What we’re doing to help end global hunger

8 Jun

Food is central to human well-being: it provides the body with nourishment, offers livelihoods that lift people out of poverty, and brings communities together. Although food is a basic human need, too many people are trapped in a cycle of hunger by forces beyond their immediate control, like poverty, disaster, conflict and inequality.

Despite decades of progress in reducing world hunger, 2017 saw increases in the number of people who are hungry. More than 820 million people still go to bed hungry every night — that’s one in every nine people who don’t have the food they need to live a healthy, productive life.

The World Health Organisation considers this to be the single greatest threat to global health. Hunger is cyclical and generational: it inhibits people’s ability to work and learn to their fullest potential, which can curb their future and trap them and their families in more poverty — and more hunger.

Mercy Corps takes a multi-pronged approach to helping end world hunger, including implementing programmes that tackle the multiple drivers of food security, while also engaging in policy discussions that influence our programmes. Learn about this work and what is being done to stop world hunger below.

Global hunger today

Years of conflict have put millions in South Sudan at risk of hunger and famine. PHOTO: Jennifer Huxta for Mercy Corps

Common causes of hunger

World hunger is caused by so much more than a shortage of food. Even in places where food is plentiful or can be grown, challenges like disasters, conflict or poverty prevent people from accessing it.

People in poverty generally spend between 60 and 80 percent of their income on food, which can force them to prioritise feeding their families over meeting other basic needs or reaching long-term goals, like sending their children to school. If an emergency strikes, they may need to skip meals in order to cope financially — and the cycle of hunger continues.

According to the Food Security Information Network, conflict and insecurity were primary drivers of food insecurity in 2017, alone accountable for putting 74 million people in need of urgent assistance. Climate change is also eroding existing efforts to improve food security.

Hunger can also stem from inadequate food systems, like a lack of road infrastructure to connect people to markets, or poor storage facilities, through which food gets wasted and never reaches those who need it.

Extreme weather, like drought or flooding, can be devastating for pastoralists — like Ali in Ethiopia — who rely on regular rains to supply water and fodder for their herds. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Weather shocks, due in part to climate change, are also increasingly driving hunger. Half the world’s poor grow their own food, and natural disasters like droughts and floods frequently wipe out vulnerable families’ entire food supply and income.

Read more: A hotter planet, a hungrier world ▸

But even if all these obstacles to food access were removed, the world will still need to change its agriculture practices to meet the needs of its growing population.

Where in the world is hunger the worst?

Nearly all the world’s hungry — 98 percent — live in developing regions. Over 500 million live in Asia and the Pacific, in countries like Afghanistan and Timor-Leste, while 243 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Food Security Information Network reports the worst food crises in 2017 were in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan, where famine was declared in two counties.

In 2018, the network expects conflict and insecurity to remain a primary driver of hunger, especially in countries including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, which is right now the world’s most dire food crisis.

Weather-related disasters, like drought, are also anticipated to be a major catalyst of hunger around the world in 2018 — but the impact will likely be greatest in West Africa and the Sahel, in places like Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, Kenya and Somalia.

What is being done to end world hunger?

Women in Niger gather for Mercy Corps’ farm training, which helps them grow better, stronger crops to last them through the lean season they face every year. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Work humanitarian organisations are doing

We can only tackle world hunger effectively if we address what causes it in the first place. This means improving systems and behaviours that enable secure access, availability and use of food.

Fighting the drivers of hunger is key to Mercy Corps’ work with vulnerable communities in more than 40 countries:

Read more about our approach to building food security ▸

During acute crises, we provide at-risk communities with lifesaving assistance and the tools to re-establish healthy bodies and prosperous livelihoods. We help people with food, livelihood tools, and cash donations when food supplies are low or unaffordable, such as when people are displaced by conflict or natural disasters.

We also work with governments, multilateral institutions and other key stakeholders to support funding programmes and implementing policies that help stop global hunger and malnutrition and improve the lives of millions around the world.

Legislation and help from the government

Our collaboration with partner organizations and the government is vital to securing long-term access to food and a strong future for everyone. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

After decades of underinvestment, countries like the U.S. have begun to reinvest in programmes to fight global hunger. The effort has built momentum over the years, culminating in 2015 when the global community came together to commit to pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals, with ending hunger as a top priority.

