Is world hunger the product of nature or politics - Assignment Example

“Are you ready to start a revolution?” “Are you ready to change history?” The words of Madonna, yelled across Hyde Park in London, and witnessed by an estimated 3 billion people across the globe. (Live 8, Saturday 2nd July 2005, Hyde Park, London). However, 4 months on since Live 8 and it almost feels as though the revolution has been put on hold. The white wrist bands seem to have disappeared, Bob Geldolf’s furious, yet passionate rants no longer fill our television screens and the media now has fresh news stories to follow.

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However, people are still dying of hunger, Sub-Saharan Africa is still spending $30 billion dollars a year repaying debts to the world’s richest countries and international institutions, and Africa still only shares 2% of the world’s trade, despite making up 12% of the world’s population. (www.data.org/whyafrica/checkthefacts)

According to the UN World Food Programme, only 8% of people who die through hunger do so in dramatic high profile emergencies, such as those in Ethiopia in 1984 and Niger in 2005. More than 850 million chronically hungry people live in the world today, most of them women and children. More people die each year through hunger, than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV / AIDS combined. (www.alertnet.org/thefacts/reliefresources/112679705053.htm) The countries which are home to those most affected by hunger lack the social safety nets that people in the developed world can rely on, such as soup kitchens, welfare benefits and social services. When a family within a third world country cannot grow food, or does not have money to buy food, there is nowhere for them to turn.

World hunger is a huge problem, but who or what is responsible for it and how do we eradicate it. Is it the failure of the poor country’s government to properly pursue economic programmes, or the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, who even now four months after the G8 Summit have still not cancelled any Third World Debt, (www.jubilee2000uk.org) or is world hunger simply a product of nature?

Through the use of information gathered through newspapers, journals, the internet and books, I hope to give a better understanding of the problems faced by millions of people globally, people who deserve the same human rights of those living within developed countries, people who face inequality and poverty on a tragic scale daily.

Economic inequality has now reached obscene proportions, with the most recent available estimates showing that the income of the worlds richest 5% is now 114 times that of the poorest 5%. During the 1990’s 54 countries became poorer than before. (United Nations Development Programmes, Human Development Report, 2002)

Unfortunately in the time it takes to read this sentence another child will die of hunger or hunger related illness. And the death of that child, a child who had a name and personality, a family and a future is a rebuke to all humanity. It is no longer necessary. It is therefore no longer acceptable. (State of the Worlds Children, UNICEF)

To understand the full impact that hunger has on the world’s population consider the following, approximately 1.2 billion people suffer from hunger. Of these, approximately 40 million will die each year. Imagine if you can, turning on the news and hearing that a jumbo jet has crashed and there were no survivors, now imagine doing that each day for 300 days.

The same amount of people who die each year from hunger or hunger related diseases. If this happened once people would want answers, they would want reassurance that this would not happen again, they would expect the government and leaders of their country to do everything possible to help support the family of these victims. The world would mourn the death of these people, and rightly so, but do we all share the same sympathy for the family of those who die each day in third world countries, people who die through preventable causes. Is it merely a case of out of sight, out of mind?

How ironic, that whilst in some parts of the world there are approximately 1.2 billion people suffering from hunger, and at the same time, but in a very different part of the globe there are currently around 1.2 billion people suffering from obesity. (UK based Centre for Food Policy, Thames Valley University and UK Public Health Association, “Why Health is the Key for the Future of Farming and Food, 24 January 2002”) So is world hunger all about lack of food and the countries inability to produce enough food for its people.

Countries like India are polluting their air, earth and water to grow products for the Western market instead of growing food to feed their own people, and most of the money Western consumers spend on these products does not even reach the majority of the working poor in the third world. (Mittal, A)

Small scale farmers and consumers in Latin America are paying the price of this drastic shift to export agriculture. In towns and cities across the continent beans are now frequently scarce, as land which once grew beans now grows vegetables for export. Beans contribute around 30% of the protein consumption by the continents 200 million low income families. Most bean farmers are now trying to grow vegetables for export, and devoting less of their land to growing beans for their own use. (Madeley, J , pg 64 – 66)

The irony being that the people who produce this food can not afford to buy it and it has to be exported to earn much needed cash, but as already stated most of the monies raised through these exported goods is not returned to these people, or even more catastrophic is the western countries that buys these goods now placing added pressure on the third world by buying goods from other countries and taking away the only income many of these countries have. The banana trade in the Caribbean being an example of this.

