Hunger is the physical sensation of desiring food. When politicians, relief workers and social scientists talk about people suffering from hunger, they usually refer to those who, for sustained periods, are unable to eat sufficient food to meet basic nutritional needs.
Throughout history, a large proportion of the world's population have experienced frequent severe hunger. In many cases, this resulted from food supply disruptions caused by war, plagues, or adverse weather. For the first few decades after World War II, technological progress and enhanced political cooperation suggested it might be possible to substantially reduce the number of people suffering from hunger. While progress was uneven, by 2000 the threat of extreme hunger subsided for many of the world's people.
Until 2006, the average international price of food had been largely stable for several decades. In the closing months of 2006, however, prices began to rise rapidly. By 2008, rice had more than tripled in price in some regions, and this severely affected developing countries. Food prices fell in early 2009, but rose to another record high in 2011, and have since decreased slightly. The 2008 worldwide financial crisis further increased the number of people suffering from hunger, including dramatic increases even in advanced economies such as Great Britain, the Eurozone and the United States.
The Millennium Development Goals included a commitment to a further 50% reduction in the proportion of the world's population who suffer from extreme hunger by 2015. As of 2012, this target appears difficult to achieve, due in part to persistent inflation in food prices. However, in late 2012 the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated it is still possible to hit the target with sufficient effort. In 2013, the FAO estimated that 842 million people are undernourished (12% of the global population). Malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 3.1 million children under 5 every year. UNICEF estimates 300 million children go to bed hungry each night; and that 8000 children under the age of 5 are estimated to die of malnutrition every day.
The physical sensation of hunger is related to contractions of the stomach muscles. These contractions—sometimes called hunger pangs once they become severe—are believed to be triggered by high concentrations of the hormone Ghrelin. The hormones Peptide YY and Leptin can have an opposite effect on the appetite, causing the sensation of being full. Ghrelin can be released if blood sugar levels get low—a condition that can result from long periods without eating. Stomach contractions from hunger can be especially severe and painful in children and young adults.
Hunger pangs can be made worse by irregular meals. People who can't afford to eat more than once a day sometimes refuse one-off additional meals, because if they don't eat at around the same time on the next few days, they may suffer extra severe hunger pangs. Older people may feel less violent stomach contractions when they get hungry, but still suffer the secondary effects resulting from low food intake: these include weakness, irritability and decreased concentration. Prolonged lack of adequate nutrition also causes increased susceptibility to disease and reduced ability for the body to self heal.
The annual FAO, WFP and IFAD The State of Food Insecurity in the World reports provide a statistical overview on hunger, and are usually considered the main reference in this regard (e.g., for the Millennium Development Goals). However, it is important to note that they have several caveats. First, undernourishment is defined solely in terms of dietary energy availability (i.e., disregarding micronutrients such as vitamins or minerals). Second, it uses the energy requirements for minimum activity levels as a benchmark, whereas many hungry people most likely face hard manual labour. Third, the numbers do not reflect short-term undernourishment (e.g., from food price shocks), unless they change long-term food consumption.
In October 2012, the FAO published a report saying that their earlier 2009 estimate that one Billion people were suffering from chronic hunger was over stated, due to flawed methodology resulting from the pressure they were under to quickly estimate the effects of the financial crisis on hunger. They also said the number of people currently suffering from chronic hunger is close to 842 million.
|Number (million) of undernourished people (global)||1,000||919||898||867||868|
|Percentage of undernourished people (global)||19%||15%||14%||13%||12%|
Throughout history, the need to aid those suffering from hunger has been commonly, though not universally, recognized.
The philosopher Simone Weil wrote that feeding the hungry when you have resources to do so is the most obvious of all human obligations. She says that as far back as Ancient Egypt, many believed that people had to show they had helped the hungry in order to justify themselves in the afterlife. Weil writes that Social progress is commonly held to be first of all, "...a transition to a state of human society in which people will not suffer from hunger."  Social historian Karl Polanyi wrote that before markets became the world's dominant form of economic organisation in the 19th century, most human societies would either starve all together or not at all, because communities would invariably share their food.
