A brief post today on a familiar theme: today, the population of the world is more prosperous, better nourished and also more numerous than ever before. Thus, the Malthusian predictions that more population = more hunger is simply not true. SIMPLY NOT TRUE. This was an argument that we saw a few posts ago, when Robert Newman put forward the idea that the problem of global hunger and inequality was a political one and not due to overpopulation. Now, to back this thesis up, how about some numbers from the UN?
According to “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013” report released by the UN (see here) around 842 million people (one in eight people in the world) are chronically hungry in 2011-2013. This is not good at all, but here is the good news – the trend is down. “This figure is lower than the 868 million reported with reference to 2010–12. The total number of undernourished has fallen by 17 percent since 1990–92.” So in the years since 1990, the absolute number of hungry people in the world has dropped by nearly a fifth, while at the same time, a couple of billion people have been added to the world’s population. How on Earth would Malthus and Ehrlcih explain that?? Thank God we didn’t listen to Ehrlich in the 1960s and start “triaging” the world into those saveable and those condemned to die.
The improvement isn’t uniform and some areas are still badly undernourished:
“Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with modest progress in recent years. Western Asia shows no progress, while Southern Asia and Northern Africa show slow progress. Significant reductions in both the estimated number and prevalence of undernourishment have occurred in most countries of Eastern and South Eastern Asia, as well as in Latin America.”
However, never let anyone tell you that more people = more hunger. IT IS NOT TRUE.
I would argue that the cry “there are too many of us” is a tragic shortcut that dodges the real issue: that we are not efficient at sharing our resources. That we get into wars that disrupt the food supply and that, for whatever reason, we are no good at allocating the food surplus to those that are hungry, be it at home or overseas. But by trying to pin the blame for world hunger on overpopulation, we take the easy way out. The easy way that ’t mean that we don’t have to change our lifestyle, and instead means that someone else (probably in a poor country) has to change theirs. Perhaps by submitting to a coercive family policy (like in China or Vietnam) or to government programmes that tie aid to contraception etc etc The fact is that humans are very good at producing food. There is enough of it. Despite our failings, fewer people are hungry today than they were four years ago, and nearly one in five people who were hungry in 1990 are no longer hungry. There is a long way to go, but advocating population control will not change world hunger.