And what is hunger?

Hunger. Not eat enough. discomfort, weakness, sickness, death.

Hunger is a condemnation, a threat that accompanies humanity since its emergence on the planet. Over the centuries, the moon has been stepped on, the skies have been conquered, the depths of the ocean have been explored, diseases have been eradicated and huge amounts of food have been produced. But hunger is still there, as a terrible and shameful reality that affects 815 million people.

It condemns millions of people, generation after generation, to live worse lives, to depend on others, to get sick, to die. To remain slaves to that chain of hunger and poverty that is perpetuated. And it's shameful, because hunger is no longer a technical problem, if it ever was. There is no shortage of food, no capacity to produce it and get it. Lack will so that everyone can eat.

In the year 2000, taking advantage of the round of the date, the countries meeting at the United Nations decided to set a goal to have a better world within 15 years. The so-called Millennium Goals proposed, among other things, halving – by then there was still no talk of eliminating it – the percentage of the hungry that was ten years earlier, in 1990.

Although a breakthrough was achieved (23.3% was passed to 12.9%) and in 2015 there were still 780 million of people who did not eat enough for a full life. For a dignified life.

At the dawn of the 21st century, while these goals were drafted – considered by many recklessly ambitious – 12 out of every 100 Brazilians went hungry. But in the country, rich in natural resources and with enormous agricultural potential, the political commitment to go far beyond cutting hunger in half was acquired: The national objective was to eradicate it altogether. And in just a decade, Brazil went on to the official list of free countries of this scourge. Reached "zero hunger".

Una familia come en Gafati (Níger).A family eats in Gafati (Niger). © FAO/Andrew Esiebo

Was it because Brazil had specific geographical and territorial characteristics, without which the objective could not have been achieved? Or does it have more to do with real ambition and political will?

After the Millennium goals remain a step away from success as far as hunger is concerned, the new plan to change the world – the goals of sustainable development or Agenda 2030 – also aspires to zero hunger. Is it really possible to get it? What obstacles are in the way of the goal? What can we learn from what we have already achieved? Will our generation be the first in history to know a world without hunger? All these questions are analyzed throughout this book.

And we advance part of the answer. To achieve zero hunger, today, is perfectly possible. What we have to decide is whether we are willing to do so.

Defining the problem

The first step to solving a problem is to know it. Define it, measure it, explore its causes and its consequences. And that's the first thing we're going to do in this chapter. Define what hunger is, a word that means many things at the same time and no good. But with some of those meanings we cannot – or probably want to – end. So let's first clarify which is the real rival to beat.

Unlike other animal species that can spend months without eating food, nourished by the reserves of their last meals, the human needs to eat regularly. That is one of the meanings of the word "hunger", that permanent reminder that we need food that comes every four, six, eight, ten hours.

We call hunger to the desire to eating the sandwich after a day on the mountain, or the tickle in the stomach when sitting at the table for dinner. With these six letters we refer to those "desire to eat" that we are assaulted several times a day.

¿Y qué es el hambre?Magnify photo

But in hunger there are also classes. and sizes. It is not the same hunger that knows that in the backpack carries a sandwich of tortilla and two bananas, or the one that does not doubt that at home awaits a hot meal of three dishes, that the one who knows that night will have queirse to bed with the hole In the stomach. Not the one that he barely ate yesterday, he hasn't eaten today, and he won't eat tomorrow.

There are hambrecitas and eternal hungers. That's why we call hunger to the craving for food, but that's just a hint of real hunger. It's just the physiological reminder we were talking about. Maybe we should force us to use another word to refer to him. For example, appetite. Having an appetite is not the same as being hungry.

Measuring hunger

So what is hunger? How do we identify it and measure it to end it? When does one come to swell the dramatic list of "hungry"? The importance of establishing the concept is capital, because it conditions everything else.

Let's look at another question: what is a dead person in traffic accident? Only those who die on the spot count? Or those who die in the hospital a day later? Are pedestrians run over too? The deceased while riding a bicycle? What about the bumpy ones on the mountain tracks?

The size of the problem will depend on the definition we adopt. So what is a hungry to-day? The official definition, established and measured by FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), is that people who do not consume enough calories for their daily activity are malnourished, which are obviously not the Same for a child, as for a grown woman or an old man.

FAO experts estimate these caloric needs and the availability of food with the help of data provided by countries. Of those who do not reach that minimum of calories, it is said that they are malnourished people, which is the technical term to say what they really are: hungry. And today there are still about 815 million of people undernourished.

The consequences of hunger

Lack of energy because of the low intake of food causes the hungry to weaken. It makes them more vulnerable to disease, depletes their forces before and makes it difficult for them to perform many physical or mental activities. That undernourishment is a conviction to live a worse life. A sentence that becomes even more terrible in the case of children under the age of five.

