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close this bookWho's Hungry? And How Do We Know? Food Shortage, Poverty and Deprivation (UNU, 1998, 199 pages)
close this folder1. Introduction
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentFramework: Food shortage, food poverty, food deprivation
View the documentLinks between levels of hunger
View the documentWhy hunger matters
View the documentOrganization of the volume
View the documentWorks cited

Organization of the volume

This book is organized to answer the question "who's hungry?" at three interrelated levels of social organization. Because the methodologies for estimating regional distribution of hunger differ from those used to estimate household and individual hunger, at each point we will also be asking the question "and how do we know?" We also highlight the limits of present knowledge since, without such understanding, there is a danger that unsupported assertions will be taken as factual and policy will be misinformed.

Our analysis is broad sweeping but it places emphasis on rural agricultural societies. This is justified because most of the world's hungry live in these societies.

Evaluations of hunger evidence begin in chapter 2, which specifically addresses basic measurement issues common to most estimations of hunger. Two contrasting strategies are presented: the first compares the diet actually consumed with that required and identifies cases in which the quantity or quality of that diet is inadequate; the second focuses on measurable outcomes of malnutrition. Each involves a range of problems, both in actual measurement and in defining the standard with which measured values must be compared.

Evidence as to the prevalence of food shortage is assembled and evaluated in chapter 3. Data on levels and trends in caloric availability at global, regional, and national levels are compared with estimates of requirements. Documentation of food shortages within more local areas is less abundant, but observed variations in the adequacy of food supplies across regions of the same country show that the cross-country picture is incomplete.

Food distribution is explored more comprehensively in chapter 4 on food poverty. Estimates of the numbers and percentages of people living in households that cannot afford to feed all of their members properly are presented by world region. These data are supplemented by country-level estimates of numbers in absolute poverty. Particularly vulnerable types of households are identified from comparisons of nutritional status across subgroups of national populations.

Chapter 5 analyses food deprivation and identifies which household members are at greatest risk. Comparisons of hunger along lines of age and gender are the major focus. Evidence from many diverse settings is reviewed, but particular attention is devoted to India, both because of rich data quality and because intra-household food allocation has been hypothesized to be particularly discriminatory in India.

Chapter 6 examines the central role of conflict as a determinant of food shortage, poverty, and deprivation. Although we do not dismiss the impact of fluctuations in the natural environment on food production, human responses to potential famine from droughts and floods are far more effective if such efforts are not limited by violent conflict. "Manmade disasters" and limitations on distribution of food, through both humanitarian and market channels, are also discussed in this chapter.

We must know who the hungry are in order to alleviate or prevent their hunger. Targets must be identifiable in order to design effective interventions. To address the underlying causes of hunger rather than merely attempt its amelioration, causes must be clearly understood. Our thinking with regard to the underlying causes of hunger can be refined by examining which people are most affected.

The concluding chapter discusses policy implications of the evidence reviewed, with particular attention to insights gained on the underlying causes of hunger. Multiple causes imply a wider choice of focus for intervention. The task of alleviating hunger may seem daunting, given the wide variety of its causes and the different levels of social organization on which they operate, but some of the underlying causes may be more susceptible to solutions than would be apparent from a less-complete understanding of who is hungry.