A hard-hitting look at how the global food crisis is impacting children
Global experts are sounding the alarm about a global food crisis, brought on by conflict, war, inflation, extreme weather and the COVID-19 pandemic. “The world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition,” the United Nations warns.
At the centre of this global food crisis are staggering numbers and alarming ripple effects — and ultimately, the stories of people like Eli, a father in Uganda.
A community in crisis
In the pitch black of the night, Eli was awoken by the sound of dry sticks crackling, crunching and breaking. He immediately knew what was happening: it was the sound of robbers at his front gate.
In this small community in northern Uganda, these deadly robbers have become infamous in recent months. Eli knew there was no use trying to stop the robbery — he could now only hope to stay alive. Running into the night, he heard the men laughing as they stole everything his family owned.
“The insecurity and inflation have been tough here, and hunger has intensified,” says Deborah, a staff member at the Compassion centre in the community. “Now, these raiders have made it a habit to raid and rob people, looking for food.”
While official reports estimate inflation in Uganda at 6.2 per cent, prices in the local market have increased by 80 per cent on average and by 100 per cent or more for some items.
“I used to buy a kilo of sorghum for $0.81, but now it is $2.15. Ground nuts were $1.35, now they are $2.69. Everything has gone up. I can hardly make $2.69 to feed my family,” says Eli.
As the months drag on, so do the sleepless nights for Eli and his neighbours. They worry about their shrinking harvests. They worry about unpredictable and damaging weather. They worry about the provision of water. They worry about increasing inflation.
Unfortunately, Eli’s story is not unique. Many families faced new levels of hunger and food insecurity during the pandemic, and now, with the global food crisis, things are even worse.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 135 million people were food insecure, meaning they did not have consistent access to food. According to the United Nations, that number has doubled to 276 million.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has only worsened the global food crisis that the pandemic began. These two countries are responsible for supplying almost thirty per cent of the world’s wheat and a large amount of global fertilizer. As the conflict continues, low-income households will continue to deal with the impacts of food insecurity, including malnutrition.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition occurs when a person doesn’t receive enough nutrients for normal functioning. For children, this leads to complications in how they grow and develop. These developmental complications often result in neurologic, cognitive and behavioural struggles.
Affordable food is often lacking in dietary diversity, as well as enough vitamins, minerals and protein. So, even when the children in a household are eating, they may still not be getting the nourishment they need to develop.
The most common forms of childhood malnutrition in the countries where Compassion works are “wasting” and “stunting”.
Wasting comes from moderate to severe acute malnutrition. It corresponds with substantial weight loss or inability to gain weight. This is a direct result of a severe lack of nutrient intake, often made worse by diarrhea or infectious disease. Children who suffer from wasting often have weakened immunity along with increased risk of death.
Stunting often looks like a child being “too short for their age” and is the result of prolonged malnutrition. This condition can affect both body and brain development — their brains have reduced intellectual capabilities, making it hard to succeed in the classroom. Even when addressed in childhood, some never recover enough to be able to grow into their full mental capacity. This then impacts their ability to earn money as adults.
What is the impact?
As the global food crisis continues and malnutrition becomes more prevalent, the world could see an increase in many more of the devastating effects of poverty:
- Food insecure households often feel more stress. This can lead to increased domestic violence, depression, caregiver substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many families will go into debt, taking out high-interest loans that will continue to hurt their financial situation over time.
- While education is one of the most powerful tools to fight poverty, short-term survival often forces families to pull their older children from school to send them to work, to help pay for household expenses.
- Gender-based violence and abuse rates increase with food insecurity, as does gender inequality. Girls could be forced to marry early to secure a dowry for their parents. These children are also at a higher risk for activities that may involve sexual or criminal exploitation. Furthermore, when food is scarce, girls often eat less and eat last. Women and girls already account for over seventy per cent of the world’s hungry — how much that will increase will depend on how long this crisis lasts.
- Many parents skip meals so that their children can eat. In turn, older children may also try to reduce their consumption for the sake of others in their homes.
What is Compassion doing?
Compassion is uniquely positioned to respond to the global food crisis. We work with more than 8,500 local church partners across the globe who are in the trenches of this crisis. These are churches that are best positioned to assist because they have established trust and relationship with their neighbours. They were there before, will be there during and will remain long after this and any other crisis.
We work with local churches because the church represents the hope and love of Christ. Compassion will never stop working to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name, and as such, our response to this crisis is two-fold — led by our local partners, we are meeting urgent nutritional needs while also working towards sustainable solutions that will help stop hunger.
Compassion is doing everything possible to ensure children in poverty and their families have the resources and opportunities to thrive.
In Eli’s community, Compassion is already mounting an urgent response. “By the end of August, 48,310 children will each receive 56 kilograms of posho and more than 28 kilograms of beans that will last a month,” says Joseph, the Program Support Specialist in charge of Critical Interventions for Compassion Uganda.
It’s interventions like this that bring families like Eli’s back from the brink of despair. As Eli hoes his fields, aiming to grow just enough food for his family, he thanks God for the provision provided by Compassion’s child sponsorship program in which his daughter Alice is registered.
He prays that life will be different for her.
Photos and field reporting by Caroline A Mwinemwesigwa, Compassion Uganda Photojournalist
About Compassion — A leading child development organization, Compassion is helping more than 2 million children in 27 countries learn the skills and receive the opportunities they need to overcome poverty.