That’s the amount of time we have left to accomplish the global goals of zero hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as set forth by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. As we race against the clock, I am reminded of the urgency of both local and international poverty, and its impact on global health and food security. As a pastor, I am constantly thinking about hunger: spiritual and physical.
Time and time again, our faith and shared humanity tell us to “feed the hungry” and work toward ensuring the well-being of our neighbors next door and around the world.
As we all know, proper nutrition is at the center of any healthy society: communities require it to maintain good public health, nourish the next generation, and ensure individuals can lead economically-productive lives.
Here in Payson, we are familiar with the reality of hunger, with poverty rates hovering around 11.7 percent. Yet in Guatemala, the impact of malnutrition in children is also dire. In the community of Ixconlaj, Expedition Church has been partnering with Food for the Hungry (FH) to sponsor an entire community of children. Here in the isolated, indigenous community of about 7,000 people in the western highlands of Guatemala, most families live on less than $1 dollar/day farming.
In fact, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and almost half — 47 percent — of children under 5 are stunted. Whether it be the compounding effects of violence or climate-related disasters causing dwindling harvests, it is revealing of a deep hunger in this beautiful and lush country.
This October, we visited the community for the third time, and witnessed a dramatic shift in their hope for the future. The community had embraced a shared vision to grow in their potential as people. They are implementing the evidence-based programs of FH and seeing their value play out in the lives of their children and families. Local government leaders, teachers, parents, and health care professionals all shared their appreciation for the presence of FH in their community, as well as the relationship being built with Expedition Church. There is hope.
This Thanksgiving, I can’t help but feel compelled to urge our community and leaders to work toward a world where every mouth is fed and every body is nourished. In reality, even minimal nutrition-focused interventions yield extraordinary impacts. On a global scale, investments in nutrition leverage an average return of $45 up to $166 for every dollar spent. The promotion of simple practices like exclusive breastfeeding among new mothers, trainings in dietary diversity and micronutrient intake, and the use of proper sanitation are low-cost, behavioral changes that transform the well-being of communities.
We’re racing against time. In fact, world hunger is on the rise after a steady period of decline. According to a report by the UN, approximately 1 in 9 people in the world — an estimated 821 million people — were undernourished in 2017, up from 2015.
We cannot allow more people to slide into hunger, when we have opportunities to do something about it. The World Bank estimates that if every nation were to invest consistently in nutrition interventions, as many as 3.7 million lives could be saved within the next five years.
Now, more than ever, is the time for our national leaders here and around the world to recognize that malnutrition is a global epidemic. In this season of Thanksgiving, let’s advocate for those living in hunger, encourage federal lawmakers to increase funding for global nutrition, and take intentional strides toward tackling food security. All deserve to thrive during this harvest season.
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Lance Chabot is the associate pastor overseeing local and global outreach programs at Expedition Church in Payson. He is also a partner and advocate of Food for the Hungry, a Christian international relief and development organization ending poverty in more than 20 countries worldwide.