Before launching into further debates about the causes of world hunger, two preliminary exercises are essential. The first is to appreciate the difference between chronic and acute hunger and the second is to understand the nature and extent of both. Most people are vague about the distinctions between acute and chronic hunger and indeed the boundary is very problematic; however, it is important to establish the difference. Debates about world hunger are concerned about both acute and chronic hunger but the world’s media grant the problem of acute hunger, that is, famine, more attention. Ask students to mark on a map the famine-prone regions of the world and most will identify Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh and perhaps Somalia. Asked to identify where most of the world’s hungry live they fare less well. Why?
Famine makes a better story and the images are more lasting and moving; it is a very visible tragedy. The day-to-day debilitations associated with chronic hunger are less amenable to headlines but have been described as ‘the insidious sabotage wrought’ on millions of children in the developing world. Famines unfortunately still claim many lives, but the absolute numbers affected are less than those who are chronically hungry, who suffer debilitation from malnourishment. Uvin (1994) estimates that 13 million people die each year from extreme malnutrition and hunger-related causes, some 35,000 per day; three-quarters of them are children. Ten per cent of these deaths are from famine and 90 per cent are caused by chronic, persistent hunger. Chronic malnutrition breaks down resistance to even the mildest diseases like the common cold and diarrhoea.