Doctors Without Borders: Reform Food Aid

Malnutrition and food inequality are issues that are central to CoR's Make Food, Not War project area. For this reason, we have invested our time and energy into identifying the most cutting-edge, creative, and effective organizations working to overcome these injustices. One such organization is Doctors Without Borders/Medicines Sans Frontier’s (MSF), which currently operates 120 malnutrition programs in 36 countries. They recently launched a multimedia campaign called "Starved for Attention," which combines the use of film, photography, and social media to document childhood malnutrition. The goal of this initiative is to amplify the voices of some of the millions of people who live without a proper diet and to expose the forces that make this misery so widespread. Click here to watch some of their short films.

The following is a short film about Bangladesh, where, according to UNICEF estimates, 48% of children under the age of five are malnourished.


The World Bank estimates that, between 2008 and 2009, as many as 200 million people worldwide were were pushed into poverty. With the global recession, rising food prices, and strains on agricultural production caused by climate change, families around the world are struggling to satisfy their basic nutritional needs. While international food aid systems have been developed to help address these challenges, they are riddled with inefficiencies and flaws that prevent their success and, in some cases, make food insecurity worse.

Millions of the the world’s food aid recipients are deprived of a well-rounded diet, since much of the international food aid comes from rich countries' surpluses of cereals like rice and corn. Under current food aid arrangements, donor countries subsidize their farmers' overproduction of cereals, which are then delivered to impoverished areas. This food "dumping" creates dependencies on the imported food and prevents the development of any sustainable local agricultural production. It also guarantees diets of such poor nutritional value that they would never be acceptable for most citizens in the donor countries. MSF nutrition expert Dr. Susan Shepherd has urged the heads of international food programs to “give the children what they need, not what is left over” and to “treat the young children of developing countries the same way you would treat your own children.”

Artists Responding to Malnutrition

An important part of MSF's response is enlisting engaged artists to use their talents to make clear the depth of this crisis. Photographers Jessica Dimmock, Marcus Bleasdale, Stephanie Sinclair, Antonia Kratochvil, Ron Haviv, Franco Pagetti, and John Stanmeyer traveled with MSF doctors to various regions of Africa, South Asia, Mexico, and the United States to document how poverty has affected the lives of local residents. In addition to photographing MSF staff clinics and the local neighborhoods, the photographers also provide candid thoughts on their experiences of coming face to face with inequality, poverty, and starvation. “Documenting malnutrition has been one of the toughest challenges our agency has faced,” reflects award-winning photographer Ron Haviv, “yet we believe that we have found a completely new visual language to tell this story—one that has the potential for great impact.”

MSF has an ongoing partnership with various professional photojournalists who accompany medical teams to the front-lines of the world’s most devastating human tragedies. In 2004 MSF organized an exhibit of photographs taken during its 10 year presence in Afghanistan. Doctors Without Borders: Photographs from Afghanistan (1984-2004) vividly told the story of the ongoing suffering of Afghanistan's people. The following year, in 2005, MSF organized a 2-year international touring exhibit of photographs from the war-torn Congo. Democratic Republic of the Congo: Forgotten War brought media attention to an internationally ignored humanitarian crisis. Most recently, MSF presented an exhibit of images from The Photographer: Into War Torn Afghanistan, a collaboration between acclaimed photographer Didier Lefevre and illustrator Emmanuel Guibert. The graphic novel combined illustration and photography to tell the story of MSF in Afghanistan, provide an intimate glimpse into the lives of MSF team members, and bear candid witness to Soviet and Taliban atrocities.

Commenting on the use of artistic expression, MSF Executive Director Nicolas de Torrente explains, “Their essential quality is to go behind the headlines and to offer glimpses of ordinary people's lives – reminding us, and the world at large, that we must refuse to let the unacceptable become normal.”

If you would like to get more involved in fighting international childhood malnutrition, MSF recommends signing the Starved for Attention petition and demanding that governments supplying humanitarian food aid ensure that the food meets proper nutritional standards for infants and young children. On World Food Day 2010, MSF will present the petition to the top food aid donor countries.

To learn more about how to get involved, to find upcoming events, or to access all of Starved for Attention's films, visit their website at

©2011 Cultures of Resistance | Site Map