“One sixth of humanity undernourished”
That was the stark headline on a news story put out at the end of last week by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. All it takes is some simple math, and suddenly the immensity of the global hunger problem is as clear as a line in the sand: five of us stand on this side, one of us on the other.
What does that fraction represent? 1.02 billion people—a number so big it’s hard to make sense of.
And it’s been growing. The economic crisis roiling the globe has helped to push 100 million more people into hunger and poverty this year.
One in six. That’s nearly equal to the population of India—1.12 billion. Or about three times the population of the US—307 million.
I do the math wherever I go, wherever there are people to give the fraction a face—on the packed commuter rail, on city sidewalks, in the supermarket, at the YMCA.
Most likely the people I count in those places are on the crowded side of the line, planted here in the US through a stroke of good luck instead of in a conflict zone or in a parched field amid withered crops. But hunger is a reality for plenty of people in this country too. CBS recently reported that 15.5 million kids in the US don’t have enough to eat and their ranks have climbed by three million in the last two years.
The UN says that the hunger epidemic could threaten world peace. Solving the problem, it adds, will require broad consensus and a keen focus on boosting agriculture in the poorest countries—something Oxfam is working on through a variety of initiatives, including one that is helping people dramatically increase the amount of rice they can grow. But when one sixth of the world is hungry, it’s going to take a serious commitment from the rest of us to erase that deep and frightening line in the sand.