Tag Archives: inequality

While the world burns and people go hungry the message is business as usual: Lessons for food insecurity

October 25, 2023


Photo credit: Adobe Photostock

Written by: Martin Caraher

The food insecurity crisis is characterised by the triple burdens of malnutrition, of which undernourishment is just one aspect, it also includes micronutrient deficiencies and overnutrition. Globally, over 821 million people suffer from undernutrition, 2 billion people with micronutrient deficiencies and over 2 billion adults are overweight or obese. In some economies obesity can be seen as a proxy indicator of the new food insecurity, as populations consume more processed foods and less fruit and vegetables. The overall burden is one that impacts more on low and emerging economies. Malnutrition during pregnancy and the early years development leads to stunted physical and cognitive development, increased susceptibility to diseases, and reduced productivity and economic opportunities. Women and children bear the brunt of food insecurity, with women being more likely to be affected by hunger than men and 144 million children under the age of five being stunted (too short for their age) due to chronic undernutrition.

While one in nine people in the world are undernourished there are regional disparities, Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with over 250 million people (19% of the population) suffering from hunger, within Africa emerging economies such as South Africa are experiencing rising levels of obesity alongside hunger. Asia follows closely with over 500 million people (11.4% of the population) facing food insecurity. In contrast, Latin America and the Caribbean have the lowest prevalence of undernourishment, with 9.5% of the population affected. High-income economies such as the UK and the US -have seen increased levels of food insecurity driving by changing economic circumstances. The nature of food insecurity in high-income countries is different from that in low and middle-income income but nonetheless damaging in its impact. It is more likely to be characterised by the consumption of highly processed foods high in calories, fat, salt and sugar interspersed with periods of hunger.

The UN estimates that by 2050, climate change will push an additional 100 million people into poverty and increase the number of undernourished by 20%. Conflict and political instability play a large part in food insecurity. The World Food Programme reports that 60% of the world’s hungry live in countries affected by conflict. This is a major challenge in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan, and Syria, where ongoing conflicts have contributed to food insecurity and malnutrition. Such conflicts and lack of global food governance can be further impacted by natural disasters and global events outside the control of national governments. The recent floods in Libya acerbated an already precarious situation, with only 1% of the land suitable for growing of grains resulting in a heavy reliance on imports. Adding to all of this was the war in Ukraine which resulted in less grain being available for export to Libya either directly or through the World Food Programme. Libya, since 2011, has had periodic wheat and cereals supply disruptions, shortages driven by speculative trading on global markets and higher local prices due to currency devaluation. Seventy-five per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, with many facing increasing challenges such as limited access to land, water, and other resources. They may live next to where food is grown but not have physical access to land and lack sufficient income to buy food.

Despite these alarming statistics, there have been some improvements in global food security, the prevalence of undernourishment decreased from 23.3% in 1990-1992 to 8.9% in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic saw some of these advances being reversed, demonstrating the fragility of the global food system and the need for continued efforts to address food insecurity and malnutrition. The pandemic provided us with lots of initiatives by governments, civil society and the food industry to tackle the issue of supply, examples of these are included in our edited handbook (Caraher, Coveney & Chopra, 2023). Despite this the contribution of both governments and the private sector to the SDGs is not encouraging. WHO, FAO and other United Nations agencies are predicting an increase in food insecurity in 2024. Among the reasons for this are a lack of actions to meet the targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Nutrition Targets (GNTs). Only 15% of the SDG targets are on track to be met by 2030 and the GNTs date for achievement, previously 2025, have been extended to 2030. Figure 1, shows that ranked by their contribution to each of the 17 SDG goals, global companies fell mostly in the middle with 38% aligned and 55% misaligned or neutral in their commitment and only 0.2% of companies strongly aligned to meeting the SDGs. The most strongly aligned goal was ‘Responsible Production and Consumption’, indicating a commitment, often under a CSR banner(Neufeld, 2021).

Figure 1 Source Neufeld (2021)

A key issue highlighted by many studies, including those in our edited volume, is the importance of cash transfers to families to address food insecurity, in the post pandemic era these are gradually being abandoned by governments using the excuse of austerity.


The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns were not about always about food per se in terms of its amount and production but the pandemic had impacts on the food chain and the ability and resources to source food. This raises the need to plan for disruptions in the food supply chain as a fallout from other crises such as floods, conflict or trade wars. Amartya Sen noted, famines are not conditional on a lack of food or its not being available, but on how the entitlement to access is conceived (Sen, 1981). Food security at the household level can be influenced by skills, resources and lack of money or physical access to food; however, it is often not about an overall shortage of food within a community or society but about access. Within late-capitalist societies, access is often defined by consumerist models of access rather than a right to food.

There is a lack of action by the corporate sector in relation to addressing the SDGs and the GNTs, the global food and health agencies have little power to ensure compliance or to regulate the situation. These gaps need to be addressed as matters of urgency. The issues of global governance and regulation need to be revisited by food policy and food insecurity researchers. For example there has been little research on how to regulate global speculation around food and concentrations in the food chain this despite the issues being (Clapp, 2021).


Caraher, M., Coveney, J. & Chopra, M. (eds) 2023,  Handbook of Food Security and Society, Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Clapp 2021, “The problem with growing corporate concentration and power in the global food system”, Nature food, vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 404-408.

Neufeld, D. 2021, March 16th-last update, UN Sustainable Development Goals: How Companies Stack Up,.

