08 September 2012

Hunger

Now that I've finished talking about the delicious food available in South Africa, let's talk about the lack of food that affects millions of people here.

Hunger is a universal problem, but the world as a whole has provided enough caloric intake for every person on the planet for the last half century, but the inequitable distribution of the food has led to pockets of hunger in every country on the planet.  Even the United States is not immune to the problem, and while South Africa fares better than most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, there is still a large proportion of the population without enough food.

Statistics on hunger here are a bit hard to come by; the Government has pledged to reduce hunger levels by half between 1990 and 2015, and so their data tends to look more favorable.  Food banks and other non-profits that are dedicated to improving access to food often disagree with government reports, and publish bleaker data on the situation.  I would assume the real answer lies somewhere between the two, but it seems that somewhere between 15 to 20% of the people here may not know where their next meal is going to come from, and a larger proportion typically has food, but possibly not enough every day.

While the planet as a whole can theoretically feed every person on the planet, not many countries produce enough food for their own population, but South Africa does.  So, the problem is not supply, but more distribution and access.  People don't necessarily live near where food is being produced, and the higher rates of poverty here don't help the situation.  There are food banks here that try to shift food from areas of surplus to areas of deficit, but they can only do so much.  The government says it has made strides in reducing hunger, and in fact the South African Bill of Rights (one of the most comprehensive in the world) promises that "Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water."

Access to food is certainly linked to income and poverty levels, and so persons living in rural areas here that are more prone to be impoverished also have the lowest levels of food security, and young children are especially at risk, as access to nutritional food is even more important as they develop. 

The government has published plans to try to address hunger via various mechanisms, by tackling poverty,  helping to start farms in areas where food security is low, and doing a better job of collecting accurate data on hunger; data suggests that the situation is improving nationally, but that's little consolation for the people who are hungry today.

South African food banks don't seem to be able to take donations on-line, but there are needs for food in your hometown wherever you are; maybe next time you're in the grocery store, you'll find some staples on sale that your local food bank would love to have donated to them.