One in four South Africans is hungry

the full potential of over one in four children born in South Africa today is being limited and denied by a lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food. (Picture posed)
the full potential of over one in four children born in South Africa today is being limited and denied by a lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food. (Picture posed)

TODAY, October 16 is World Food Day. As the 20th World Food Day since the establishment of democracy in South Africa, a grim shadow of hunger and malnutrition hangs over the gains of the democratic era.

A growing body of research on access to sufficient and nutritious food shows that this most basic of rights remains far from being fulfilled for millions of South Africans.

Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) has developed a set of indicators to monitor and track progressive realisation of the right to food since the Constitution came into force in 1996. The 22 indicators cover multiple dimensions of the right to food and draw upon a range of South African and international data sources.

The indicators provide a picture of food security in our country today, while showing how this picture has evolved (or regressed) over the past two decades.

The good news is that there are fewer food insecure households today than in 1999 or 2005. Moreover, at a national level, there is a sufficient and growing supply of food for all in South Africa. The average supply of food available for individual consumption rose by 6% to 3007 kilocalories per person per day between 1999 and 2011.

The bad news is that, despite this availability of food, over a quarter of the population still live in food insecure households, which regularly experience hunger. A further quarter of the population live in households, which are at risk of hunger. That’s over 26 million people who are either experiencing or at risk of experiencing hunger.

This awful statistic is mainly due not to a lack of food availability, but to limited economic access to food among the poor. For example, annual inflation on food and non-alcoholic beverages has been higher than CPI inflation in all but one year since 2002.

Between 2008 and 2014, the cost of a basic food basket rose from R336 to R480 per month.  Households in the bottom three income deciles spend on average over a quarter of their consumption expenditure on food, making them highly vulnerable to these price hikes.

In relation to nutrition, over half of rural households and almost half of urban informal households have a poor dietary diversity score. As a result of this lack of access to nutritious food, South Africa is experiencing a double crisis of both underweight and overweight adults. In 2012, 4.2% of women and 12.8% of men were found to be underweight, while 24.8% of women and 20.1% of men were overweight. These figures have changed very little since 1998.

Some of the most alarming statistics relate to children. While more children are benefitting from school feeding and vitamin supplementation programmes than ever before, the percentage of children stunted by age 4 has increased from 21.6% in 1999 to 26.5% in 2012. The percentage of children with severe stunting by age 4 has also increased.

Stunting is caused by prolonged inadequacy of food intake, repeated episodes of infections and/or repeated episodes of acute undernutrition, and has serious impacts on both physical and cognitive health and development. In other words, the full potential of over one in four children born in South Africa today is being limited and denied by a lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food.

On this World Food Day, we urge the government to urgently reflect on its responsibility – and constitutional obligations – to the most vulnerable members of our society. Hunger and malnutrition must be consigned to the dustbin of history. The fruits of democracy must be enjoyed by all.

* Article supplied by  SACSIS – the South African Civil Society Information Service. SACSIS is a nonprofit news agency that promotes social justice commentary.

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