My father will be 95 this year and thus was a child during the great depression in the United States. The hunger that he experienced at that time haunts him to this day. You will never see a more grateful person sitting down to every meal. And if there is a single issue he is passionate about it is hunger; most of his charitable contributions are to help the hungry.
What I have learned from my father is that hunger is a terror. While not all of us have faced this terrible situation personally, people of faith may have a taste of it through fasting. Intentionally going without food helps us remember that hunger is a persistent scourge faced by millions daily. The hunger pangs we experience are reminders that we must stay vigilant against malnutrition: a universal threat to life and health.
Fishing for solutions
My own development career began in 1991 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Congo where I taught fish farming to poor rural farmers. That joint project with the Government of Congo was funded by the US Title II food program. If you ever want to see happy children in Africa try to get to a fish pond harvest. When the water is drained and the fish are flopping around in the mud they rush in and start stuffing small fish into their pockets. Their joy was convincing enough for me to spend 13 years in fish farming in Africa.
The damage caused by malnutrition in the world today is staggering. It currently affects 160 million children and the mental and physical effects are irreversible. Most of these children will never know life in all its fullness. Their God-given opportunity for physical and cognitive development has been taken from them.
Half of the preventable under-five child deaths in the world today are linked to malnutrition. And in an odd twist of the modern age we now face around the world a growing pandemic of obesity, which leads to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. All of the malnutrition issues come at great human and financial cost. As such our paradigm must change, from the notion that poverty causes malnutrition, to the strategic understanding that malnutrition causes poverty.
Malnutrition is not inevitable
In 2015 World Vision reached more than 30 million children in over 50 countries with food assistance, food security, health and nutrition interventions. We respond decisively to the urgency of refugees, as we do to communities with chronic malnutrition challenges. We believe that malnutrition is not inevitable, that it can be prevented, and our belief is founded on the many families, communities and countries who have successfully addressed the issue. In 2013 we made a five-year public commitment to invest $1.2 billion to combat malnutrition.
Because of the multiple forms that malnutrition takes and because of its general complexity World Vision employs a very wide range of activities to combat it. For example, because even the unborn child is subject to malnutrition, we counsel pregnant women to improve their diet and get appropriate ante-natal care. As they prepare for delivery we counsel them on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. Where children are underweight we often work with families to learn better cooking and feeding practices. Importantly, we work with health services to strengthen their child growth monitoring practices. And where children have succumbed to severe malnutrition, we strengthen health service capacity to rehabilitate them with therapeutic foods.
To improve agricultural productivity we engage infrastructural activities like water retention, irrigation, erosion control and dip tanks for cattle. We work with farmers to adopt improved and diversified farming practices and crops, and help link them to profitable markets. And in emergency situations World Vision has long been a leader in facilitation of food distribution, food voucher programs, cash transfers and school feeding programs.
Don’t accept the status quo
The Christian faith tells us that the poor will always be with us. But it does not tell us that they need to be hungry and malnourished. I would like to challenge all people of faith to reflect on whether we have come to accept hunger and malnutrition in our global community. Should our beliefs not lead us to be bolder in addressing this injustice?
Hunger and malnutrition are not the result of natural phenomena, but the reflection of a humanity that has failed to care for its own. It is surely a great sadness for God that modern mankind has the resources with which to nourish each and every child today, and yet so many suffer. It is not food that is lacking, nor technology nor dollars, but the collective compassion, and, frankly, the faith to eliminate the issue once and for all.
Dan Irvine is Senior Director of Operations, Health and Nutrition for World Vision