Action Alert

Hunger and Malnutrition Threaten Women and Girls Around the World

Hunger and Malnutrition Threaten Women and Girls Around the World
Baby Kabuche, 30, prepares maize-based food at her home. She is 4 months pregnant and has two children.

Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation convened a meeting of global leaders, coinciding with the release of their “Goalkeepers” report, to raise awareness of the risks posed by proposed cuts to U.S. foreign assistance. In advance of the meeting, Melinda Gates said, “the administration’s proposed cuts send completely the wrong message when it comes to women and their rights, ...this mood of retrenchment has the potential to undo the world's significant progress over the past few decades in public health and anti-poverty programs." The guiding principle behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “is that every life has equal value.” After releasing the report, the foundation met with members of Congress to decry poverty’s impacts on women around the globe and in the United States.

“Today, undernutrition is the single greatest threat to child survival worldwide and the underlying cause of nearly half of all child deaths. Evidence proves that good nutrition in the first 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child's second birthday, (the critical "window of opportunity"), builds a strong immune system, ensures healthy physical and intellectual development, and "supercharges" a child's chances of survival,” according to Action Against Hunger.

Every day women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. Currently 20 million people are facing the risk of starvation. According to The Hunger Project, 60 percent of the world’s hungry are women, 50 percent of pregnant women in developing countries lack proper maternal care, 1 out of 6 infants are born with a low birth weight in developing countries, and nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to under-nutrition.

A 2016 analysis by the Bread for the World Institute shows that gender inequality plays a significant role in hunger and poverty, both in the U.S. and globally. Globally, about 60 percent of people who go hungry are female. “Our analysis shows that discrimination increases hunger and poverty for women,” said Asma Lateef, director of the Bread for the World Institute.

Man-Made Crises

Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the man-made crises in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen and Somalia. These crises are forcing people to flee within and beyond their country borders, disrupting agricultural production and livelihoods, and severing families from their social support systems.

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The United States is one of the largest donors of humanitarian assistance in all four crises and is supporting health, sanitation and hygiene services to help stop the spread of preventable disease. The United States is providing additional emergency food and nutrition assistance, safe drinking water, life-saving medical care, and shelter for those who have been displaced, both internally and as refugees, as well as protection for civilians. “We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.,” United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council back in March. “Without collective and coordinated global efforts,” he added, “people risk starving to death and succumbing to disease, stunted children and lost futures, and mass displacements and reversed development gains.”

The White House is proposing a State Department budget that would make deep cuts in long-term development aid, humanitarian food assistance and peacekeeping missions around the world. Unfortunately, the proposed budget cuts would decrease U.S. funding for global health programs including efforts focusing on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by about one quarter, to about $6.5 billion for 2018. The president is pushing to reduce foreign aid by up to 37 percent, and there are reports that some officials in the administration are seeking to merge USAID with the State Department.

Countries in Need

Yemen has been ranked as the 10th most food-insecure nation in the world, due to food scarcity. In Yemen, two thirds of the population—18.8 million people—are in need of assistance. Seventeen million people are food-insecure, and 395,000 children severely malnourished. The country depends heavily on imports, but hostilities have damaged and destroyed infrastructure. Due to the closure of the capital’s airport, the situation has only gotten worse. According to the World Food Program USA, because of the result of unstable food, fuel and financial markets, 44 percent of the population is currently estimated to be living in poverty, and 72 percent is need of some form of humanitarian assistance. “Families are increasingly marrying off their young daughters to have someone else care for them, and often use the dowry to pay for necessities,” stated O’Brien. With the lack of immediate access to people who urgently need food assistance, Yemen is on the brink of famine, affecting mostly women and children.

In Nigeria, the Boko Haram violence has led to one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world. With 5.2 million people who are food-insecure and 450,000 severely malnourished children, Nigeria is in dire need of assistance. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that from June to August 2017, it is projected that a total of 5.2 million people may face severe food insecurity during the coming lean season in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States of northeastern Nigeria. Immediate funding is needed to avert famine; failure to intervene with livelihood support now will lead to continued reliance on humanitarian assistance through 2018.

