Starvation has always been one of the most serious world crises, but in the 1990s we seemed to have slain this beast. Not so: inflation has pushed it back towards the top of the list of global problems. This worldwide inflation has caused food shortages around the globe, and the situation is worsening. Many countries throughout Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East are seeking ways to combat the risk of localized famine.
The global inflation has been caused by the dramatic decrease in food supply in these past few years. In late April 2008, the three main world suppliers of rice, Thailand, India and Indonesia, reduced rice exports. Since 2006, the average world price for rice has risen by 217%, wheat by 136%, maize by 125% and soybeans by 107%. This rise in the prices of staples has caused food crises in countries that are too poor to import food, and starvation has sometimes followed. On the other hand, as merchants hoarded food, the supply to the market was further decreased and thus the inflation increased. This demand-pull and supply-push has created the worldwide inflation and deepened the problem of starvation.
Moreover, some developing countries were put in the position of effectively being forced to import inflation – their economies were consequently damaged. Most food in some countries is not produced locally, but imported. As the prices of food imports increase, so does local inflation. Many countries have suffered. One of the most severe cases is Haiti. Of the typical diet of Haitians, rice comprises 20%, and Haiti imports more than 80% its rice. When the price of rice increased, the country could no longer buy the rice it needed, thus many people faced starvation. At the moment, more than one-fifth of Haitians are suffering from under-nutrition.
Uneven global food distribution is also another cause of hunger. More than 35 kilograms of grain per person is produced annually. This enough to meet the calorie needs of everyone on Earth, yet 40 million people die from hunger-related causes each year. Even when it is known that many people are starving, a great portion of agricultural produce is used to feed cattle, pigs, and poultry. It is an unbalanced situation. While there are lethal food shortages in some countries, others have surpluses they do not know what to do with. In North America and Oceania, more than 1200 kilograms per person per year of grains and legumes are produced, but most of it is used to feed livestock. Also, of course, while some countries are suffering from under-nutrition, some countries are dealing with the problem of over-nutrition.
By the same token, although many countries are screaming about the lack of food, a lot of food produced is being wasted. Raising animals to produce food is extremely expensive. It takes about 40 kilograms of vegetables and grains to produce 1kg of meat.
International cooperation is needed. Many richer countries and charity organizations are now giving aid to poorer countries. This aid is often food aid. Food aid is direct aid that sends food supplies to the countries in need. The USA donates more than 5 million tons of food a year to other countries. However, not all this aid is unconditional. It may have political or trade-related strings attached.
There are also other ways suggested solutions. Some point out that vegetarian diets help. Producing vegetables is much cheaper than producing meat. The theory is resources used to produce meat could be used instead to aid poor countries to combat starvation. Theoretically it is feasible, however impractical we must recognize it to be. But until someone starts having better ideas, people will continue to die from hunger in a world full of food.