Because when a person is in the midst of development – especially in the first thousand Days of life – a good diet is essential to lay the foundations of their future. Only then will the body and mind of the individual achieve their true potential. Starving in those early years – or being the son of a starving mother – will forever hinder the development of the lesser sentenciándole, most likely, to live a half-or two-thirds or a quarter-life of good of what it could have been. It will limit their physical growth and brain development and those limitations can no longer be overcome.

¿Y qué es el hambre?Magnify photo

Starving later, as it grows, will make the child or girl not be able to perform in school or study or learn the level they could have done with a full stomach. Hunger does not allow concentrating, hinders retention, weakens memory. And that difficulty in studying will weigh down your future, cut your livelihoods for a living. It is the perverse circle of hunger and poverty, which not only chains those who suffer, but also the following generations.

The Famine

In the most extreme cases, in addition to opening the door to diseases and physical problems of all kinds, the lack of food can lead directly to death. People become so weak that they die. When the same place starts to record several deaths from starvation, international agencies give an alarm and resort to that word that no one wants to hear: famine.

That term that evokes stunted children in Ethiopia, famished families eating anything to try to get alive the next day, the absolute failure of humanity. A situation which, in the depths of human consciousness, has been – almost – always unacceptable. But today it is even more so, knowing that more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year.

For – yet – the greatest shame of the human community in this global age, famine is not a legend of the past. At the beginning of 2017 it was declared in South Sudan. This country and others, such as Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia or the Central African Republic, take months or years to declare it. And a little over five years ago, in 2011, more than 250,000 people died of starvation in Somalia.

Una anciana en un campo de desplazados por la sequía en Uusgure (Somalia).An elderly woman in a drought-displaced camp in Uusgure (Somalia). © FAO/Karel Prinsloo

Hunger, in addition to ruining millions of lives and chaining hundreds of millions of people, still kills on its own. and a lot. Food insecurity but, as we said, it doesn't just kill. Hunger is inhumane because it removes man what is most his. Which makes him really human. Hunger Dehumanizess Man when, in addition to his health, his growth or his potential development, he takes away his dreams, as the Argentinean writer Martín Caparrós illustrates in his essay El Famine.

When a person does not know if the next day he will have something to eat – nor has he eaten just all day – he cannot concentrate on anything other than foraging. To avoid it is the first concern, the first-almost always the only-problem to be solved, both by the explorer who arrives to unknown territory and by the family who settles in his new home.

A hungry can hardly work, unless he believes that it can serve him to get something to eat. And yet he works poorly, because he is weak and hunger does not let him think clearly. You can't read, study, think. Of course, you can't play with your children or be with your friends or enjoy the sunset. Hunger drains him physically and mentally, angers him, does not let him rest. His mental horizon only comes until the next day, until the next meal. There is no time, no energy, to think of anything else. Nor to dream of anything other than a morsel that apacigüe their hunger, or that of loved ones.

When someone is possessed by that imperative need, by the lack of security of whether they can eat or not, is knocking on the door of the perverse cycle of hunger. If the situation extends over time, it will be trapped by the spiral. It is what is called – another technical concept – food insecurity. When you don't know when you will be able to get a meal again that really satisfies your needs. Or you just don't know if you can get it.

It is when you do not find a way to get suficient food and you need others – neighbors, governments, agencies, NGOs, etc. – to assist you because if not, you will be unable to eat.

When the bondage of hunger, when that food insecurity extends to a community, to a group, to a country, the perverse effects of need multiply. Societies become acritical, docile, and find enormous difficulties in developing and growing. And they also become dependent. dependent on that help that others will give or not, depending on whether they can. Or if they want to.

¿Y qué es el hambre?Magnify photo

Pope Francis, in his address at FAO in October 2017, said that this "piety" of helping those who are hungry for an emergency was not enough. That justice was necessary: "A fair social order" to help each country achieve food self-sufficiency, "to think of new models of development and consumption, that do not worsen the situation of the less advanced populations or their external dependence" . Ultimately, not to turn hungry people or communities into beggars from the leftovers of others, but to enable them to break by themselves the chains of food insecurity and hunger.

Because, we repeat, today there are enough food but also, and above all, knowledge and technology available to reach all corners of the world. And that all people can eat what they need. Every day.

It is absolutely possible to end hunger and make this generation the first to truly release humanity from such an inhuman, so everyday yoke. Today we have all the necessary tools to become the generation that really ends this brutal inhumanity. To erect ourselves in the zero hunger generation. Are we willing to get it? So let's see what the obstacles are on the way.