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Hunger and malnutrition: the tragedies of our time

The tragedies of our days

Eighty percent of malnourished children live in developing nations, in areas of war or conflict, countries that are mainly in Africa, South America and South Asia. The UN agencies’ annual report notes that key factors in the increase in food insecurity include climate fluctuations affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, along with armed conflicts and economic crises.

Hunger and malnutrition affect children as early as within the first two years of life with devastating consequences. It is therefore important to pay attention to those who are most vulnerable, infants, children under five, school children, adolescent girls and women, and to be aware of the harmful consequences caused by poor access to food. Africa and Asia are home to respectively the 39% and 55% of all children affected by problems related to lack of a balanced diet.

Appropriate interventions would not only bring benefits in terms of health, but also in terms of development, economy and not least schooling. In poor countries, one in 6 infants weighs less than 2.5 kg at birth. As age increases, more and more individuals fall into this abnormal condition: the percentage of underweight children with acute malnutrition stands at one in 4 in the 0-5 age group. In addition, medical studies have shown that being underweight has a 9 times higher risk of dying prematurely than those with normal development through healthy eating.

A tragedy that needs to be addressed starting with future mothers because maternal malnutrition poses a danger to both mother and children: the legacy of hunger, which a malnourished mother transfers to her children, is one of the greatest constraints on child and societal development. Malnutrition weakens immune defenses and increases the risk of falling ill with rickets, dementia, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, AIDS and measles-diseases that are responsible, according to WHO, for half of all deaths of children under five.

It is critical to clarify that malnutrition and hunger are not the same thing: malnutrition is a complex condition that to be addressed requires interventions that must go beyond food aid. While the typical response to hunger is aid that contributes to a person’s daily caloric intake, malnutrition is not simply a condition of food deprivation, but rather a general deficiency of food, nutrients, and micronutrients that can cause serious physical and mental problems, particularly in children under 5 years of age, up to and including death. Therefore, in addition to greater attention to the most vulnerable, there needs to be a sustainable shift toward nutritionally sensitive agriculture and food chains that can ensure safe, quality food for all. In addition, it is clear that efforts are needed to build pathways to environmental resilience through policies that promote climate change adaptation and disaster reduction.

With this in mind, we have developed our agricultural projects: good agricultural practices ensure environmental sustainability, food security and a fair distribution of the products grown. We are also certain that know-how built on “development that can ensure that the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations to realize their own” contributes to the cultural process needed to strengthen the self-determination of the people, an important first step toward freedom in the socio-economic choices of one’s country. The right to food can only be guaranteed if every inividual has access to productive resources (particularly land, water, seeds, but also fisheries and forests), jobs, and social protection schemes that protect the most vulnerable, particularly women and indigenous peoples.

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