Almost a billion people go hungry every day and 165 million children under five suffer from malnutrition – a startling fact when you consider there is enough food in the world to feed everyone.
With the G8 summit fast approaching and the UK government tasked with halving the number of people suffering with hunger by 2015, I took a look at how the British Red Cross is tackling three very different causes of hunger, starting with our programme in Lesotho.
Lesotho is one of Africa’s poorest countries. Landlocked, rugged and beaten by extreme weather conditions, the majority of its people depend on imported food and almost two thirds of the population live below the poverty line.
To make matters more severe, AIDS related illnesses claim 70 lives every day, crippling communities. The Red Cross is supporting people who find it hard to grow their own food or work for cash because of of illnesses like HIV or tuberculosis (TB).
Diane Moody, British Red Cross Africa programme manager, explains: “Not only does having an illness like HIV or TB impact on your ability to work, but it is vital for people to have access to healthy food when taking the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.”
Among the most vulnerable are the many children left orphaned as a result of the AIDS pandemic. Nkhothatsenf Sethathi became head of her household at just 12 years old when she lost both of her parents to the illness. Unable to provide for her younger siblings and elderly grandmother, she turned to the Red Cross for support.
Working within communities like Nkhothatsenf’s, the Red Cross provides home visits, advice and tools to help people support themselves and their families. Nkhothatsenf says: “I really value the home care visits. They help with the household chores and make sure we are healthy.
“Thanks to our friends at the Red Cross we now have watering cans, vegetable seeds and tools to help us maintain the community gardens – when we are in season, I can’t wait to start growing vegetables like spinach, which tastes great in home-made stew.”
But for those without the energy to look after large plots of land, the Red Cross has an innovative solution. Keyhole gardens – so called because of their shape – are built to waist height and arm span, making it easy for people who are sick to tend them and grow nutritious food all year round.
Red Cross volunteers trained as ‘lead gardeners’ make regular visits to households, sharing knowledge and advising best methods of food preservation so that people can get the best out of their plot.
Diane explains why the method is having such a transformational effect on communities: “The causes of hunger are complex and often differ greatly between different regions. We need to address the challenges that are specific to that community in order to create lasting food security. In Lesotho, supporting people with HIV is key to tackling hunger.”