The World is Hungry

What do the people who are starving in the world outside of Afghanistan have to do to get food?

The media and political attention that has been given, rightfully so, to the humanitarian hunger crisis in Afghanistan has not, unfortunately, led these same forces to cast a light on the global picture.

More than 24,000 people a day around the world painfully and cruelly die from lack of food. These are not glorious, heroic deaths but the consequences of rich nations’ economic and political priorities.

The global figures are grim according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. More than 200 million in sub-Saharan Africa face food emergencies as the number of countries in trouble has grown from 13 to 20 since the mid-1990s. (For more years than I care to remember, I have written about the famine and food crisis in the Sudan, which falls into Bush’s “against us” category, and, therefore, has received little aid.)

In East and Southeast Asia the numbers are edging toward 300 million followed closely by the 250 plus million in South Asia. To these numbers add another 100 from North Africa (42 million) and Latin American and the Caribbean (63 million).

Do the math. Given that the problem is actually worsening in many areas, the world will soon have a billion people at or near the point of starvation. Needless to say, people who lack proper nutrition as less able to resist and survive diseases and viruses such as AIDS, malaria, and other illnesses.

Hunger is not just a problem of the developing world. According to World Hunger Year (WHY), concerns about hunger have a domestic edge. In 1999, the United States had about 31 million people who could be considered “food insecure” including 12 million children.

It is no surprise that these children are disproportionately racial minorities and poor. As in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Cambodia, only token gestures have been made by U.S. officials, who often fall back on a blame-the-victim response when criticized.

There can be no more basic human right than to the right to nutritious and regular food. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states,

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

The insurance and safeguarding of these rights must be inviolate.

People are hungry primarily because poverty has not been addressed. As important as the need to immediately deliver food, and must be given a top priority, it is not enough. Those of us who care about this issue must be especially vigilant as the escalating economic recession becomes a massive depression for much of the world. In such an atmosphere, the pusillanimous tendencies of the West are likely to become even more so.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is quite real and quite urgent. However, it was not until the Bush administration decided to blast the country with every shell in its arsenal, and damn the collateral damage, that wavering Western European leaders felt forced to call for food aid and U.S. food bombs appeared.

Clearly, the administration has deemed it impossible to deliver aid of any sort that does not drop from jets. Unfortunately, millions starving, respect for Ramadan, and long-term reform of development policies are framed by militarist discourses.

Only a permanent halt to the bombing provides a chance to save innocent lives. It is ludicrous and cynical to temporarily halt the carnage, distribute food, and then resume the killing. More must be demanded, and the global food crisis, bereft of war mongering rhetoric, should be given a top human rights priority.

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