients even if they could afford them.
And over 6,500 miles to the east of Syria, the country of Haiti is experiencing a food crisis of its own. Instead of the usual bright, Creole flavors, people are fortunate if they can make a bowl of plain rice. The country is no stranger to natural disasters and has yet to fully recover from a 2010 earthquake. Thousands of Haitians continue to live in makeshift camps. And now hunger threatens the lives of many … particularly children.
Why do hunger crises happen?
For the most part, every crisis can be traced to three specific roots. While the need for food is the same everywhere, the circumstances surrounding a famine are not.
War and violence:
Bombs exploding, buildings crumbling, smoke billowing — these are the dangers we often imagine when we think of the conflict in Iraq and Syria. But in refugee camps, refugees face another ever-present danger: starvation.
Years of conflict have severely damaged both countries’ economies. Businesses and farms have been overrun or destroyed, and families have had to flee and leave everything behind. Stuck in refugee camps, most struggle to make a living and afford regular meals.
Conflict and war often lead to a surge in poverty. In Nigeria, attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram have forced thousands to flee their villages. Now, those people have temporarily settled in one part of the country, but the villages and towns were not prepared to feed such an influx of people. There are few jobs and little money to go around.
The same is true in Uganda. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million people have fled to Uganda to escape the violence, poverty, and widespread famine in South Sudan. A majority of the refugees are children. Unfortunately, refugee camps in northern Uganda do not have the infrastructure to care for so many; now, people living in the camps have no way to work and face the threat of starvation.
Haiti has long been considered one of the poorest countries on earth. And the devastating earthquake in 2010 leveled the country and left in its wake a slew of destroyed businesses, homes, and orphaned children. What little money the country had was spent on recovery — with none left over for food.
Drought and crop failure:
Some countries are simply dependent upon the weather to survive. In Zambia, an extended drought led to crop failure, and the people are struggling to recover.
You can see it when you look at the children … stunted growth and painful, swollen bellies. Even if the drought ends, it will take time to replant and grow a thriving crop, meaning a single bad year could result in many more.
Who is affected?
When famine strikes a community, everyone experiences the pain and fear that chronic hunger brings. In some cases, even the wealthy struggle to survive when there is no food to be purchased. However, it is usually the poorest and most vulnerable that suffer the worst.
It is particularly dangerous for children. The first several years of children’s lives are critical to their development. Even a few months of a poor diet can cause irreversible damage — if they even survive.
But the simple gift of a nutrient-dense meal can make a world of difference.
How can you help?
Right now, you can be the one to help save the life of a child living in one these countries. For just $40 — less than most people’s weekly grocery budget — you can feed one child for an entire year. That’s a year without fear of starvation, a year of healthy growth, and strong bones.
You can be the hands and feet of Jesus in the midst of this global hunger crisis. And for one child, you can be the person who helped rescue his life.