After several of weeks in the headlines, the United Nations has eventually declared a famine in parts of the Horn of Africa today after large parts of the people there suffer from the worst drought in decades. Malnutrition is a much wider ranging problems in the poorer parts of the world, although it only comes to our mind when we see headlines as we do today. There are startling facts about malnutrition that are very contradictory to the wasteful lifestyles in the wealthy parts of the planet (a recent FAO study suggests that one third of the world’s food goes to waste):
Hunger is the world’s No. 1 health risk. It kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combines.
One in seven people in the world will go to bed hungry tonight.
One out of four children in developing countries are underweight.
There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of USA, Canada and the European Union.
(quoted from the World Food Programme)
Malnutrition has a considerable impact especially on children. Where they don’t die of hunger, the effects on their health are fatal. Deficiencies in the first two years of life are irreversible, and food aid should be a top priority in international efforts to tackle the consequences of poverty – not only in a time where an officially declared famine makes headlines.
By using data from the Poverty Mapping Project at Columbia University which has subnational data on the prevalence of child malnutrition I was able to generate a gridded dataset which highlights the worst affected areas related to child malnutrition based on a gridded cartogram transformation. The following map shows each grid cell resized according to the estimated total number of underweight children under the age of five living in that area (underweight is defined as weight-for-age z-scores that are more than two standard deviations below the median of the NCHS/CDC/WHO international reference population, more data see also at the WHO website). The map shows that while we think of some parts of Africa being the worst affected region related to undernourished children, the problem is as pressing in South Asia, and quite considerable in parts of South East Asia:
This map is the picture of the hungry children in the world. The World Food Programme provides these facts about undernourished children:
Undernutrition contributes to five million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries (Source: Under five deaths by cause, UNICEF, 2006);
One out of four children – roughly 146 million – in developing countries is underweight (Source: The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF, 2007);
More than 70 percent of the world’s underweight children (aged five or less) live in just 10 countries, with more than 50 per cent located in South Asia alone (Source: Progress for Children: A Report Card on Nutrition, UNICEF, 2006);
10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths (Source: The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF, 2007)
The WFP website provides a good start to learn more about the current crisis, and the wider implications of hunger in the world: