Underlying Causes of Malnutrition
Poverty is far from being eradicated. During the last two decades, the number of people effected by extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled, from 164 million in 1982 to some 313 million as of 2002. Poverty alone does not lead to malnutrition, but it seriously effects the availability of adequate amounts of nutritious food for the most vulnerable populations. Over 90 percent of malnourished people live in developing countries.
Lack of access to food
Most major food and nutrition crises do not occur because of a lack of food, but rather because people are too poor to obtain enough food. Non-availability of food in markets, difficult access to markets due to lack of transportation, and insufficient financial resources are all factors contributing to the food insecurity of the most vulnerable populations. People are increasingly dependent on international markets for all or part of their food supply, particularly between harvest periods. Many people are increasingly vulnerable due to fluctuations in the prices, as was recently illustrated during the global food crisis.
Certain illnesses and infections, such as tuberculosis, measles, and diarrhoea are directly linked to acute malnutrition. A combination of disease and malnutrition weakens the metabolism creating a vicious cycle of infection and undernourishment, leading to vulnerability to illness. HIV and AIDS have become a leading cause of acute malnutrition in developing countries. A child infected with HIV is more vulnerable to acute malnutrition than a healthy child. Anti-retroviral drugs are more effective when combined with adequate, regular food intake. So ensuring a healthy diet is an important aspect of HIV control and treatment.
If the HIV-infected child becomes acutely malnourished, her/his diminished nutritional state will increase the likelihood of infections, and may lower the effectiveness of medications — either anti-retroviral treatment or for other illnesses and infections. When severely malnourished, an individual may not be able to tolerate medications at all. The combination of acute malnutrition and HIV and AIDS thus considerably increases the chances of morbidity, placing the child at a higher risk of death.
Conflicts have a direct impact on food security, drastically compromising access to food. Often forced to flee as violence escalates, people uprooted by conflict lose access to their farms and businesses, or other means of local food production and markets. Abandoned fields and farms no longer provide food to broader distribution circuits. As a result, food suppies to distributors may be cut off, and the many populations dependent on them may be unable to obtain sufficient food.
In 30 years, the number of natural disasters — droughts, cyclones, floods, etc. — linked to climate change has increased substantially. The effects of climate change are often dramatic, devastating areas which are already vulnerable. Infrastructure is damaged or destroyed; diseases spread quickly; people can no longer grow crops or raise livestock.
According to UN studies in over 40 developing countries, the decline in agricultural production caused either directly or indirectly by climate change could dramatically increase the number of people suffering from hunger in the coming years.
Lack of safe drinking water
Water is synonymous with life. Lack of potable water, poor sanitation, and dangerous hygiene practices increase vulnerability to infectious and water-borne diseases, which are direct causes of acute malnutrition.