Richard Swerdlow: The Statistics of Hunger

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

Big numbers can make the eyes glaze over, but Richard Swerdlow says the statistics on world hunger are truly horrifying.

This month, the United Nations released their 2022 report on the “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World." The 260-page report is not easy reading. Written in the dry language of a bureaucratic agency, it's filled with graphs, charts, statistics and phrases like "the data contained herein are derived from indicators."

The report described “345 million acutely at the brink of starvation.” And thumbing through the report, it's easy to not really consider what all those large numbers mean.

Here's what the numbers mean: each day, about 25,000 people die from hunger. Of those, 10,000 are children. These bland statistics mean one in five children on earth suffers from malnutrition. These boring figures mean the biggest global food crisis since World War II.

And here’s a number which was not listed in the UN report: In 2021, total military spending world-wide was about $2,197,000,000. Reading all those long strings of numbers in the UN report on world hunger, it occurred to me how different this report would look if even a tiny percentage of the - yes - $6 billion spent every single day on the business of killing our fellow humans were spent on feeding them instead.


More numbers to consider: By some estimates, $33 billion per year would end world hunger. If spread out among nations, that equals about five days of the world's total military spending. Five days to save 345 million lives. Less than $100 for each life saved.

The guns or butter debate is a well-worn topic, and often ignores realities of government budgets. Military spending is necessary - it's a dangerous world. But it's also a hungry world. The UN report listed a lot of statistics. But facts and figures, charts and graphs in a report don't capture the horror of one single child, dying in agony by slow starvation, let alone 10,000 each day.

I wouldn't recommend this UN report as a summer beach read. But all those numbers do tell a story of a crisis the world can't ignore.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a San Francisco teacher.