The United Nations and South Sudanese officials have announced that South Sudan no longer meets the technical definition of a famine, but for some the fight to survive continues.  The U.N. has also warned that South Sudan's crisis is worsening and that removing the label of famine does not mean the situation has improved. "Even though we've taken it (famine) off the table, we have more people in Phase 4 than ever before," said Joyce Luma, WFP's country director. "If we don't assist this population, 1.7 million people will soon be in famine." There are 6 million people throughout South Sudan who are still struggling to find food every day. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report states that 1.7 million people are still facing emergency levels of hunger.

The United Nations reports Somalia, for now, has averted the worst but that the country remains fragile and famine continues to stalk its people. The World Food Program (WFP) country director in Somalia, Laurent Bukera, stated that 3.2 million people remain in need. Nearly 160,000 people had been displaced due to severe drought conditions. The result of the crises is forcing people to flee within and beyond their country borders in search of food and water. This has caused disruption in agricultural production and livelihoods, and separating families from their social support systems. Bukera also mentioned that the U.N. needs funding to continue providing essential relief, which has resulted in averting famine.

Hunger in the United States

Even in a developed country such as the United States, there are still families who are facing hunger, especially women. Women in America are 35 percent more likely than men to be poor in America. Currently, 35 percent of single women with children live and raise their families in poverty. Per Legal Momentum, Women and children account for over 70 percent of the nation’s poor.

In 2014, 72 percent of the households that the Feeding America network served lived at or below the federal poverty level with a median annual household income of $9,175. In 2015, 42 million people struggled with hunger in the United States, including 13 million children. 5.4 million seniors don’t have enough to eat. Those people were living in households where food was not easily accessible or households where there was not enough food for everyone in the home. Unfortunately, households with children were more likely to be food insecure than those without children.

Feeding the World

Globally and nationally there are organizations that fight every day to provide the less fortunate with food resources and assistance. In the U.S., foreign assistance is aid given to other countries to support global peace, security and development efforts, and provide humanitarian relief during times of crisis. It is a strategic, economic and moral imperative for the United States and vital to U.S. national security. Today, the U.S. manages foreign assistance programs in more than 100 countries around the world through the efforts of over 20 different U.S. government agencies.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization implementing school feeding programs worldwide and has been doing so for over 50 years. The organization provides food assistance in emergencies and works with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. The World Food Programme also provides school meals for 20–25 million children in 63 countries every year, often in the hardest-to-reach areas. Each year, WFP assists 80 million people in around 80 countries.

The Hunger Project firmly believes that empowering women to be key change agents is an essential element to achieving the end of hunger and poverty. Their programs aim to support women and build their capacity to become self sufficient. The Hunger Project provides tools and training to increase farming production at the local level. In Africa, their epicenter partners run community farms where they implement new techniques while producing food for the epicenter food bank.

The Feeding America network is the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States. For 35 years, Feeding America has responded to the hunger crisis in America by providing food to people in need through a nationwide network of food banks. On average, an estimated 25–40 percent of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed.  

To ensure that people don’t go hungry, the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative has helped more than 9 million farmers globally gain access to new tools or technologies, such as high-yielding seeds, fertilizer application, soil conservation and water management, according to USAID. The initiative works to give families and communities in some of the world’s poorest countries the freedom and opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.

Bill and Melinda Gates have called foreign aid a “moral imperative.” In America, there is growing moral outrage that the income gap grows at the expense of those less well off. Your actions can help end the scourge of hunger and poverty. 

Posted or updated: 10/24/2017 12:00:00 AM
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Suggested Pages:

*Action Alerts

*Maternal and Child Health

*Food Justice

Take Action:

Contact your local congressional representative at the Capital Switchboard (202-224-3121) or their district office to voice your support for:

  • H.R.1189: The Anti-Hunger Empowerment Act of 2017, which would provide greater access to supplemental nutrition assistance to economically disadvantaged populations
  • H.Res. 87: A bill expressing the view that a global Marshall Plan holds the potential to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to peace and prosperity through poverty reduction in the United States and abroad
  • S. 1630: Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2017: A bill to establish in the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services the Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Child Poverty to develop a national strategy to eliminate child poverty in the United States, and for other purposes.
  • S.1228: National Diplomacy and Development Strategy Act of 2017: Bipartisan legislation to establish a statutory requirement for the Department of State.

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