Hunger is The Enemy of Development

I started writing this article in the summer of 2019 for the blog of a non-profit development project. In the end that project didn’t get funded but with the current state of the world after more than a year of battling Covid-19 and the huge setbacks that it is causing in the developing world and to the poorest people, now seemed like a good time to post this.

There is a long list of ways that nonprofits have tried to attack the problem of global poverty, some more and some less effectively. The reality is that sometimes we need to go back and start with some of the most basic human needs to build a solid foundation for further development.

Poverty-Hunger-Bad Health-Poverty (a vicious circle)

In my opinion, most of the problems that poor countries are facing are often connected. For example, we know that a lack of food leads to starvation and a high risk of chronic malnutrition but it also links in with many other problems.

Many poor people often spend their whole lives not knowing where their next meal will come from. Apart from the physical issues this can cause there is also constant mental stress affecting the mind and body. When, as it often does, this lack of food comes together with a lack of clean water then problems become even greater. 

From early childhood, most people living in poverty don’t have the possibility to build physical strength and a strong immune system. Among other things this leads to a high mortality rate in children below five years. For most people living in more developed societies it’s really hard to imagine that those living in poverty should probably expect some of their children to die before they reach the age of five, and that even if they don’t experience it themselves then they will see it happen to many families nearby.

Of course, lack of food or poor nutrition are not the only problems affecting the health of those living in poverty in the developing world. There are no, or very bad, sanitation, refuse collection and sewage systems in many developing countries, especially rural areas and slums. Living without these basic pieces of infrastructure means living in pretty unhealthy conditions. Also there are very limited possibilities to have access to medicine and trained healthcare because there is a lack of doctors, pharmacists and even people who could simply give first aid. Even those who do have access to trained caregivers rarely have the possibility to access needed medicines.

The common factor of things like sanitation, medication, and doctors, is of course that being able to access these things depends on having money. But the poor have no access to money for even their most basic daily needs; to buy food or clothes, water, maybe the simplest medicine at a stretch. They have no money to invest in agriculture or to start a small business, but then even if they did, how could they do that when they have a lack of skills and education for children and young people. It seems like an impossible cycle, they can’t afford to send children to school, they may even have to work in order for the family to get by, so they can’t gain skills to build a better life.

It all starts with… (how to make a change)

Seeing how everything is related I believe that projects and initiatives need to be holistic and encompass many areas, and to be run together hand in hand with locals. That way everyone who is involved feels part of the project and takes on ownership and responsibility. 

The problem is that each of us can only act, participate in activities and feel motivated when we have energy, are feeling well and don’t have stomach pain from hunger. Physical, mental or social well-being can’t be reached if a person can’t ensure they have the basic needs, such as food, access to safe water and a safe environment to live in.

Let’s take Cambodia as an example country. Statistics show that 12.3 million people, or around 70 percent of the population, do not have access to a piped water supply. Access to clean drinking water should be a basic right and is crucial to alleviate disease in impoverished communities.

Which brings us back to the reason that we need to put nutrition and alleviating food and water poverty at the center of projects. According to recent statistics around 32% of children under 5 in Cambodia are stunted and around 37% of women are malnourished. How can they possibly work towards improving their own lives when they waste so much energy feeling hungry. Just having food is only one part of solving the issue. it is also important to learn about nutrition and eating the right things.

There needs to be a holistic approach to nutrition, not only focusing on one aspect but thinking about good nutrition as a complete system, including culture, household management, the nutritional value of different ingredients, the importance of a balanced and varied diet, and the different nutritional needs of different people. The key principles should be to boost community involvement, to improve health by providing information, to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition.

Apart from food poverty, people living in rural Cambodia have a lot of problems to deal with, a lack of access to doctors and health facilities, increasingly drug resistant strains of malaria, and financial poverty. There are organisations working to help in many of these specific areas but often these development projects seem to forget about social well-being. Sometimes it seems like a less important and less glamorous issue than things like big visible infrastructure projects.

The reality is that if we want our body to work well we need to maintain all parts of it, physical, mental, emotional and social. It means that we need to eat well but also that we need to feel secure in the relationships around us. We need to look at equality, healthy relationships at home, violence, and stress management. It is important to teach and learn about social responsibilities such as time management, work responsibilities and keeping agreements.

If we can find ways to keep people everywhere in the world well fed, both physically and socially then it gives them the energy and ability to do everything else much more easily.

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