Oct 26 - Nov 01, 2009

Food security refers to the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades.

In 2006, MSNBC reported that globally the number of people who were overweight (one billion) had surpassed the number who were undernourished (800 million).

Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

1) Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

2) Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Worldwide around 852 million people are chronically hungry due to extreme poverty, while up to 2 billion people lack food security intermittently due to varying degrees of poverty.

As of late 2007, global population growth, climate change, loss of agricultural land, residential and industrial development, and growing consumer demand in China and India have pushed up the price of grain. Food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world.

Humanitarian crises may also erupt from genocide campaigns, civil wars, refugee flows, and episodes of extreme violence and state collapse, creating famine conditions among the affected populations.

The stages of food insecurity range from food secure situations to full-scale famine.

Famine and hunger are both rooted in food insecurity. Food insecurity can be categorized as either chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger ensuring food security presupposes elimination of that vulnerability.


- On the average, one person dies every second as a result of hunger - 4000 every hour - 100 000 each day - 36 million each year - 58 % of all deaths (2001-2004 estimates).

- On the average, one child dies every 5 seconds as a result of hunger - 700 every hour - 16 000 each day - 6 million each year - 60% of all child deaths (2002-2008)

Famine is a widespread scarcity of food which phenomenon is usually accompanied by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. In many regions of the world as of 2009, there is ongoing famine among a considerable fraction of the human population.


Famine is caused by a human overpopulation relative to the available food supply. It may be accentuated by natural climate fluctuations and by extreme political conditions.

One of the largest historical famines (proportional to the affected population) was

- The Great Famine in Ireland in 1845 and occurred as food was being shipped from Ireland to England because only the English could afford to pay higher prices.

- North Korea in the mid-1990s and in the early-2000s Zimbabwe famine caused as an unintentional result of government policy.

- During the 1973 Wollo Famine in Ethiopia, food was being shipped out of Wollo to the capital city of Addis Ababa where it could command higher prices.

- Ethiopia and Sudan had massive famines in the late-1970s and early-1980s, having worse drops in national food production.

- In Somalia, famine is a consequence of a failed state.

Many famines are caused by imbalance of food production compared to the large populations of countries whose population exceeds the regional carrying capacity. Historically, famines have occurred from agricultural problems like the failure of a harvest or the change in conditions, such as drought, crop failure, or pestilence.

Famine is often associated with subsistence agriculture, that is, where most farming is aimed at producing enough food energy to survive. The total absence of agriculture in an economically strong area does not cause famine.


Famine continues to be a worldwide problem with hundreds of millions of people suffering from it. Modern African famines are characterized by widespread destitution and malnutrition, with heightened mortality confined to young children.

Some believed that the Green Revolution was an answer to famine in the 1970s and 1980s. The Green Revolution began in the 20th century with hybrid strains of high-yielding crops. Between 1950 and 1984 as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%. It is an option for developing nations suffering from famine. These high-yielding crops make it technically possible to feed more people. Generally famine is the circumstantial causes of starvation.

Starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient, and energy intake. It is the extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage, and eventually death.

According to the World Health Organization, hunger is the gravest single threat to the world's public health. The WHO also states that malnutrition is by far the biggest contributor to child mortality, present in half of all cases.

According to the FAO, starvation currently affects more than one billion people or one of six people. The basic cause of starvation is imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. This imbalance can arise from a medical condition or circumstantial situation, some of which include medical causes (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, coma, depression, diabetes mellitus, digestive disease), circumstantial causes (famine, fasting, poverty, and deprivation).


Individuals experiencing starvation lose substantial fat (adipose) and muscle mass as the body breaks down these tissues for energy. Catabolysis is the process of a body breaking down muscles and other tissues in order to keep vital systems such as the nervous system and heart muscle (myocardium) functioning.

Catabolysis does not begin until there are usable sources of energy coming into the body. Vitamin deficiency is a common result of starvation, often leading to anemia, beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy. These diseases collectively can also cause diarrhoea, skin rashes, edema, and heart failure. Individuals are often irritable and lethargic as a result.

Atrophy (wasting away) of the stomach weakens the perception of hunger, since the perception is controlled by the percentage of the stomach that is empty. Victims of starvation are often too weak to sense thirst, and therefore become dehydrated.

Biochemical signs of starvation: The body's glycogen stores are used up in about 24 hours. The level of insulin in circulation is low and the level of glucagon is very high. The main means of energy production is lipolysis. Gluconeogenesis converts glycerol into glucose and the Cori cycle converts lactate into usable glucose.

Two systems of energy enter the gluconeogenesis. Proteolysis provides alanine and lactate produced from pyruvate. Acetyl CoA produces dissolved nutrients (Ketone bodies), which can be detected in urine and are used by the brain as a source of energy. In terms of insulin resistance, starvation conditions make more glucose available to the brain.

Starvation treatment: Starving patients can be treated, but this must be done cautiously to avoid refeeding syndrome. It is a syndrome consisting of metabolic disturbances that occur as a result of reinstitution of nutrition to patients who are starved or severely malnourished.

Refeeding syndrome usually occurs within four days of starting to feed. Patients can develop fluid and electrolyte disorders, especially hypophosphatemia, along with neurologic, pulmonary, cardiac, neuromuscular, and hematologic complications. Most effects result from a sudden shift from fat to carbohydrate metabolism and a sudden increase in insulin levels after refeeding which leads to increased cellular uptake of phosphate. Refeeding increases the basal metabolic rate. Intracellular movement of electrolytes occurs along with a fall in the serum electrolytes including phosphate, potassium, magnesium, glucose, and thiamine.

Significant risks arising from refeeding syndrome include confusion, coma, convulsions, and death.

This syndrome can occur at the beginning of treatment for anorexia nervosa when patients are reintroduced to a healthy diet. The shifting of electrolytes and fluid balance increases cardiac workload and heart rate. This can lead to acute heart failure.

Renourishment is the process of avoiding refeeding syndrome. The syndrome was first described after the Second World War in prisoners of war taken by Japan.

Treatment: Refeeding syndrome can be fatal if not recognized and treated properly. If potassium, phosphate or magnesium are low then this should be corrected. Prescribing thiamine, vitamin B complex (strong) and a multivitamin and mineral is recommended. Biochemistry should be monitored regularly until it is stable.


Supporting farmers in areas of food insecurity, through such measures as free or subsidized fertilizers and seeds, increases food harvest and reduces food prices.

The World Bank and some rich nations press nations that depend on them for aid to cut back or eliminate subsidized agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, in the name of free market policies even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. Government should change his policy and subsidies for fertilizer and seed.

Famine relief technologies including immunization, improved public health infrastructure, general food rations and supplementary feeding for vulnerable children have provided temporary mitigation to the mortality impacts of famines. In addition, foreign aid organizations like the World Food Program buy food locally from surplus areas to distribute in areas with a shortage of food.