College of LAS « Illinois

Student Life

Mapping World Hunger

Students create unique atlas that documents world hunger.


Few college students can crow that their semester project resulted in an original—not to mention significant—publication.

But 13 students in LAS can, indeed, make that claim. With the guidance of their instructor, geography professor Tom Bassett, students in "Geography 310: The Geography of Development and Underdevelopment" have just published an Atlas of World Hunger—the first of its kind. It can be accessed and downloaded on the Web.

Students created the full-color maps to "illustrate the patterns and processes of world hunger," but the exercise was instructive on many levels, says Bassett. First, students had to come to terms with the many myths about world hunger—most notably, the idea that overpopulation and drought are the main causes of hunger. Second, the search for alternative explanations and indicators required them to expand their knowledge of the dynamics that produce poverty and unequal access to food; the search also forced them to find data sources that offered "meaningful measures of hunger,"says Bassett. Finally, everyone had to conquer new mapping software.

The final product makes clear that the students mastered the technical aspects, Bassett says, while the intellectual dimension is apparent in their themes, data, and texts describing their maps. "In the end, the mapmaking process and the maps themselves demonstrate the cartographic truth that all maps reflect the objectives of their makers."

For the first half of the atlas, students mapped the "geography" of hunger; for the second half, the causes of hunger. They drew data from a wide variety of sources, such as the U.N. Development Program, then mapped their findings using their choice of maps—from dot density to flow to prism.

Their map themes were, well, all over the map: "Stunting in the Developing World," "Average Caloric Consumption of the Poorest 25 Percent," "Food Aid Shipments by the World Food Program," "The International Coffee Crisis and World Hunger," "Refugees and Hunger," "HIV/AIDS and Hunger" and "Embargo on Iraq: Malnutrition and Child Mortality." Steven O'Malley, a senior, created a pair of maps on "Malnutrition Among Brazilian Children." They were a real standout, Bassett says.

south american continent
Students created full-color maps to "illustrate the patterns and processes of world hunger," but the exercise was instructive on many levels, says Tom Bassett, professor of geography.

The maps show that malnutrition in Brazil varies significantly from state to state. Moreover, it's found where one would least expect it. States that have a high quality of life, as measured by the Human Development Index, also have a high percentage of children suffering from malnutrition, and states that have a low quality of life have a low percentage of children suffering from malnutrition.

"This mapping of malnutrition at the sub-national level raises a number of interesting questions about the political economy, population geography and social welfare institutions of Brazil," Bassett says. "Steve's maps, more than any other, illuminate the complexity of hunger in the world."

By Andrea Lynn, who attended LAS in the 1960s
October 2003