COVID-19: Does a child die of hunger every day?

Why that large number of humans have to starve to death? – Filepic/Reuters

IN a virtual session of the UN Security Council on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security held on 21 April 2020, the chief of the UN World Food Program David M. Beasley gave a shocking account of people living with hunger.

According to the WFP report, 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world. Added to that another 135 million people on earth are marching towards the brink of starvation.

In addition to these increasing number of people living on hunger, another 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 connected to the COVID-19 crisis. 

It is not only about the number of hungry people. As David M. Beasley cautioned, “If we can’t reach these people … 300,000 could starve to death every single day for the next three months.” And that will be 10 times more than the current number of deaths every single day.

Why that large number of humans have to starve to death?

The answer to this question is not as simple as the question is. War, drought, and lack of technology or manpower for agricultural productivity all are connected to that age-old global crisis. And there is another factor added to those challenges – "food wastage".

Actually, global food waste is mind-blowing. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the annual global wastage of edible food products amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.

It can be seen that every high and middle-income country is guilty of wasting food; the only difference is in the amount of wastage.

The food wasted by the United States and Europe alone could feed the world 3 times over.

The food that goes to waste in Malaysia — estimated to be three thousand tonnes (2,721,554 kgs) per day according to a research published in 2018 by a team of MARDI —  could add at least one kg of food every day for more than 2.7 million starving people.

The average Saudi used to waste more 2-3 times higher than the global average of 115 kgs per capita per year, according to a report published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences in 2019.

Thankfully, WFP offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people. Clearly, that is not even one-tenth of the total population who are in need of those supplies. Albeit, it is not entirely the lack of food on earth that is causing them to die of starvation.

There are two major decisions that can be made immediately to significantly reduce the death tolls for starvation, if not to bring it to zero.

First, stop individual food wastage. The question is – how difficult would it be to stop wasting food?

In fact, it is a matter of cognizance of others and a decision to stop wasting. It does not require any training or skill. A good conscience is good enough to stop food wastage. In this regard, every Muslim must carefully remember that Islam strongly prohibits wasteful behaviour.

Second, stop collective food wastage. We have heard the news of dumping milk, smashing eggs, and ploughing vegetables. Those are all connected to the disruption of the supply chain – the recent ones of which are due to the lockdown to prevent the COVID-19.

Is it difficult to share those surplus food products with the starved humans living in different parts of the world?

The more practical question is – how difficult would it be to get those foods to the famine inflicted countries?

I believe the global leaders and philanthropists can do it in the same way, they have been coordinating to find a preventive vaccine and an effective drug against SARS-CoV-2.

The same resolute should be made to find a concerted solution to enable the food to reach those who are on the verge of death as they continue to starve.

The way the global leaders and philanthropists have succeeded in bending the curve of the COVID-19 fatality, the same way they can help to reduce the number of deaths linked to starvation.

In fact, the estimated number of death due to COVID-19 is much lower than that number due to lack of food. The only hurdle that we all need to cross, is that COVID-19 is about us, those who have; while hunger is about them, those who have nots.

* Prof Dr Mohammad Tariqur Rahman is with the Faculty of Dentistry in University Malaya. He is also the Executive Editor for Annals of Dentistry University of Malaya and President of Malaysian Society of Oral Immunologist and Oral Microbiologist.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.