The Shame of Global Hunger

We live in a world of plenty, resource rich, financially wealthy, but despite this abundance an estimated 700 million people go hungry every day. Millions more are food insecure, meaning they may have food today, but have no idea if they will have any tomorrow or next week. Additional millions can only afford nutritionally barren, poor quality food laced with salt and sugar, increasing the risk of illness and obesity.

According to a detailed report published by the Global Hunger Index (GHI) in September 2020 if rich countries doubled “their aid commitments” to $330 billion, and supported poor countries to improve “agricultural R&D, technology, innovation, education, social protection and trade facilitation,” the world could be free of hunger by 2030. In fact with effective food distribution under the stewardship of the UN World Food Programme hunger could be eradicated long before then; there is an abundance of produce and foodstuff in the world.

Hunger and malnutrition statistics are disturbing and shameful; the GHI lists 11 countries with ‘alarming levels of hunger’, eight of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa; two are war zones: Yemen and Syria. A further 31 nations (26 are in Africa) are listed as having ‘serious levels of hunger’. Since 2015, after years of decline, the number of undernourished people has been increasing yearly: from 2018 to 2019 it grew by 10 million, and Covid has intensified this trend. Hunger is a violent act, a shameful scar on our collective consciousness that now affects 9% of the world population – 60% of whom are women and children. The World Health Organization (WHO) state that around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to under-nutrition.”

The principal cause of hunger is routinely stated to be poverty, and while it’s certainly true that those with money don’t starve, the underlying cause is social injustice, and a set of perverted assumptions about the worth of one human being compared to another. In addition climate change and armed conflict are two main drivers. Where there is war (often erupting in poor nations with fragile social support structures) there is hunger; people are displaced and food shortages are quickly created. Climate change, which is affecting poor countries more than the rich, comfortable, and complacent Nations, is the other key trigger. Oxfam lists five links between changing climate and hunger:

1. Lost livelihoods as harvests diminish through extreme conditions, e.g., the 2020 locust infestation that decimated the horn of Africa. In addition to intensifying food insecurity such events can force people to leave the land and migrate in search of opportunities elsewhere.

2. Increased prices/food shortages. Food may be available but when weather impacts on infrastructure (roads, bridges docks), food cannot reach markets, shortages occur, prices rise, the poorest go without.

3. Access to water, particularly in drought-prone areas, e.g. Somalia.

4. Nutrition/health: Climate change-driven water scarcity impacts on the ability of famers to produce enough quality food. Children are the mist affected. Oxfam – “climate change is intensifying the threat from the three biggest killers of children – diarrhea, malnutrition, and malaria.”

5. Inequality: Climate change intensifies inequality. Developed/western countries are historically responsible for greenhouse gas emissions; those most at risk are the southern hemisphere nations, with women and children hit hardest.

Hunger, and poverty, are issues of social justice; it is deeply unjust that simply because a child is born into a poor family in Sub-Saharan Africa or a city slum in South-East Asia e.g., that he/she is at greater risk of malnutrition, hunger-related illness and starvation, than a child born in the lap of middle class prosperity. Hunger could be ended tomorrow but complacency allows it to continue, because it doesn’t’t affect the privileged, the comfortable, and on the whole takes place elsewhere.

It is a consequence of a particular approach to life, and of systemic structures rooted in the ideology of greed and division. The commodification of all aspects of society has taken place, selfishness and competition fostered and, in spite of routine acts of community kindness a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality has taken root. To the extent that, as a global community, we let children die or suffer from crippling levels of malnutrition simply because their family or community are poor, their country, often culturally rich and diverse, economically undeveloped.

Crisis of Values

As the West emerges from the Season of Overindulgence and Waste, and Covid-19 continues to impact public health and national economies, the divisions in our world are more visible than ever; the privileged versus the marginalized; the supported versus the neglected; the hungry versus the satisfied; the rich versus the poor or economically anxious.

While hundreds of thousands lost their jobs in 2020 and were forced to turn to governments and charities for support, Forbes record that the number of billionaires in the world increased and their overall wealth surged “by more than $2 trillion…to reach an all-time high of $10.2 trillion,” (perhaps these billionaires could fork out the required $330 billion to end hunger?). In China alone the countries super-wealthy earned a record US$1.5 trillion – more than the past five years combined.

Such increases are the inevitable consequence of a socio-economic system designed to concentrate wealth, and with it power, in the hands of a few. It is totally unjust and immoral and has fostered a set of destructive divisive ideals that allow hunger, poverty and the environmental emergency to exist.

At the core of the interconnected crises facing humanity is a crisis of values, which can cogently be described as a spiritual crisis. As a consequence of the reductive values of the time, ‘value’ has been equated to gain: Monetary worth/profit, status and influence. Someone or something capable of generating income or return that is higher than another is prized. Business strategies and decisions are chiefly dictated by profit, the ultimate value and principle factor in determining action. Countries (like Australia, Canada, the UK) have adopted immigration policies based on the ‘skillsets’ or human values they require. Refugees/asylum seekers are valued (and earn points) or not, depending upon their ability to add worth to the overall national economy. Those with no such attributes (and not enough points) are deemed to be of no value to society and are rejected, relegated to the shadowy peripheries of society.

This valuation of human beings as economic commodities or assets is utterly abhorrent and is a contributory reason why hunger still stalks the land. The notion that some people are more worthy, are of more value that others, that some can be left to starve or become ill due to lack of nutrition while others cannot.

Humanity is, on the face if it at least, confronted with a choice between values and ways of organizing society that flow from the unifying magnetic force we call love, and those rooted in fear, selfishness, and greed, which, while fading, are pervasive. But as millions of people around the world know, if the issues of the day are to be overcome there is actually no choice at all. The solutions to the issues of the day lie in totally rejecting attitudes that divide humanity, and adopting values that rest in and cultivate unity and brotherhood. Perennial values held within the hearts of men and women everywhere that encourage social/environmental responsibility, cooperation and tolerance and give expression to our essential oneness.

Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India.