According to Dr David Grigg, prior to the end of World War II, world hunger received little academic or political attention, whereas after 1945 there has been an explosion of interest in the topic. While some of the principles for avoiding famines had been laid out in the very first book of the Holy Bible, they were not always understood. Even up to early modern times, leaders often reacted to famine with bewilderment and confusion.
From the first age of globalization, which began in the 19th century, it became more common for people to consider problems like hunger in global terms. However, as early globalization largely coincided with the high peak of influence for classical liberalism, there was relatively little call for politicians to address world hunger.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the view that politicians ought not to intervene against hunger was increasingly challenged by campaigning journalists, with some academics and politicians also calling for or organizing intervention against world hunger, such as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.  
After World War II, a new international politico-economic order came into being, which was later described as Embedded liberalism.
For at least the first decade after the war, the United States, by far the period's most dominant national actor, was strongly supportive of efforts to tackle world hunger and to promote international development. It heavily funded the United Nation's development programmes, and later the efforts of other multilateral organisations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB).
The newly established United Nations became a leading player in co-ordinating the global fight against hunger. The UN has three agencies that work to promote food security and agricultural development: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). FAO is the world’s agricultural knowledge agency, providing policy and technical assistance to developing countries to promote food security, nutrition and sustainable agricultural production, particularly in rural areas.
WFP’s key mission is to deliver food into the hands of the hungry poor. The agency steps in during emergencies and uses food to aid recovery after emergencies. Its longer term approaches to hunger helps the transition from recovery to development. IFAD, with its knowledge of rural poverty and exclusive focus on poor rural people, designs and implements programmes to help those people access the assets, services and opportunities they need to overcome poverty.
Following successful post WWII reconstruction of Germany and Japan, the IMF and WB began to turn their attention to the developing world. A great many civil society actors were also active in trying to combat hunger, especially after the late 1970s when global media began to bring the plight of starving people in places like Ethiopia to wider attention. Most significant of all, especially in the late 1960s and 70s, the Green revolution helped improved agricultural technology propagate throughout the world.
The United States began to change its approach to the problem of world hunger from about the mid 1950s. Influential members of the administration became less enthusiastic about methods they saw as promoting an over reliance on the state, as they feared that might assist the spread of communism.
By the 1980s, the previous consensus in favour of moderate government intervention had been displaced across the western world. The IMF and World Bank in particular began to promote market-based solutions. In cases where countries became dependent on the IMF, they sometimes forced national governments to prioritize debt repayments and sharply cut public services. This sometimes had a negative effect on efforts to combat hunger.
Organizations such as Food First raised the issue of food sovereignty and claimed that every country on earth (with the possible minor exceptions of some city-states) has sufficient agricultural capacity to feed its own people, but that the "free trade" economic order, which from the late 1970s to about 2008 had been associated with such institutions as the IMF and World Bank, had prevented this from happening.
The World Bank itself claimed it was part of the solution to hunger, asserting that the best way for countries to break the cycle of poverty and hunger was to build export-led economies that provide the financial means to buy foodstuffs on the world market. However, in the early 21st century the World Bank and IMF became less dogmatic about promoting free market reforms. They increasingly returned to the view that government intervention does have a role to play, and that it can be advisable for governments to support food security with policies favourable to domestic agriculture, even for countries that do not have a Comparative advantage in that area. As of 2012, the World Bank remains active in helping governments to intervene against hunger.
