Hunger, the Silent Killer

They call it the silent killer. Hunger is responsible for more deaths per hour, per day, than any other force on the planet, war, HIV, climate change included.

It is described as silent because it does not get talked about as much as the other big killers. Its menace is greater, though. Statistics indicate that, globally, around 25,000 people die from hunger related causes per day. That is just over 1000 per hour.

If we narrow the lens from global to close-up, a country like Malawi comes into focus as a typical, and treacherous, example. The majority of Malawi’s 12 million people live below the poverty line and, as a result, have struggled for years with food-deficiency. Their need is the greater as the nation also has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, currently estimated at 12%, which has a knock on effect: high death rate of wage earners among parents, strained health infrastructure and increased rupture of family life.

Survival has been tough for many in Malawi. In order for families to make it, emerging reports indicate child labour is widespread. In the tobacco industry, for example, 78,000 children are estimated to be employed daily. Current indicators say some are as young as 6, working up to 12 hours a day, on less than 2 US cents an hour, and suffering headaches and other symptoms from their exposure to nicotine. The need to eat, and to live, drives people to desperate measures.

New steps have been taken to grow more food in the country. Crop cultivation is improving the situation for some, but the benefits are not yet reaching the marginalised and those most vulnerable. Almost 50% of children under the age of 5, for example, are chronically malnourished.

Some of Global Hand’s NGOs are playing their part in helping Malawi, among them the Scottish charity, Glasgow the Caring City (GTCC), which has combated hunger for several years.

Ross Gailbraith, Projects Manager, emphasised the need for food security among children. GTCC, he explained, supports the Chazi Orphanage in its care for over 3000 children. The staff use their training as nurses and horticulturalists to educate, feed and look after the orphans, including those who are, as they put it, ’beyond the care of society.’ They care for those who are ill, run a day care centre and offer a weekly feeding programme.

It caters even for breast-fed babies, since, Ross added, they often remain in need of supplements, because the women, if malnourished themselves, cannot generate the needed milk supplies for their little ones.

So when UK company, ‘Handling Matters’, offered 10,000 baby bowls, spoons and bibs on Global Hand, GTCC responded. This provision was clearly ideal to include in their Malawi programme, along with soap and clothing. The baby products were particularly suitable because they were impregnated with a disinfectant that would help to revolutionise the eating system in the orphanage.

“If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger,” Buzz Aldrin, astronaut of former years, famously said. But it takes global, as well as national, will to make it happen. Global Hand welcomes all efforts to overcome this killer and to dispel the silence which, still today, allows it to rob too many of life.


Regions / countries / territories

Africa: Malawi

Global issues

Children, youth and family welfare; Food security and nutrition; HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, all (4)