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Hunger and Malnutrition

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What is our obligation?"In the gardens, it will be asked about the guilty: What has brought you into hell? They shall say: We were not of those who prayed; And we used not to feed the poor; And we used to enter into vain discourse with those who entered into vain discourses. And we used to call the day of judgment a lie; Till death overtook us. So the intercession of intercessors shall not avail them." (74:41-48)

One of the acutest physical pains experienced by man is that of hunger. Historically it also has been one of the motivating factors in human progress from nomadic hunting life to settled agrarian one. With such astounding progress in food grains production and improved methods of agriculture, we also see the widespread heart-wrenching problem of hunger. Of course, the issue of hunger is more related with distribution and wastage of agriculture product, which is a separate topic in itself.

Hunger can be defined as "a condition in which people lack the basic food intake to provide them with the energy and nutrients for fully productive lives." It is measured in terms of availability, access, or intake of calories relative to requirements that vary principally by age, gender, and activities. Nutrients provided by food combine with other factors, including the health state of the person consuming the food, to produce "nutritional status". Indicators of nutritional status are measurements of body size, body composition, or body function reflecting single or multiple nutrient deficiencies. The most widely-cited data on the number of persons considered hungry come from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). On an ongoing basis, FAO constructs estimates of mean per capita dietary energy supply (production + stocks - post-harvest losses + commercial imports + food aid - exports). Assumptions regarding the distribution of this supply are made based on data on income distribution, the distribution of consumption, or in some cases, inferences based on infant mortality. The constructed distribution is compared against minimum per capita energy requirements and from this, the proportion of persons whose access to food is below these requirements is estimated. FAO calls this the prevalence of undernourishment.

As per 2010 estimates, there are around 925 million hungry people. In round numbers, there are seven billion people in the world. Thus, with an estimated 925 million hungry people in the world, 13.1 percent, or almost 1 in 7 people, are hungry. The hungry are found predominantly in Asia and the Pacific (505 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (198 million); these two regions account for nearly 90% of the world's hungry. It is estimated that at least 12 million low-birth-weight births occur per year, and that around 162 million pre-school children and almost a billion people of all ages are malnourished.

The studies have shown that the effects of hunger and malnourishment on kids are more intensive. Severe malnutrition in early childhood often leads to deficits in cognitive development. Malnourished children score worse on tests of cognitive function, have poorer psychomotor development and fine motor skills, have lower activity levels, interact less frequently in their environments, and fail to acquire skills at normal rates . Controlled experiments with animals suggests that malnutrition results in irreversible damage to brain development such as that associated with the insulation of neural fibers . This is in keeping with the prevailing view that very young children are most vulnerable to impaired cognitive development.

(The above data is based on the paper "Hunger and Malnutrition" by Jere R. Behrman, Harold Alderman, and John Hoddinott.)

Islam gives strong admonition to its adherents about feeding the hungry and not neglecting this essential duty towards human beings. The Holy Qur'an is mentions at several places the wrongdoings of disbelievers, which include refusing food to the hungry and needy. Those who have been dragged into hell testify themselves that " we used not to feed the poor." (74:44) The Qur'an notes the believers who spend in the way of Allah out of love for Allah. They give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive: "We only feed you for Allah's sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks." (76:8-9) Such believers will enter paradise and receive a great reward from their Lord.

The Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) have given equally strong commands in regards to this issue.

It has been reported that Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever feeds a hungry believer, Allah will feed him with the fruits of Paradise; and whoever gives a drink to a thirsty believer, Allah will quench his thirst (on the Day of Judgment) with an exquisite drink of Paradise; and whoever clothes a believer, Allah will clothe him with a green robe of Paradise."

Similarly, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said: "If any believer feeds another believer to full, Allah will feed him from the fruits of Paradise; and if he gives him a sip to drink, He will quench his thirst with an exquisite drink (of Paradise); and if he clothes him, Allah will clothe him with a green robe (of Paradise) and he will remain under the protection of Allah as long as a thread of that cloth remains."

May Allah the Creator Sustainer Lord make us fulfill our duties of sharing our sustenance with our fellow human beings, and especially with our brethren in faith!

Author of this article: Asad Raza
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