Until at least the 1980s—and, to an extent, the 1990s—the dominant academic view concerning world hunger was that it was a problem of demand exceeding supply. Proposed solutions often focused on boosting food production, and sometimes on birth control. There were exceptions to this, even as early as the 1940s, Lord Boyd-Orr, the first head of the UN's FAO, had perceived hunger as largely a problem of distribution, and drew up comprehensive plans to correct this. Few agreed with him at the time, however, and he resigned after failing to secure support for his plans from the US and Great Britain. In 1998, Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize in part for demonstrating that hunger in modern times is not typically the product of a lack of food. Rather, hunger usually arises from food distribution problems, or from governmental policies in the developed and developing world. It has since been broadly accepted that world hunger results from issues with the distribution as well as the production of food. Sen's 1981 essay Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation played a prominent part in forging the new consensus.
In 2007 and 2008, rapidly increasing food prices caused a global food crisis, increasing the numbers suffering from hunger by over a hundred million. Food riots erupted in several dozen countries; in at least two cases, Haiti and Madagascar, this led to the toppling of governments. A second global food crisis unfolded due to the spike in food prices of late 2010 and early 2011. Fewer food riots occurred, due in part to greater availability of food stock piles for relief. However, several analysts argue the food crisis was one of the causes of the Arab Spring.
In the early 21st century, there was relatively little awareness of hunger from leaders of advanced nations such as those that form the G8. Prior to 2009, efforts to fight hunger were mainly undertaken by governments of the worst affected countries, by civil society actors, and by multilateral and regional organizations. In 2009, Pope Benedict published his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which emphasised the importance of fighting against hunger. The encyclical was intentionally published immediately before the July 2009 G8 Summit to maximise its influence on that event. At the Summit, which took place at L'Aquila in central Italy, the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative was launched, with a total of US$22 billion was committed to combat hunger.
Food prices did fall sharply in 2009 and early 2010, though analysts credit this much more to farmers increasing production in response to the 2008 spike in prices, than to the fruits of enhanced government action. However, since the 2009 G8 summit, the fight against hunger has remained a high profile issue among the leaders of the worlds major nations, and was a prominent part of the agenda for the 2012 G-20 summit.  
In April 2012, the Food Assistance Convention was signed, the world's first legally binding international agreement on food aid. The May 2012 Copenhagen Consensus recommended that efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition should be the first priority for politicians and private sector philanthropists looking to maximize the effectiveness of aid spending. They put this ahead of other priorities, like the fight against malaria and AIDS. Also in May 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama launched a "new alliance for food security and nutrition"—a broad partnership between private sector, governmental and civil society actors—that aimed to "...achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth and raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years." The UK's prime minister David Cameron held a hunger summit on 12 August, the last day of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The fight against hunger has also been joined by an increased number of regular people. While folk throughout the world had long contributed to efforts to alleviate hunger in the developing world, there has recently been a rapid increase in the numbers involved in tackling domestic hunger even within the economically advanced nations of the Global North.
This had happened much earlier in North America than it did in Europe. In the US, the Reagan administration scaled back welfare the early 1980s, leading to a vast increase of charity sector efforts to help Americans unable to buy enough to eat. According to a 1992 survey of 1000 randomly selected US voters, 77% of Americans had contributed to efforts to feed the hungry, either by volunteering for various hunger relief agencies such as food banks and soup kitchens, or by donating cash or food. Europe, with its more generous welfare system, had little awareness of domestic hunger until the food price inflation that began in late 2006, and especially as austerity-imposed welfare cuts began to take effect in 2010. Various surveys reported that upwards of 10% of Europe's population had begun to suffer from food insecurity. Especially since 2011, there has been a substantial increase in grass roots efforts to help the hungry by means of food banks, within both the UK and continental Europe.
By July 2012, the 2012 US drought had already caused a rapid increase in the price of grain and soy, with a knock on effect on the price of meat. As well as affecting hungry people in the US, this caused prices to rise on the global markets; the US is the world's biggest exporter of food. This led to much talk of a possible third 21st century global food crisis. The Financial Times reported that the BRICS may not be as badly affected as they were in the earlier crises of 2008 and 2011. However, smaller developing countries that must import a substantial portion of their food could be hard hit. The UN and G20 has began contingency planning so as to be ready to intervene if a third global crisis breaks out. By August 2013 however, concerns had been allayed, with above average grain harvests expected from major exporters, including Brazil, Ukrain and the U.S.
