How does food insecurity affect people?
Food insecurity affects people in a number of ways including famine and undernutrition, rising prices and conflict and social unrest.
Famine and undernutrition
Famine is the widespread scarcity of food. Famine causes death and undernutrition. Undernutrition makes people vulnerable to diseases due to weakened immunity.
Famine is the clearest indicator that people in an area do not have sufficient food. Famine is described as ‘a widespread scarcity of food’. Famine also leads to deficiency diseases such as anaemia, which is a low iron level. Famine also affects physical and cognitive development in children. The map below shows the proportion of children younger than 5 who suffer stunting (prevented from growing or developing properly). As you can see there is a large proportion of children who suffer from stunting in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Although in decline, it is estimated that 805 million of the 7.4 billion in the world suffer from chronic undernourishment between 2012-14. As you can see from the graph below the overwhelming majority live in LICs. This represents 13.5 per cent of the population of LICs.
The Global Hunger Index has been developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which attempts to assess the multidimensional nature of hunger, by combining four key indicators of malnutrition into a single index score. These four indicators are undernourishment (% of people who do not get enough calories), child wasting (proportion of children under 5 who have a low weight for their height), child stunting and child mortality (deaths of children under 5).
Food shortage leads to an increase in prices. Poor harvests in one area of the world have a significant impact across the globe. Poor grain harvests in 2010 led to some countries introducing an export ban. This led to a shortage of grain causing global prices to rise.
In some LICs a shortage of food can lead to price increases resulting in average families not being able to afford to buy food. This leads to malnutrition and disease linked to poor diet.
Conflict and social unrest
As demand for food resources increases and availability is limited conflict can occur both locally and between international communities. Demand for water for agriculture can lead to international disputes over water resources. An example of this is the River Nile which flows through several countries, all dependent on its water for agriculture. Uganda wants to dam the river which will have a negative impact on its flow downstream. Sudan wants to extract more water for irrigation, which Egyptian farmers depend on the Nile to grow food such as avocados which are a valuable source of international income as they are exported around the world.
Social insecurities also exist at a local level where rising food prices can cause instability. An example of this is Algeria where, in 2011, there were five days of rioting caused by rising food prices.
Food Insecurity – The big picture
The factors discussed above lead to food insecurity. Over the last few years (from 2014 to 2016), trends across Asia and Africa have changed notably. In Asia, the total number of those severely food insecure has fallen by nearly 30 million, whereas the number in Africa have increased by 40-45 million.
The map below shows the share of population with severe food insecurity by country.