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Hunger beyond numbers

Olivier Longué, Director General, Action against Hunger

Starving people are invisible. Despite their huge numbers - more than 900 millions according to latest FAO data - they only get close to our life in few occasions, such as when a disaster or a crisis fill the headlines.

Their reality, their suffering, is the great pandemic of XXI century, the one that kills 10 000 children every day. To step away from the abstraction of numbers and to give due relevance to the hunger scenery, we need to focus on people. Beyond every case of undernutrition there is a mother, a child, a family with its own life and story. Hunger is a complex, thousand-face issue. Although we strive to reduce it to a few key causes, every victim deserves at least a name.

This is what Alfons has done with his ‘Third Rider’ project, and that’s why we became his allies since the beginning. Photojournalism is one of the most valuable communication tools for our cause. It combines the poetic of photography with a documentary ambition to tell stories in detail, focusing on the information enclosed in each story of hunger. Without this information, any effort to raise awareness would have clay feet. Knowing the dimensions of hunger is the first step to eliminate it; such knowledge can only be achieved  through a fascinating narrative, genuine and contrasted at the same time. Alfons’ work possesses all these characteristics.

We usually describe hunger using a triangle. Its bottom area represents the structural causes, the middle area is for triggering factors and the top is for acute undernutrition, affecting today 55 million people.

Starting from the top of the pyramid, our work consists in saving lives. A severely undernourished child is at a stage that is close to death. His/her stomach doesn’t accept normal food. He/she has lost appetite. Preventing undernutrition is another pillar of our fight against hunger. This requires a multidisciplinary approach: it is necessary to promote exclusive breastfeeding until six months or be able to recognize when a baby is undernourished, but also to introduce micronutrients in the diet, promoting family kitchen gardens (with adequate irrigation), encouraging the diversification of food or ensuring safe water and basic hygiene and sanitation to prevent diarrhoea and spreading of other diseases. 

It goes without saying, access to food is another of our warhorses. We saw thousand times people starving to death in places where markets offer plenty of food. Training people to process, store and commercialize food, organizing cooperatives, income generating activities or the integration in the market of the poorest – these are all approaches with proven positive results.

Finally, the prevention of natural disasters has become increasingly important in the last years.  With 95% of victims of natural disasters living in developing countries, we need to get rid of the idea that such disasters are divine curses or random whips of nature. On the contrary, it is possible, in many cases, to detect them and set up early warning and preparedness  systems for the population, to make it possible to cope with them and mitigate  their effects.  We can indeed do it, including adapting to something apparently inevitable like climate change. Alfons has seen many of these measures put in place in the field and we hope that – along with denouncing the darkness of hunger – he can help us shed some light on this global challenge.

Extract from ACH introduction of the book The Third Rider by Alfons Rodríguez.

© translation by Nicoletta Di Tanno

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