Private companies, NGOs, universities and academic institutions joined national governments with new agriculture and nutrition investments in response. In the United States, these new partnerships led to the Feed the Future Initiative, an anti-hunger response that has achieved impressive results: 9 million people lifted out of poverty, 1.6 million households free from hunger, and 1.8 million children properly nourished.

The passage of the bipartisan Global Food Security Act made this effort into law in 2016, and led to a new Global Food Security Strategy that built on the successes of Feed the Future.

This year, 2018, two major policy opportunities in the United States exist to continue the fight against global hunger:

  • The Global Food Security Reauthorization Act: Mercy Corps worked closely with private sector partners, other NGOs, academic and research institutions, the faith community and Members of Congress to help pass H.R. 5129 and S. 2269. This bill ensures the Global Food Security Act’s improvements to the Global Food Security Strategy and the Feed the Future Initiative will continue beyond 2018.

  • The Farm Bill: While this is largely a bill that focuses on domestic policy, one section of it reauthorises the Food for Peace programme that provides international food assistance. This bill provides an opportunity to continue to make this programme more efficient and effective. Mercy Corps is working to ensure components that allow flexible interventions stay in place, while advancing other reforms that will improve Food for Peace non-emergency programmes, which are vital to helping communities build resilience to shocks that make them vulnerable to hunger, like conflict and natural disasters.

How you can help

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more emergency relief for families facing hunger and others in crisis around the world.

  • Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help people beat hunger and build better lives.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to post the infographic and spread the word about the millions who need us.


Wild weather: How we’re helping Kenyans fight climate change

6 Jun

What should be a welcome change to the weather in Kenya — rain — has instead turned the country into a life-threatening disaster zone.

Rainfall so heavy it can’t be absorbed by the dry, compacted ground has pelted counties across the country since March, overflowing reservoirs and rivers and causing extreme flooding that has wiped away crops, livestock and, at times, people.

Around 330,000 people have been displaced from their homes and another 183 killed by the flooding; water sources have been contaminated, skyrocketing the risk of disease.

These inundating rains — rainfall four times the normal average — come on the heels of a devastating four-year drought. Just a few months ago, many of the counties worst hit by the floods, like Wajir, were barren wastelands, packed red-clay ground pocked with dry brown trees and animal carcasses.

That dry spell had disastrous effects of its own. It dried up water sources, caused widespread death and disease of livestock, fueled inter-community conflict as resources dwindled, and plunged 3.4 million people into hunger.

While the number of people facing food insecurity in Kenya has dropped slightly with the recent rainfall, with these fluctuating weather patterns one threat remains a constant: climate change.

The effects of climate change in Kenya

Salada, 30, provides for her family by raising livestock, a livelihood that can be made very fragile by weather shocks like drought and flood.

The effects of the changing climate are playing out across the globe. But as weather becomes more unpredictable and climate-fueled disasters become more frequent and intense, rural pastoralists like Salada, a mother of five in Wajir, feel it acutely.

“The weather has changed between now and when I was young,” Salada says. “There was much drought even in those days, but it didn’t last year in and year out. It wasn’t as continuous as it is now.”

A quarter of Kenya’s population lives in arid or semi-arid climate areas like Wajir, a pastoral region with an economy based on raising livestock.

These areas, which are prone to being dry and receiving little rainfall, are already vulnerable to poverty, underdevelopment, conflict and disease. Families in these fragile areas rely on animals or related businesses to survive, so unexpected shifts in the rains that provide water and feed can be debilitating, sapping food sources and income, destabilising communities and threatening future development.

The options pastoralists like Salada have to cope with these weather shocks are difficult and few in number. She makes her living solely by raising camels and selling their milk, but drought means limited food and water to keep animals healthy and maintain their productivity.

“If there is no milk, then there is nothing else for us to do,” Salada says. “There are no other items we can trade. … We have no option but to stay without work.”

Pastoralists traditionally rely on regular rains to provide water and fodder for their herds. When the rains are inconsistent, it can have devastating impacts on animals' health.

In these conditions, pastoralists are forced to travel long distances to find water, fodder or safe shelter. They face conflict over limited resources. They may skip meals. Or they may pull their children out of school to flee elsewhere or work to help the family survive.

In 2017, at least 175,000 children were out of school due to the drought alone — and the odds haven’t been made better by the recent onslaught of rain. The flooding has displaced over 127,000 children and damaged schools and learning materials for more than 2 million students.

