Nearly one in every seven people in the world go to bed hungry, and over 10,000 children die each day from malnutrition or a preventable disease, according to Oxfam. Nearly 200 million children are chronically malnourished. Around 27% of all children in developing countries are underweight, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, while obesity plagues children in developed and some emerging countries like China. Every minute 300 children die because of chronic malnutrition and almost half a billion children are at risk of permanent stunting over the next 15 years.[i] Nearly half of India’s children under five suffer from stunting.[ii] Malnutrition is the underlying cause of at least one-third of the eight million deaths each year of children under age five, reports Doctors Without Borders. The World Bank estimates that it would cost around $10 billion a year to end malnutrition, the amount Apple is accused of underpaying in its 2012 taxes. In an interview with Justice Sambo, 17, who lives in rural South Africa, he said that the staple corn porridge is highly refined, while in previous generations ground the corn by hand preserving its food value. The very unhealthy Coke-Cola is ubiquitous, even given to babies.
From Viet Nam, Khue, 16, came to the US to go to high school where she observed:
Somehow being born in a “too good” condition, having everything we want turn us into indifferent people. Since I moved to America, I haven’t met any teens here that are really ambitious. They don’t really know what they want. I was seriously shocked to see my friends at school dump half of their dish everyday. An American boy told me “Don’t forget you’re in America” when I asked him. It hurts me a lot and I think that in college when I major in a science subject, I will figure out a way to preserve food.
Khue is correct in her concern about wasted food, as 30 to 50% of the food produced doesn’t make it to consumers because of problems in distribution or throwing away food that doesn’t look perfect. Water is wasted as well as about 70% of the water used by humans goes to agriculture. 
The Copenhagen Consensus 2012 project gathered 65 experts to research how to tackle global poverty.[iii] They concluded the most important investment would be to tackle malnutrition since UNICEF reports that 28% of children in developing nations are malnourished. Adequate nutrition and inexpensive deworming enables students to learn and prevents stunted brain development. It only costs $25 a year per child for nutritional supplements and medical care. Less than $1 a year deworms a child.[iv] Researcher Peter Orazem reported that the most effective strategies for school success are providing nutrition supplements, informing families about education’s positive impact on future earnings, reducing school fees, and giving families cash or food payments for school attendance and health checkups. An assembly of university students at the Copenhagen Consensus conference voted micronutrients as the #2 priority and malaria treatment as #1.
A documentary titled Growing Change: A Journey Inside Venezuela’s Food Revolution (2012) explains why hunger exists.[v] It blames industrial agriculture’s chemical monocrop practices growing corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice that have decimated an additional 1% of farmland each year for the last 25 years and led to the extinction of 75% of the world’s crop varieties. The filmmakers believe that organic farming can feed the world and refer to Venezuela as an example of food sovereignty where local producers are empowered. Local farmers and fishermen’s cooperatives took control of production away from large corporations, and in cities neighbors share urban gardens and fish production in aquaculture in tanks.
Venezuela implemented land redistribution and reform, diversified crops, cooperatives, low interest loans, access to buyers as in open-air farmers’ markets, and fair trade. Community power is encouraged in over 25,000 community councils that monitor food quality and distribution. Subsidies are provided at Mercal stores for poor people who before often only had one meal a day of bananas and fish; these programs reduced malnutrition to 6% in the last decade.
Another way to boost food production is to help men and women work together to share resources, as in a district in Kenya where Bishop Titus Masika heard that local women were forcing their daughters to become prostitutes in order to earn money for their families.[vi] To bring more income to families, Masika got together local experts to teach organic farm methods, how to store rainwater for irrigation and how to plant drought-tolerant crops. Husbands were encouraged to work with their wives.
In Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, the authors list their solutions to hunger: expand development aid, create a global fund to aid small farmers in Africa similar to funds to combat AIDS and malaria, international organizations like the African Development Bank and the World Bank should invest in agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation, use new seed technology, don’t use food for biofeuls, and establish an international grain reserve for times of food shortages.[vii] African farmers, where women are up to 80% of the agricultural labor force, are implementing solutions such as rainwater harvesting, solar drip irrigation, and planting indigenous crops. (A problem is three quarters of world land grabs occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.)
Other experts focus on increasing women farmers’ access to resources such as information, credit, and owning land, as they are ones who more often grow food that feeds the family rather than industrial crops like cotton or tobacco. “Women have higher standards, and have been shown to better allocate the household budget as well as feed their families with more nutritious food. One of the biggest links between poverty reduction and malnutrition is directly related to the status of women,” said the director of The International Food Policy Research Institute. [viii]
The World Health Organization reports that about 2.6 billion people–half the developing world, don’t have access to latrines and 1.1 billion people lack clean drinking water. UNICEF reported that nearly 780 million people didn’t have access to clean water in 2012; as a consequence water-borne diseases kill over 1.4 million children every year.[ix] Most of the 1.6 million people who die from diarrheal diseases are children under age five. UNICEF reports that every 22 seconds a young child dies due to lack of clean water.
Lack of water also means villagers can’t grow vegetable gardens and may have poor diets. In rural South Africa, water has to be fetched in plastic jugs carried on wheelbarrows to a tank filled by government trucks once a week. This means no showers or flush toilets–sponge baths with a bit of water and outhouses. A few homes do have piped water available, as the ANC government has promised for years. However, corrupt officials siphon off funding. Jeanette Colbert lived there for seven years and visited recently. She reports that markets sell processed foods and sweets that are considered modern, along with Coke-Cola. When she went to visit people, she was usually offered coke and bread. The main meal is refined corn meal, supplemented with meat if affordable. She saw babies being fed these kinds of sugary processed foods. An elementary school principal without knowledge of nutrition told Colbert that it’s just important to fill the child’s stomach. As a result of this poor diet, diabetes and hypertension is common.
In India, a woman in a middle-class family lives in the floor above her sister-in-law in the family compound; “Just getting the daily bucket bath is challenging. The water runs for so many hours only two or three times a day and then it is off and the sister downstairs uses more of the water than we do.” Power is also inconsistent.
In most African cities, only 10% of the population is connected to sewers: UN-HABITAT set up a Safer Cities Programme in response to a request by African mayors. In Shanghai, the poor use chamber pots and some toss the contents out their windows as a cyclist warned me when I was there (see my photo of a chamber pot). However, in China only 4% of the population is without toilets, while in India 54% of the people don’t have them.[x] The others must use fields, although the World Health Organization calls this the riskiest sanitation practice. As I’m writing this on a train, I see Indian men squatting in the fields along the train track, but no women as they have to find more distant bushes that may harbor snakes. I saw men urinating on city streets but women don’t have this freedom. Access to toilets can be regarded an indication of the effectiveness of democracy vs. one-party rule. If I was a poor mother, I’d rather live in China than India.
When he was in first grade, Canadian Ryan Hreljac learned that many youth didn’t have access to clean water: Ryan decided to raise money to build wells in Uganda. By age 12 he raised more than $2 million for projects in eight countries. Another young Canadian activist, in Ontario, 13-year-old Robyn Hamlyn is leading a campaign for cities to become “blue communities” in their water use. Motivated by the documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2008), Robyn is concerned about the world water crisis. She stated, “I do believe in the power of one and I do believe that if we band together, we can change that reality.”[xi] She focuses on writing and speaking to city councils in her area.
[vii] Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman. Enough. Perseus Book Group, 2009.