In an April 2013 summit held in Dublin concerning Hunger, Nutrition, Climate Justice, and the post 2015 MDG framwework for global justice, Ireland's President Higgins said that only 10% of deaths from hunger are due to armed conflict and natural disasters, with ongoing hunger being both the "greatest ethical failure of the current global system" and the "greatest ethical challenge facing the global community." $4.15 billion of new commitments were made to tackle hunger at a June 2013 Hunger Summit held in London, hosted by the governments of Britain and Brazil, together with The Children's Investment Fund Foundation.
The Meals On Wheels Association of America Foundation (MOWAAF) reports that hunger is a serious threat to millions of seniors in the United States, and that understanding the problem is critical to developing remedies.
In 2007, MOWAAF, underwritten by the Harrah's Foundation, commissioned a research study entitled The Causes, Consequences and Future of Senior Hunger in America. The report was released at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging in March 2008 in Washington, D.C.
The study found that in the U.S., over 5 million seniors (11.4%), experience some form of food insecurity (i.e., marginally food insecure). Of these, about 2.5 million are at risk of hunger, and about 750,000 suffer from hunger due to financial constraints. Some groups of seniors are more likely to be at-risk of hunger. Relative to their representation in the overall senior population, those with limited incomes, under age 70, African American, Hispanic, never-married, renters, and seniors living in the Southern United States are all more likely to be at-risk of hunger.
While certain groups of seniors are at greater-risk of hunger, hunger cuts across the income spectrum. For example, over 50% of all seniors who are at-risk of hunger have incomes above the poverty threshold. Likewise, it is present in all demographic groups. For example, over two-thirds of seniors at-risk of hunger are Caucasian. There are marked differences in the risk of hunger across family structure, especially for those seniors living alone, or those living with a grandchild.
Those living alone are twice as likely to experience hunger compared to married seniors. One in five senior households with a grandchild (but no adult child) present is at-risk of hunger, compared to about 1 in 20 households without a grandchild present. Seniors living in non-metropolitan areas are as likely to experience food insecurity as those living in metropolitan areas, suggesting that food insecurity cuts across the urban-rural continuum.
The number of Americans suffering from hunger rose after the 2008 financial crisis, with children and working adults now making up a large proportion of those affected. In 2012, Gleaners Indiana Food bank reported that there were now 50 million Americans struggling with food insecurity (about 1 in 6 of the population), and that the number of folk seeking help from food banks had increased by 46% since 2005. According to a 2012 study by UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, even married couples who both work but have low incomes sometimes require the aid of food banks.
In both developing and advanced countries, parents sometimes go without food so they can feed their children. Women, however, seem more likely to make this sacrifice than men. World Bank studies consistently find that about 60% of those who are hungry are female. The apparent explanation for this imbalance is that, compared to men, women more often forgo meals to feed their children.
Older sources sometimes claim this phenomena is unique to developing countries, due to greater sexual inequality. More recent findings suggested that mothers often miss meals in advanced economies too. For example, a 2012 study undertaken by Netmums in the UK found that one in five mothers sometimes misses out on food to save their children from hunger.
In several periods and regions, gender has also been an important factor determining whether or not victims of hunger would make suitable examples for generating enthusiasm for hunger relief efforts. James Vernon, in his Hunger: A Modern History, wrote that in Britain before the 20th century, it was generally only women and children suffering from hunger who could arouse compassion. Men who failed to provide for themselves and their families were often regarded with contempt.
This changed after World War I, where thousands of men who had proved their manliness in combat found themselves unable to secure employment. Similarly, female gender could be advantageous for those wishing to advocate for hunger relief, with Vernon writing that being a woman helped Emily Hobhouse draw the plight of hungry people to wider attention during the Second Boer War.
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