• BreakThrough Staff

Hunger is the Story of Our Time



Hunger continues to take lives across the world, every day. This global failure stems from the very nature of capitalism itself.

Vijay Prashad, Prasanth R., & Zoe Alexandra


In May 1998, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro attended the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. This is an annual meeting held by the World Health Organization (WHO). Castro focused his attention on hunger and poverty, which – he argued – are the cause of so much suffering. “Nowhere in the world,” Castro said, “in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour, and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet.”

Two years after Castro made this speech, the WHO’s World Health Report accumulated data on hunger-related deaths. This number adds up to just over 9 million deaths per year, 6 million of them being children under the age of five. This meant that 25,000 people die of hunger and poverty each day. These numbers far exceeded the numbers killed in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, whose death toll is calculated to be around half a million people. Attention is paid to the Genocide – as it should be – but not to the genocide of the poor through hunger-related deaths. This is why Castro made his comments at the Assembly.


In 2015, the United Nations adopted a plan to meet certain Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Goal 2 is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” That year, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) began to track a rise in the absolute number of hungry people around the world.

Six years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has shattered an already fragile planet, intensifying the existing apartheids of the international capitalist order. The world’s billionaires have increased their wealth tenfold, while the majorities have been forced into a day-to-day, meal-to-meal survival.


In July 2020, Oxfam released a report called The Hunger Virus, which found – using World Food Programme (WFP) data – that 12,000 people per day “could die from hunger linked to the social and economic impacts of the pandemic before the year, perhaps more than will die each day from the disease by that point.”


In July 2021, the United Nations announced that the world is “tremendously off track” to meet the body’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals citing that in 2020 “more than 2.3 billion people (or 30 percent of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food,” which constitutes severe food insecurity.


The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s 2021 report, The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World, noted that “nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year.” Hunger is intolerable. Food riots are now in evidence, most dramatically in South Africa. “They are just killing us with hunger here,” said one Durban resident who was motivated to join the unrest. These protests, as well as the new data released by the IMF and UN, have put hunger back on the global agenda.


Numerous international agencies have released reports with similar findings, showing that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic solidified the already downward trend towards growing hunger and food insecurity. Many however stop there, leaving us with the feeling that this hunger is inevitable and that it will be the international institutions with their credits, loans, and aid programs that will solve this dilemma of humanity.


HOW DID WE GET HERE AND WHAT IS THE WAY FORWARD?