Sen, A. 1981, Poverty and Famines, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Handbook of Food Security and Society
Edited by Martin Caraher, John Coveney and Mickey Chopra is available now.

Read the introduction and other free chapters on Elgaronline.

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The Complex Relationship Between Inequality and the Environment

October 23, 2023


Photo credit: Adobe Photostock

Written by: Michael A. Long Oklahoma State University, USA, Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, USA and Paul B. Stretesky, University of Lincoln, UK

The relationship between inequality and the environment, as the title of this post suggests, is complex and not easily unpacked. Inequality exists in numerous ways and at different levels of analysis. For instance, inequalities can emerge between people or between groups. As social scientists we are less interested in inequality at the individual level where two people may, for instance, have different access to environmental resources. Instead, we are more concerned with social level inequalities that are observed between groups and affect many people. It is only through an examination of social inequality that we see how people at different locations in the societal power structure are affected by adverse or positive environmental contexts (e.g., residing near a polluting site versus being able to access a park in a city). In short, power shapes social relationships, some of which are environmental in nature. What this means, then, is that the ways power is structured in society impacts the natural environment.

Let us begin with a simple illustrative example from Jorgenson et al. (2020) which offers an observation that power, defined by racial composition and income inequality, is related to adverse health outcomes resulting from exposure to particulate pollution (PM2.5). As the percentage of black residents, particle matter, and income share of the top 10% of earners increased (a measure of income inequality), life expectancy decreased across US states. Here, an adverse outcome – decreased life expectancy – is not simply a function of increased exposure to particulate pollution as one might expect but is also shaped by the overall racial composition and income inequality in states. Increases in particulate matter are the most detrimental (most strongly correlated) to life expectancy in states with the greatest levels of income inequality and in states with the highest proportion of black residents. Jorgenson et al.’s study is an example of the ways in which inequality and the environment are related and multidimensional.

This example focuses attention on a very specific adverse environmental condition: poor air quality measured by particulate pollution (PM2.5). However, this is just one measure of air quality. Poor quality air can also be defined by ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon levels that are too high. Many of these measures of poor air quality can overlap, and locations with overlapping air pollution measures are likely unhealthier. A further test of the relationship between inequality and air pollution expanding on Jorgenson et al.’s finding might include these additional measures either individually or as an index. For example, Shenassa and Williams (2020) found adolescents living in areas with higher rates of poverty were more likely to be exposed to a class of chemicals known as volatile organic chemicals (or VOCs).

The two examples we provided above focus on air pollution but also demonstrated that the concept of air pollution is a broad term, that air pollution comes in different forms, and can be measured in complex ways with multiple measures. The same would be true for other measures of pollution in the environment. For example, water can be polluted, and it can be polluted with different kinds of chemicals. Moreover, some forms of water pollution might include dimensions of water impurities we might often overlook, such as the extent of salt-water intrusion into drinking water sources, which may also be related to various forms of inequality, and which may be complicated by coastal flooding that results from climate change and may have differential adverse effects on local indigenous peoples (Leonard 2021; Sageghi and Hosseini 2023).

The term “environment” broadly refers to the natural world and the impact of humans on that world. That impact extends beyond pollution and can include access to environmental resources that have beneficial uses for people, including for instance, food (e.g., access to clean waterways with sufficient fish stock to support local peoples). The term “environment” may also include issues for urban residents, and involve equal access to green spaces, or to urban garden areas which allow low-income residents to grow fresh foods to supplement their diets. This complex set of relationships between environment and inequality is the focus of our Handbook on Inequality and the Environment. The Handbook begins with an overview of the theoretical traditions of environmental inequality to provide readers with a framework for understanding the complex and diverse set of relationships between the environment and inequality. The Handbook is then organized into sections that explore key concepts related to inequality and environment and focus on issues such as race, ethnicity and indigenous peoples, gender, class, and economic circumstances for social problems such as climate change, natural resource extraction, and food insecurity. Unlike other volumes in this area the Handbook examines the way environmental inequality is intensified by state responses to environmental challenges. The contributions by leading authors are written in accessible language that should appeal to undergraduates, graduates and others who are looking for an overview of this important and increasingly relevant area of study.

Jorgenson, Andrew K., Terrence D. Hill, Brett Clark, Ryan P. Thombs, Peter Ore, Kelly S. Balistreri, and Jennifer E. Givens. (2020). Power, proximity, and physiology: does income inequality and racial composition amplify the impacts of air pollution on life expectancy in the United States? Environmental Research Letters 15 (2): 024013.

Leonard, Kelsey. (2021). WAMPUM Adaptation framework: Eastern coastal Tribal Nations and sea level rise impacts on water security. Climate and Development 13 (9): 842-851.

Sadeghi, Amir-Reza, and Seiyed Mossa Hosseini. (2023). Assessment and delineation of potential groundwater recharge zones in areas prone to saltwater intrusion hazard: a case from Central Iran. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 195 (1): 203.

Shenassa, Edmond D., and Andrew D. Williams. (2020). Concomitant exposure to area-level poverty, ambient air volatile organic compounds, and cardiometabolic dysfunction: a cross-sectional study of US adolescents. Annals of Epidemiology 48: 15-22.

Handbook on Inequality and the Environment
Edited by Michael A. Long, Michael J. Lynch and Paul B. Stretesky is available now.

Read the introduction and other free chapters on Elgaronline.

Continue reading...

The Distribution of Wealth – Growing Inequality?

November 24, 2016


urban-shanty-townMichael Schneider examines the distribution of wealth and the way that it has changed over time. […]

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