5 Common Causes of Starvation

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SEATTLE — When presented with the issue of global poverty, two of the most common consequences that come to mind is a lack of food and access to water. Approximately 870 million people in the world are suffering from hunger, and the vast majority of these live in developing countries: 852 million, or 97 percent of those affected by starvation reside in impoverished nations. Hunger is the single most grave threat to human health, according to the World Health Organization.

Global poverty and starvation are topics often paired together. But why? The world produces enough food to feed its population of approximately 7 billion people, according to the UN World Food Programme. Still, hunger is a huge problem for many countries around the world. If food shortage is not the issue, what are the causes of starvation?

Starvation is the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a desire for food. The most basic cause of starvation is an imbalance between energy intake and output, with the body expending more energy than it takes in. There are a variety of factors that contribute to starvation. Listed below are five primary explanations for what causes starvation, including medical, social and circumstance-related reasons:

1. Lack of Protein

A diet that lacks protein or amino acids, the molecular building blocks of proteins, can become more susceptible to symptoms such as diarrhea, inflamed intestines and other immune disorders that weaken the body. And the enzyme Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) controls blood pressure, kidney and heart failure, lung injury, as well as the amino acid intake from food. Scientists have found in research that an essential amino acid in that intake is trytophan. Trytophan is an amino acid often found in foods such as milk, eggs, cheese and beans.

When the body does not have sufficient trytopohan intake, its natural immune system is altered. This changes the types of bacteria that live in the bowel, making the body more sensitive and ultimately leading to symptoms of diarrhea and inflamed intestines, which may evolve into symptoms of starvation.

2. Lack of Investment in Land and Agriculture

Many developing countries lack agricultural infrastructure, such as sufficient roads and irrigation to ease access to farming and food. Land ownership can also become complex if two families share property or the government has strict regulations on land use and farming. This lack of investment in infrastructure leads to unreliable utilities and supplies, high transportation costs and a lack of storage, all of which limit production and access to food.

3. War

Armed conflict disrupts agricultural production in countries around the globe and takes government focus away from social programs. War can also force large groups of people to leave their homes, leading to hunger emergencies for those who are suddenly displaced. Food is sometimes used as a weapon in war as well. Soldiers may attempt to starve their opponents by destroying or killing livestock and crops, or carefully destroying local markets.

4. Drought and Climate

Drought is one of the leading factors behind food shortage. Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya suffered heavy livestock losses and crop failure in 2011 as a result of intense drought. West Africa experienced a similar drought crisis in 2012. Many developing countries grapple with the consequences of intense climate and erosion.

5. Increased Emphasis on Export-Oriented Agriculture

Though much of the food grown in less developed countries is cultivated on small scale farms, the highest quality land is often used to grow cash crops. These food products are then exported to other countries for profit, even if people in the immediate country are in need of food. More developed countries benefit from the export of these products, but the countries that produce these cash crops may experience food scarcity and higher food prices.

Julia Thomas

Sources: Global Issues, Freedom From HungerWorld Food Programme, Nature
Photo: World Vision

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