The growing food crisis

April 24, 2008
If you've followed the news at all in the last few weeks, you're probably aware of the developing worldwide food crisis. This has been THE story of late, and it's news we are watching very closely.

So what, exactly, is going on? Well, a whole lot, actually. First off, destructive weather events (which, some argue, are due to climate change) have caused whole seasons of crops to fail in certain parts of the world. In Bangladesh, for instance, Cyclone Sidr tore through the costal districts of the country last November and now, six months later, there's no rice harvest. In Somalia, the worst drought in decades is scorching plant life and killing livestock.

nutrition1c.jpg
UNICEF/ HQ98-0527/Giacomo Pirozzi
If you've followed the news at all in the last few weeks, you're probably aware of the developing worldwide food crisis. This has been THE story of late, and it's news we are watching very closely.

So what, exactly, is going on? Well, a whole lot, actually. First off, destructive weather events (which, some argue, are due to climate change) have caused whole seasons of crops to fail in certain parts of the world. In Bangladesh, for instance, Cyclone Sidr tore through the costal districts of the country last November and now, six months later, there's no rice harvest. In Somalia, the worst drought in decades is scorching plant life and killing livestock.

nutrition1c.jpg
UNICEF/ HQ98-0527/Giacomo Pirozzi
Increased use of grains for biofuels is also contributing to food shortages in minor or major ways, depending on how you look at it. (And this is a tough one"obviously the world needs to be exploring as many alternate fuel sources as possible, but we've got to figure out how to balance this with food needs.) Add to shortages record high gas prices (meaning high transportation costs) and you can see how the cost of food has gone up so significantly. The World Bank estimates food prices have risen by an average of 83 percent in the past three years. With food costs so high, in many parts of the world people are going from barely getting by to being severely undernourished. Malnourishment isn't just a case of being hungry"it has a profound effect on every aspect of quality of life, especially in children. Malnourishment cripples children's growth, it dulls their intellects, and saps their energy. And it is a major child survival issue. A child who is malnourished has a much higher risk of dying from a disease that might not normally kill her. As recently reported in the Lancet, at least 1/3 of child deaths are due to undernutrition. UNICEF has a lot of experience dealing with undernourished children and their families (though we wish it weren't so). And we've learned over the years how to counteract malnourishment and starvation with special high protein biscuits and a remarkable therapeutic nut spread called Plumpy'nut. But a major worldwide food crisis is a daunting and (to be honest) even scary prospect. UNICEF and other aid organizations will need a lot of help to stave off major famine. Would you like to join us in helping children affected by the food crisis? Please go here.