Tech and Humanitarian Assistance: Combating World Hunger and Malnutrition

Sylvana Lewin | Thursday, December 14th, 2017

After delving into how technology is being used to support relief organizations working to end the ongoing global refugee crisis and improve women’s health, this week we’ll take a look at how technology is being used to combat world hunger and malnutrition.

According to the World Food Program, one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, and one in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition. It is also estimated that 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger and about 45% of deaths among children under five have malnutrition as the underlying cause. These deaths mostly occur in low and middle income countries.

Common causes of global hunger according to the UN include lack of investment in agriculture, climate and weather, war and displacement, unstable markets, and food wastage. Drought is one of the most common causes of food shortages in the world. Despite the clear global demand, nearly 1/3 of all food produced is never consumed, indicating a need for solutions that can bridge this gap.

World hunger and malnutrition is a problem that touches all corners of the globe, but hits hardest in lower to middle income countries. Humanitarian organizations and social impact enterprises are using innovative tech solutions to make sure that no one has to go to bed hungry in the future. Here are some innovations in tech leading the way!

WindChill Fridge

The WindChill Fridge was designed by Canadian students at the University of Calgary to fight one of the sources of global hunger: food wastage. An electricity-free food preservation unit, WindChill is a low-cost and easy solution for preserving food. The unit works by drawing warm air through a funnel to a pipe covered in fluid, called the evaporation chamber. While the liquid evaporates, it cools the air, which is then directed to the refrigeration chamber, where food can be stored. WindChill reaches temperatures as low as 40F, or around 4.5C.

In the future, the WindChill fridge could be used throughout the developing world to help prevent food wastage and thus fight global hunger. Due to its innovative design allowing for refrigeration without electricity, this system could have a big effect on the many countries impacted by inconsistent energy supply.

Vienna University of Technology’s Satellite Technologies for Improved Drought Assessment

Drought has a significant impact on agriculture and thus food production. When a drought is not predicted, it can cause diminished food stores and ultimately lead to malnutrition and deaths from hunger. Currently a severe drought is causing 10 million people to go hungry across the Eastern Sahel in West Africa.  SATIDA is working to stop these food crises through predicting drought and thus allowing relief organizations to find and supply life saving food stores ahead of time.

Funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency in collaboration with a team of scientists and Doctors Without Borders, SATIDA was developed to tackle the gap between what researchers consider necessary and what end users actually need. SATIDA is made up of four complementary components:

  • A combined drought indicator that links rainfall, surface air temperature, the vegetation status, surface and profile soil moisture;
  • Calibration and validation of seasonal forecasts up to three months;
  • A mobile application to disseminate relevant information to field staff and to provide a standardized tool for the collection of socio-economic information;
  • And a database that links all three elements.

CIAT’s Nutrition Early Warning System   

Also working to monitor nutrition threats, CIAT’s Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS) uses machine learning to create a powerful tool that can process a constant flow of data relevant to food and nutrition. The tool then mines the data and provides two key outputs:

  • An early warning system to alert decision makers to nutrition threats well ahead of a crisis
  • Ongoing surveillance to provide multiple options for nutrition interventions and to build resilience within national and regional food systems.

The more information that goes into the system, the smarter it will get and this will lead to better detection of early signals. Recommendations from the system are tailored to national dashboards that refine further insights available via NEWS. These are accessible through a secure website that will regularly monitor and post updates on key nutrition and security indicators. Recommendations can be informed by country-specific data on issues like climate, budget, infrastructure, dietary preferences, and much more.

WFP’s Share the Meal App

It costs just US$0.50 to feed one child for a day, yet hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide. The World Food Programme’s Share the Meal App is the world’s first app for fighting global hunger. The app enables people to “share their meal” with children in need. Users can give with just a tap of the app and even see where their meals go. The funds raised through the app are used by the WFP for a series of projects fighting hunger.

In the past, the app has been used for assistance in Yemen, Lebanon, Cameroon, South Sudan, Malawi, Syria, Jordan, and Lesotho. Currently, it is supporting ongoing projects to help the Rohingya people, Syrian refugees, and school children as well as combat hunger in Nigeria in Haiti. Over 18 million meals have been shared through the app.

Forbes/Federico Guerrini

World hunger is a complex issue that is going to take a lot of work to solve and tech solutions are going to be necessary. Organizations and developers are going to have to battle both root problems, such as food wastage, lack of investment in agriculture, and drought, as well as the symptoms these problems have caused. Apps like Share the Meal are leveraging the global community to provide food for those already suffering from malnutrition and hunger. SATIDA, WindChill, and NEWS are looking ahead at how we can prevent hunger from happening in the first place. A combination of these two types of solutions is necessary in the battle against world hunger. Progress is being made, but there’s still a long way to go.

Make sure to keep following our Tech and Humanitarian Assistance series as we look at how technology is being used in agriculture in two weeks!