Halima, a mother of six, shares Salada’s grief. She supports her family by operating a selling station where she distributes milk from local pastoralists, but the effects of climate change risk collapsing her business.

“The weather was good [when I was young],” Halima says. “Milk was in abundance.” Now, there are periods when animals’ productivity is low or pastoralists must move their herds to different areas, and Halima only collects a small fraction of the milk she used to, which affects her income and ability to provide for her children.

“Food is scarce now,” she says. “It’s possible that you won’t find food for a whole day and will go to sleep hungry.”

People in rural areas, like Halima, are chronically vulnerable to hunger. Even with the current rain, 2.6 million people in Kenya still don't have the food they need.

How we’re helping Kenyans adapt to climate change

Halima sits in front of the refrigerated milk dispenser she received from Mercy Corps, which has made it easier for her to earn stable income. The machine keeps milk cool and dispenses the amounts customers want into plastic bottles.

It’s increasingly important to help fragile agricultural families in Kenya and around the world adapt to changes in the weather patterns they’ve relied for decades. But this work requires more than individual interventions — it means strengthening whole systems, communities and resources affected by the climate.

In Wajir, Mercy Corps is working to strengthen the market system for camel milk, so people like Salada and Halima can earn more reliable income and not be so vulnerable to precarious weather.

In the past, the process of selling milk was problematic — the only way to transport it to market towns was a long public bus ride in the searing heat, which often spoiled the milk before it could be sold.

Mercy Corps has made this process more efficient by providing a van with a solar-powered cooler to replace the public bus. Milk from rural pastoralists is stored safely in the van until enough is collected to transport it to a larger market town.

Once in the market town, the milk is directly transported to sellers like Halima who, as part of the programme, received refrigerated milk dispensers to replace their previous selling stations. The milk is deposited in the dispensers and kept cool until customers come to purchase it.

Less waste of milk means more income for those involved in the process, which helps them support their families more consistently — and build resilience for times when production is lower.

Without these changes, “I would not have made it,” Halima says.

Because livestock is such an important livelihood in his community, Musa wants to ensure the land can support his children and their herds in the future. "If that's protected, my kids will continue," he says.

We’re also focused on helping communities better manage their natural resources, which can mitigate the effects of climate change and help ease tensions over reduced water and grazing land.

Musa, 36, has experienced chronic weather shocks and knows the resulting struggles too well. “There is widespread inter-clan conflict because of resources,” he explains. “When you are grazing an area it gets depleted, and you move to a different grazing area and find another clan living [there], you upset them. You have to fight to get access to those resources.”

He has also seen the way deforestation for firewood and building has exacerbated the effects of drought in his community in Wajir.

The awareness campaigns Mercy Corps conducted have helped them make changes that will help them better cope with future dry spells.

“Community attitude and behaviours toward natural resources have already changed,” Musa says. “People used to cut trees and use [them] for fencing their homes and for firewood. [Now] they are not cutting trees. They are only picking up dead trees.”

In Wajir, Ahmed works as a DJ at a local radio station that broadcasts weather and natural resource messages tailored for the region's pastoralists.

And because information can be lifesaving in fragile communities, we have partnered with a local radio station and developed Wajir Community Radio, a radio programme that broadcasts climate information.

With our support, the station has doubled its reach and communicates important messages about the weather, so pastoralists know when to move their herds, as well as information on natural resource management and gender equity.

“The importance of reaching a larger audience is that … they are pastoralists,” says Halima Kahiya, the station manager. “They have been affected by different climate changes. We need to tell them about all the climate information: When is it going to rain? Is it going to rain heavily? Will it be enough? What are they supposed to do?”

Combined, these interventions are meant to give families in rural Kenya access to knowledge and support that help them preserve their resources, prepare for upcoming weather and build futures that aren’t left to the whims of climate disasters.

“From my business, I pay the school fees for my children,” says Halima, from the kiosk where she has her milk dispenser. “Mercy Corps gave me this … and I believe it will bring us more good things.”

How you can help

Seven-year-old Hadiba's father co-owns the refrigerated van used to transport milk from rural areas to the market town. The more efficient process helps everyone involved earn steadier income to support their families during weather disasters.

Our work to help communities adapt and adjust to climate change challenges is only possible because of people like you. With your support, we are able to reach more families with assistance and help more people build stronger, more resilient and peaceful communities for tomorrow. Here’s how you can help:

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us meet urgent food needs and help families around the world build a stronger, healthier future.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.