First of all, the Third and First Worlds need to be defined so that false assumptions are not made which would distort the facts. The Third World consists of the underdeveloped and developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The First World contains all the industrialised and capitalist nations of the World, including the UK.
In order to contrast Third World and UK hunger, the definitions of First and Third World hunger have to be compared. This is because they vary from society to society. Firstly The generic definition of hunger is ‘an appetite, desire, need or craving for food’(1.)
Secondly, the First World definition for hunger is the appetite, desire and the craving for food. This is not to suggest that the need for food is not evident in First World countries where many, such as the homeless and socially excluded, suffer from malnourishment and undernourishment.
In the context of the Third World however, a normal craving for food, hunger is defined as the need for food. The most important distinction for the social scientist to contemplate is the difference between desire and need.
The extent of hunger has then to be identified in both worlds to understand the nature of the hunger being studied. Malnourishment is the result of inadequacies in the quantity of food in a person’s diet and undernourishment is inadequacies in the quality of food, that is inadequate amounts of essential proteins, minerals, vitamins and water. These are both common in Great Britain. Famine, on the other hand, is a more drastic, wide-ranging food shortage detrimental to the health of so many in Third World countries e.g. Sudan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone.
In addition, the causes of hunger are defined proximate and structural. Proximate reasons tend to be immediately identifiable as playing a distinct role in the creation of hunger for example, ‘war, drought, flooding, late rains and crop failure(5.)’. Structural or material explanations of poverty are of greater sociological importance because they demonstrate the wider social determinants of poverty. They tend to be long-term factors in the political context and emerge from historically produced factors like ideologies. An example of the effect of an ideology is when a 3rd World government spends money on unnecessary prestige projects for political advantage.
It is impossible to define hunger, without taking into account the underlying and triggering factors that cause it in the UK and the Third World; so, poverty has to be defined in order that the relation between poverty and hunger can be understood and assessed in both First and Third World terms. There are two definitions of poverty, relative and absolute. Absolute poverty is defined in relation to minimal standards whereas relative poverty has to do with the general standard of living in a society which may not be very poor. The absolute definition, which is frequently applied to Third World countries, is criticised by sociologists who argue that ‘such a general and global definition fails to take into account important socio-economic differences between countries and nations’(4.)
Hunger is not simply about food production and meeting requirements. The causes of hunger are related to the causes of poverty. One of the major causes of hunger is poverty itself. The important issues about poverty in the Third World are in seen in contrast to those in the First World. The most recognised ones are: diversion of land use to non-productive use, land rights and ownership, an increasing emphasis on export-oriented agriculture, inefficient agricultural practices, war, famine, drought, over-fishing, poor crop yield, lack of democracy and rights. An example of how one of these causes hunger is when ineffecient agricultural practices fail to gain high enough yields so that there are to not enough crops to support the population.
Many people, principally in First World countries, assume that Third World hunger arises simply from food shortage, population pressure and natural forces, such as droughts and earthquakes. This is mainly due to the disturbing images portrayed by the media which create widespread sympathy.
There are also misconceptions as to how hunger is created in Britain. People tend to believe that only the underclasses, such as the homeless, go hungry. This is a myth. Many others suffer from undernourishment because their diet lacks sufficient of the right kinds of nutrients. This is mainly income related as indicated in table (a.) in the appendix.
What the media does not usually present however is the more complex range of underlying factors contributing to the hunger in both the UK and the Third World.
The truth is that it is not always lack of food that is the central problem in the developing world, but sub-standard agricultural productivity rates. The surplus build up of cereals, for example, weakens the media’s theory. The Institute for Food and Development Policy claims that ‘enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day’(2). Another statistic that weakens the conception of food shortage is that the world food output ‘has at least doubled since 1950’(3.). Why do famines still exist despite excesses of food? Because of food availabilty decline or (FAD). Table (b) indicates the surplus build up of cereals in the European community.
A political factor that affects food production in the Third World is the corrupt government. The mismanagement, – some could say theft – of foreign aid by government members can cause money and resources from abroad to be invested in the wrong areas or used to enhance the life-style of the political leader. This creates even more financial loss for countries already heavily in debt to Western banks and make the hunger problem even worse.
Vulnerable groups in both Worlds have to be defined so that the main victims of can be identified. In the Third World, it is mainly women and children who suffer. Women have a very low status, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To highlight the underlying factors contributing to hunger in the UK, the most vulnerable groups have to be defined too. When the fact that hunger includes malnutrition and undernutrition is taken into account, social scientists stress that people in particular social groups are more likely to suffer from hunger: the unemployed, low paid workers, the sick and disabled, single parent families, ethnic minorities and women. Table (a.) in the appendix indicates the link between incomes and the quality of food consumed. The lower the income, the poorer the diet. People on low incomes are more likely to become undernourished than people with high incomes. A low income is defined as near supplementary benefit level.
Underlying factors may bring about hunger in the long term, but the triggering factors are more drastic and can create instant consequences that are difficult to deter. Violent conflict in a country has severe implications for entitlements to food and food protection. For example, when scorched-earth tactics are used, all agricultural production is destroyed. This happened most recently in the Horn of Africa. Land mines are another serious problem, causing long-term danger for anyone who attempts to use the fields and affecting long term food production. In Somalia in 1997, 1 million mines were estimated to have been laid in crop fields. Such factors lead to an immediate loss of entitlements and in themselves create hunger.
The extent of hunger in the Third World is extreme compared with the First World. Famines exist almost permanently in countries like Sierra Leone, and Sudan. Hungry people in third World are deprived of basic needs such as food, shelter, sanitation and health care. Lack of food also makes people much less immune to diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Because of immune system failure, minor illnesses in the First World, like diarrhoea, can cause death. The cycle of poverty has a detrimental effect not only on productivity rates but also on long term health. A low productivity rate means that participation in agriculture will be lower which means less food and starvation for a whole community. Hunger in the Third World is clearly a much more serious problem than it is in the UK.
In the UK, it rarely goes beyond undernourishment. This is mainly because Britain has a strong, stable agricultural system and a wealthy economy, which means no one lives below, or indeed anywhere near, subsistence level. A medical condition such as anorexia-nervosa – a fear of becoming overweight- can cause severe hunger and depression, but that is psycholigical not economical.
To be properly understood, the statistics have to be quantified with caution. Table (a) shows that lower income can result in a poorer quality diet. This information was the result of localised studies and cannot be assumed definite. It is important to detect government bias, for example; hidden agenda when the statistics were released? In table (b), it is claimed that data is estimated after 1984-5. From this evidence, the accuracy of the statistics is questionable.
In conclusion, when hunger in Britain and the Third World are compared, there are many differences in the social, political, economic and cultural categories. As social scientists have discovered, it is very difficult to make direct hunger comparisons, for the societies are so different and complexities within variables are constantly changing. Social scientists have, therefore, to make some general assumptions.