UN World Food Programme

Whose Problem Is It Anyway?

Poor harvest and weather conditions have contributed to food insecurity in Zimbabwe. Copyright: WFP/Richard Lee

What does hunger mean to you? This question can mean a number of things to a number of different people, depending on geography, socioeconomic status and more. Nerys Udy, a student in New Zealand, presents her take in an essay about poverty in Southern Africa.

Picture this: A New Zealand teenager, let's call her Stephanie, is worried. She spent the last of her allowance at the movies and now she can’t buy the formal dress that she is desperate for. Her mum is refusing to give her more money and Steph is sure she’ll have to wear something dreadful and be laughed off the dance floor.

On the other side of the world, a Zimbabwean teenager, let's call her Patience, is worried. She spent the last of his money on food days ago, and now she is desperately hungry. She can’t ask her mum to help because she died years ago, along with her father, and Patience is sure she’s going to starve or have to do something dreadful to get food.

When it comes to indulgences, it seems it is all too easy for the world to disregard issues such as the extreme poverty and hunger that are the reality for approximately 12 percent of Earth’s population. Yet as the UN World Food Programme says, “Hunger is the world’s greatest solvable problem.” So why aren’t we solving it?

Hunger is not only solvable, but it is quite literally one of the worst problems currently facing our planet. As such, it is up to all citizens of the world to stand up and work for change, rather than leaving it to someone else simply because it does affect them personally.

In the Southern-African country Zimbabwe since 2001, there have been particularly high levels of food insecurity due to natural disasters such as droughts and poor harvests. Economic instability due to hyperinflation and political volatility has resulted in high unemployment, which has also increased food insecurity. Furthermore, Zimbabwe has the world’s fifth highest rate of HIV/AIDS, which only exacerbates already volatile conditions.

“We’d like to see a world where everyone has enough to eat, where no child goes to bed hungry,” says WFP’s Southern Africa Spokesperson David Orr.

To achieve this goal, the World Food Programme implements several initiatives throughout the year in Zimbabwe. From October through to March, it runs the “Cash for Cereals” programme that allows local people to purchase cereal from nearby markets. Between May and October, WFP begins their Cash and Food for Assets activities.

“These are designed to strengthen communities’ ability to handle weather-related and other shocks to their food security by creating community assets such as dams or water harvesting and irrigation systems,” Orr explains.

The eradication of smallpox must have once seemed nigh on impossible, with two million people dying from it every year at its height. But today we live free from this disease, and there is no reason good enough as to why we should not live free from the extreme poverty seen in Zimbabwe, which really is a disease in itself.

In fact, if New Zealanders want to join the fight against poverty, plenty of small things can be done. It could be as simple as reading the international section of the newspaper and ensuring you are aware of what is happening in the world, believes Laura Gemmell, a New Zealander who has worked as a journalist for the humanitarian organisation World Vision for almost two years.

“You don’t need to donate money to make a difference,” she says. “Think about what your skills are and whether you’d like to work for an aid agency, volunteer overseas or get a group of likeminded individuals together and brainstorm how you can make a difference.”

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how committed one is to making a difference. As worn as it sounds, if we all work together we can and will bring about change.

(Nerys Udy, pictured above left, is a 17-year-old student in her last year at Marlborough Girls' College in New Zealand. As part of her media studies course, Nerys chose to research and write a feature article looking at poverty in Southern Africa, to inspire her classmates to get involved in making a difference, through organisations like the World Food Programme.)