World Food Day 2015
World Food Day 2015: The cost to the global economy because of malnutrition is the equivalent of US$3.5 trillion a year FAO

Despite obesity rates being at an all-time high in the world's richest countries, 795 million people across the planet still lack sufficient food for conducting an active and healthy life. World Food Day is a day of action against hunger, observed every year in more than 150 countries. On 16 October, people around the world declare their commitment to eradicating hunger.

Even in the US, one of the richest countries in the world, one in seven Americans – 14.3% – does not have enough to eat. The figures are shocking. In a world of plenty, 805 million people, one in nine worldwide, live with chronic hunger. Around 60% of the hungry in the world are women and almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year.

Hungry people have learning difficulties, are less productive at work, are sick more often and live shorter lives. The cost to the global economy because of malnutrition is the equivalent of US$3.5tn a year. Hunger leads to increased levels of global insecurity and environmental degradation. Ending hunger is not just a moral imperative, but also a good investment for society.

Globally, extreme climate events, war and financial crisis can dramatically affect a person's ability to feed themselves and their families. Without social safety nets, resiliency measures and good policy in place, these events can set off a cycle of hunger and poverty.

Plans to reduce chronic food insecurity and poverty

The official celebration of World Food Day is at the Expo Milano 2015, attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, José Graziano da Silva. They will be joined by the Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, and the country's ministers for agriculture and foreign affairs, Maurizio Martina and Paolo Gentiloni, to unveil the topic for 2015 – "Social protection and Agriculture" which aims to ensure direct access to food or the means to buy food.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG)target aims to halve the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015. "The near-achievement of the MDG hunger target shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year," said Da Silva.

"If we truly wish to create a world free from poverty and hunger, then we must make it a priority to invest in the rural areas of developing countries where most of the world's poorest and hungriest people live," said Kanayo F Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

"We must work to create a transformation in our rural communities so they provide decent jobs, decent conditions and decent opportunities. We must invest in rural areas so that our nations can have balanced growth and so that the 3 billion people who live in rural areas can fulfil their potential."

In North America, grassroots events and public awareness campaigns engage diverse audiences in action against hunger. Solutions range from hunger walks and World Food Day dinners to meal packaging events and food drives.

"Men, women and children need nutritious food every day to have any chance of a free and prosperous future. Healthy bodies and minds are fundamental to both individual and economic growth, and that growth must be inclusive for us to make hunger history," said World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin.

The 2015 food security targets were hampered in recent years by challenging global economic conditions. Extreme weather events, natural disasters, political instability and civil strife have all impeded progress – 24 African countries currently face food crises, twice as many as in 1990; around one of every five of the world's undernourished lives in crisis environments characterised by weak governance and acute vulnerability to death and disease.

What can the wealthiest countries do to help?

According to Christopher Emsden of the FAO: "Hunger is most widespread elsewhere and has to do with distribution and storage-loss issues. Wealthy countries could, presumably, encourage solutions and fund efforts to find them.

"Dealing with the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will cost, in the slogan phrase, 'trillions not millions'. The figure is far higher than any plausible donation-type funding. So it's about finance. Wealthy countries could help on that front, say by steering pension funds into investing in irrigation projects, to put forth a random example.

"Wealthy countries could also work hard to cut food waste, as most of them promise to do [US promises to cut it by half, EU by a third]. However, that doesn't mean food will go to the hungry. In developing countries, it's food loss rather than waste that's the big issue. This could be mitigated inter alia by better storage facilities, cold chains, food processors, etc."

Dealing with food waste

The first goal in FAO's campaign against food waste is to stop the waste, not to reroute the wasted food to the hungry. "France has a new supermarket law limiting the amount of food supermarkets can waste," Lumsden says. "This will require them to send it to local soup kitchens in the short run, while presumably they find a way to waste less in the first place."

World Food Day in numbers

  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world – at 23.2%, or almost one in every four people.
  • About 795 million people in the world still lack sufficient food for an active and healthy life.
  • Approximately 216 million fewer people suffer from undernourishment than 25 years ago and 167 million fewer than a decade ago.
  • 72 out of 129 developing countries – more than half the countries monitored – have reached the MDG ( Millennium Development Goal) hunger target of halving the proportion of the chronically undernourished.
  • In the developing regions, the prevalence of undernourishment has declined to 12.9% of the population, down from 23.3%, 25 years ago reports State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015
  • 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished damaging their bodies and brains