As the world marks the tenth annual World Hunger Day today and the United Nations World Food Programme predicts a worldwide hunger pandemic by the end of the year, experts warn that in South Africa children are bearing the brunt of malnutrition.
As much as 54% of South Africans are going hungry or at risk of hunger. And sadly, it is often the children in our country who suffer the most long-term consequences from chronic hunger.
60% of children in South Africa live in poor households with an income of less than R1 183 a month per person, says Lori Lakes, communications and education specialist at the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town.
These kids are vulnerable to health effects like growth stunting, obesity and developmental issues that jeopardise their tomorrow, says Lake, who is a leader in child policy research and advocacy.
“What very often happens in poor households is a shift in how we spend the money we have. So instead of having a very diverse diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and meat and eggs and protein we start to shift our spending and focus on staples. So children may not be hungry, but at the same time they may not be getting the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy,” says Lakes.
The consequences of not consuming nutritious foods leads to high levels of micronutrients deficiency, she says. This is an insufficient supply of nutrients such as vitamin A, iron, iodine, and zinc.
“Micronutrients deficiency undermines children’s potential in terms of education and employment. It impacts on their health. Over time we also know that children who are stunted are more likely to become obese in adolescence or adulthood. And we know that obesity is associated with a rise in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.” she says.
In South Africa 27% of young children are stunted. Stunted children are short for their age, which is a sign of chronic malnutrition.
Stunting also has an impact on health, as children who are malnourished are more likely to experience more severe infections such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, she explains.
Dr Marc Aguirre, country director of the charity HOPE worldwide South Africa, referred to recent warnings by the United Nations World Food Programme that there is a high risk of a hunger pandemic as covid-19 is set to almost double acute hunger by the end of 2020.
“As such, getting food aid right has never been more critical. Now more than ever we need to look at the social compact, join the forces of the public, private and NPO sectors and build out a targeted and sustainable network of feeding schemes – ones that target and reach the most vulnerable,” Aquirre says in a press release issued on the eve of World Hunger Day.
“It’s not just about food. Hunger and poverty affect people’s health, education, dignity and ability to live full productive lives – creating a larger societal divide and impacting South Africa’s ability to move forward. Today, more than ever, we need to look at mechanisms that address the inequality in access to food – one that tackles transformation and ensures food is a basic right – especially for children,” concludes Aguirre.
“The response to our food crisis needs to move beyond the role of the NPOs and charity towards empowering change agents, mobilising people at grass root levels and forging effective and meaning partnerships with local governments. It is only then that we are going to see a significant turn in the hunger crisis,” says Andra Nel, CSI manager at fast food chain KFC.
KFC’s Add Hope initiative provides 30 million meals per year to over 150,000 children – supporting more than 140 different non-profit organisations. These are for the most part, early childhood development centres and school feeding schemes and include several organisations with a national footprint as well as smaller organisations which service specific communities.