Our planet is facing some of its greatest challenges, including the climate crisis, political unrest and inequality.
But while we channel our energy into tackling them, another crisis is quietly threatening the lives and futures of children across the world.
Famine and hunger might not occupy a large slice of our collective consciousness right now, but if allowed to go unsolved, could become the defining humanitarian crisis of this century.
It’s a problem that World Vision is actively working to solve through the generosity of sponsors, aid work, and by educating people in the west about the extent of the issue. Understanding the impact of famine and hunger on some of our global community’s most vulnerable members can be the powerful motivator we need to make lasting change.
A complex, far-reaching problem
It’s difficult to think about one child going to school or hopping into bed with a rumbling stomach. Grappling with the knowledge that this is the daily reality for millions of children all over the globe can feel overwhelming.
An estimated 50 million people across 45 countries are on the edge of famine.
That’s almost twice the population of Australia at risk due to natural disasters, conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, among other factors.
In Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, where devastating crop destruction, loss of livestock, and drought have severely limited food supply, an estimated 13 million people are experiencing crisis levels of hunger, with almost half this group estimated to be living at “emergency” and “catastrophe” levels.
In Somalia, an estimated 1.8 million children under the age of five are experiencing acute malnutrition, and globally, nutrition-related factors contribute to almost half of preventable deaths among the under-5s.
Starved of choices
The physical impact of famine, hunger and malnutrition is undeniable.
Malnutrition can stunt physical development, and the effects can be compounded when it occurs in the critical period between conception and a child’s second birthday.
Malnutrition can make people – especially children – vulnerable to preventable diseases including scurvy, rickets and kwashiorkor, a chronic deficiency of protein and essential nutrients that manifests as a distended belly. A severely wasted child is 11 times more likely than a well nourished child to die from common childhood illness.
And malnutrition can affect so much more than physical condition. Malnutrition in childhood can affect how the brain develops, which means malnourished children could face learning and cognitive difficulties later in life.
The socioeconomic impacts bear consideration, too. Developmental challenges caused by hunger and famine rob children of choices over the course of their lives, affecting the kind of education, employment opportunities and income they receive.
They can also fundamentally alter the way people interact with and contribute to their communities, making the cycle difficult to break.
The road to recovery
The problem of hunger and famine may seem unsurmountable, but solutions do exist.
About 89% of severely malnourished children treated by World Vision in the decade up to 2021 made a full recovery. That’s a remarkable result, made possible by World Vision donors and supporters.
World Vision, whose child sponsorship program is well known to Australians, also recently mounted its biggest ever response to the global hunger problem.
Global Hunger Response focuses on 26 of the hardest-hit countries and provides assistance including food and clean water, financial aid, healthcare, nutrition and hygiene services, and support for vulnerable groups such as women and children.
So far, almost 20 million people have been helped – and that number is growing daily.
The gift of childhood
Swangirai is one child whose life was changed by World Vision supporters. As an infant in Zambia, he suffered extreme malnutrition, but his situation was turned around thanks to an emergency “superfood”.
The paste is made from nuts and skimmed milk powder and contains essential nutrients. It’s a great source of energy and can be consumed straight from the pack, meaning it can help kids such as Swangirai regain their strength in as little as six weeks.
A little over a decade later, 12-year-old Swangirai is a standout student, making his family proud of his academic prowess every day.
He understands his life might not have taken the same course without support from World Vision and the donors who make a difference in the lives of children like him.
“If you did not help me, I would have been dead by now,” he says.
Learn how you can help create change for a child living in extreme poverty at World Vision.