Think About Hunger This Human Rights Day

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

When you think of human rights, what comes to mind? For many, the phrase means the rights of freedom, equality and security; protection from slavery, torture or arbitrary arrest.

I think of hunger. So do the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both recognize the fundamental human right to be free from hunger.

Ethiopia meal

An Ethiopian family’s meal. Photo by Jake Lyell.

In June 2007, when I first arrived in Busia, Uganda, a district bordering Kenya and Lake Victoria, I marveled at its fertility. The corn, or maize as it’s called overseas, was higher than an elephant’s eye. Leafy mounds of soil lining the dirt paths that connect each household hid new tubers — potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and cassava.

Matooke, a plantain every Ugandan woman steams in banana leaf wrappers with crushed peanuts and chunks of smoked fish, was piled high in marketplaces. If a tomato spoiled before I could eat if, I tossed it outdoors; within a few weeks, a sturdy plant sprouted, its seeds warmed by the equatorial sun. Uganda had problems, but hunger was not one of them.

Yet when I left Busia six months later, we spoke nervously of food security. The rains had come, but not at the right times, duration, location or intensity. For centuries, rain fell reliably in certain parts of Uganda, so farmers traditionally settled and cultivated there. Then, suddenly, the rain swerved around Uganda’s arable land to spaces uninhabitable for water — forests, infested with deadly tsetse flies, and deserts, the preserve of nomadic herders. Uganda’s second harvest was not plentiful in 2007.   

Global climate change infringes on the human right to adequate food.

Ugandan mothers

Mothers in Uganda learn how to prepare healthy dishes at a nutrition workshop. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Hunger kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Poor nutrition causes half of all deaths in children under age five. One of every six children in developing countries is underweight; one in three is stunted.  

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa form hunger’s center of gravity. In Africa alone, 23 million children attend school hungry.

Small farmers make up fully half of the world’s food-insecure population. Sadly, despite producing some food, they still lack the resources to meet their families’ nutritional needs. Another 30 percent of the chronically hungry are fishers, herders and people who live in rural regions but do not own land. Poor urban dwellers round out the hunger rolls. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization identifies four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability. Failure of any one of these means hunger.

Worse, even when consuming sufficient calories, children can still suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. So-called hidden hunger — harder to diagnose, since it doesn’t present as a wasted body — is caused by an inadequate supply of vitamins, minerals or trace elements. And it impairs physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development.

Indonesian child

In Indonesia, hunger is also a serious problem.

Of the 20 countries most affected by hunger, ChildFund works in eight: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Uganda and Vietnam.

According to UNICEF, Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are among the nations most successful in scaling up children’s nutrition and improving government policies. During the past decade, Ethiopia reduced stunting from 57 percent to 44 percent through a national nutrition program, provision of safety nets in the poorest areas and nutrition assistance at the community level.

We still have far to go. Please help us recognize Human Rights Day by giving a gift from the Nutrition and Agriculture section of our catalog.

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