UNPRECEDENTED FAMINE: 232 MILLION PEOPLE AT RISK

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Hunger affects nearly one billion people. According to the statistics of FAO, 795 million people are suffering from malnutrition; of these, 98% live in developing countries. In Africa alone they are 232.5 million.

The famine

In the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan) as in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the level of “food insecurity” (i.e. the number of people that can hardly find enough food every day) is very high. This emergency can be declared “famine” only under specific conditions: when in the same area at least 20 per cent of the families have extreme levels of food shortage and limited capacity of response; when the rates of acute malnutrition exceed 30 percent; and when the daily rate of mortality affects two out of ten thousand adults.

Damages to health

But hunger does not exclusively lead to death. Among the many consequences of acute malnutrition there are: extreme weakness, anaemia, scattered ulcers, temporal hypotrophy, weight loss, night blindness, bleedings and neurological damages also permanent.

The causes

Climate change, with the rising of temperatures, are one of the main causes of famine in recent years. Three quarters of all the people who suffer from hunger in the world, in fact, lives in rural areas desolate and particularly vulnerable to natural disasters such as droughts or floods. They are almost totally dependent on agriculture for their food needs and have no alternative sources of income or use. A particularly prolonged drought like the one currently happening in Madagascar and in west Africa, not only “burns” the harvests of the year, but threatens the sowing for the following year. The lack of rain therefore can put a family of small farmers in abject poverty for years.

But, in addition to natural factors, there are even many human causes: war forces people to flee their homes and their land; young people are called to combat as soldiers and can no longer take care of agriculture. In addition, the corruption of the political class and the exploitation of the resources by the foreign multinationals undermines national development.

The victims: women and children

The ones that pay the heaviest price are the children. They suffer from the scourge of hunger already from the womb. According to the UNICEF, there are 200 million minors who, in developing countries suffer from some form of malnutrition. Of these, 17 million are born underweight every year due to an insufficient nutrition of the mother, before and during the pregnancy.

A possible solution?

Water is the gold of the third millennium. Recent history (such as the drought that plagued the Sahel in the eighties) demonstrates how this element is essential to the survival of billions of people.

Although our planet is constituted by two thirds of H2O, the fresh water reserves are always less. For this reason, the lowering of emissions, the more extensive use of alternative energies, the reforestation, a better policy of exploitation of the resources associated with the widespread practice of good governance, in close collaboration with international agencies involved in humanitarian aid, can contribute to improving – albeit in the long term – this drama.

But if fresh water is the main need of humanity, the answer lies in the desalination of brackish basins. The water thus recovered is then used for food and industrial use.

Currently, even if there are more than 18,000 desalination plants in 150 countries, nearly a billion people suffer water poverty and this method is not yet decisive because of the very high cost of the process.

Finding a cheap and efficient system to extract drinking water from the single vast basin that exists, the ocean, is the bet to win in the coming years. Life (or death of hunger and thirst) of almost one sixth of the world’s population depends on this challenge.

Cover Image: photos of Kevin Carter, Pulitzer Prize 1994

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