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The Typical Face of Hunger

Non-profits focused on the problem of hunger often use pictures of children in a state of advanced starvation. This is very misleading. Famine occurs when people do not have enough food to survive; you can literally starve to death from famine. Hunger occurs when people have enough food to survive, but not enough food for good health. According to the World Food Programme, only 8% of the undernourished are in a state of famine; the rest are in a state of hunger.

Famines are intermittent; they occur from time to time and place to place. A famine cannot continue for years because if the people do not get enough food, they die. These are the typical pictures used by aid agencies to do fund-raising and awareness-raising: people near death from starvation. But it’s misleading, since most of the hungry are not starving to death, and even most children-foodof those who are in a state of famine are not yet in an advanced state of starvation.

Hunger, by comparison, can and does occur continuously: hundreds of millions of persons are undernourished month after month, year after year, in the same set of nations. They don’t have enough food for good health, and so they are more susceptible to illness and death. But they don’t die of starvation. They don’t look like they are starving to death.

Where does hunger occur? Only about 27% of the hungry in the world live in Africa. Asia has a larger percent of the undernourished of the world. So pictures of children starving to death in Africa are not representative of the world hunger problem. Africa is where hunger is most intense. The majority of those nations with 30% or more of their population in a state of hunger are in Africa. But the pictures used to represent hunger by aid agencies are too often of Africa, ignoring the problem in Asia and other regions of the world, and too often of starvation rather than hunger.

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