Asda Stores being one store who have stopped buying bananas from the Caribbean, and who now buys its bananas from Del Monte Fresh Produce, the US company spun off in 1989 from Del Monte Foods. An Asda spokesman said the company swapped because of “quality and price”. However, it is still possible to buy Caribbean bananas in Asda stores through its Fair Trade range, which the store proudly promotes. (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2731859.stm)

A major cause of hunger is poverty, if there is no money available to buy food then it really makes no difference how much food is available. Food is a commodity. People who don’t have enough money to buy food don’t count in the food equation (Robbins, R H) Disheartening, when surveys show that a third of food grown for human consumption in the UK ends up in the rubbish bin. Food industry and government statistics show that each adult wastes �420 of food a year.

The ongoing role of the Third World countries is to be the supplier of cheap and plentiful raw materials and agricultural products to the developed world. Nature’s wealth was, and is, being controlled to fulfil the needs of the world’s affluent people. The U.S. is one of the prime beneficiaries of this well established system. Our great universities search diligently for ‘the answer’ to the problem of poverty and hunger. They invariably find it in ‘lack of motivation, inadequate or no education’ or some other self-serving excuse.

The look at everything except the cause – the powerful own the world’s social wealth. As a major beneficiary, we have much to gain by perpetuating the myths of overpopulations, cultural and racial inferiority, and so forth. The real causes must be kept from ourselves, as how else can this systematic damaging of others be squared with what we are taught about democracy, rights, freedom and justice? (Smith, J W, Pg 44, 45)

Another example of exported commodities would be the situation ocurring in Angola. The poverty experienced by most Angolans has inevitably been blamed on war and conflict. Whilst it should not be dismissed that defence spending would have been very high, in reality that would not account for all of the country’s oil income. A child will die in Angola every 3 minutes, that is 480 children dying unnecessarily each day, and almost each death is caused through malnutrition, and is in fact preventable. Social and economic development in Angola has continued to deteriorate despite the fact that the country earned around $3 to $5 billion dollars from oil last year, that is an estimated 87% of state revenue. (www.globalwitness.org/campaigns/oil) Soaring global oil prices has raised the question of what is Angola doing with this extra income.

The international community set itself the eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) to achieve by 2015. These included targets on eradicating extreme poverty, combating HIV and AIDS and malaria, and ensuring that every child receives primary education. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair made Africa a priority at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005 to ensure that these goals would be met. Some of the highlights from the G8 Summit agreement were an extra $25 billion in aid for Africa, writing off the debts of 18 of the world’s poorest countries, most of which are in Africa and a commitment to end all export subsidies.

Susanna Mitchell of Jubilee Research however believes that there is no realistic prospect of any of the Millennium Development Goals that were to be met by 2015 being met. She states that Sub Saharan Africa will not reach the goals for poverty and child mortality until 2147 and 2165 respectively (Inequality and Poverty – A Spiral of Dispair, Susanna Mitchell, Jubilee Research) (www.jubilee2000uk.org)

In conclusion it would seem that whilst nature plays a huge role with regard to climate and environmental change, especially within third world countries, the future of these countries ultimately falls into the hands of its leaders and the leaders of the worlds richest countries. To address hunger involves addressing poverty, which first means addressing the real causes of it. Addressing poverty requires understanding its causes. Overall the world is becoming richer so rising poverty reflects the increasing inequality. The long term alleviation to hunger is the alleviation of poverty. It is not just about providing food or improving food production and distribution.

The third world remains poor because the powerful strive to dominate every choke point of commerce. One key choke point is political control through the “co-respective” support of local elites. Where loyalty is lacking, money will be spent to purchase it. If a government cannot be bought or otherwise controlled, corrupt groups will be financed and armed to overthrow that government, and in extreme cases, another country will be financed to attack and defeat it. The pattern has been well established repeatedly throughout history, and throughout the world, as noted by the well-known philosopher Bertrand Russell (Smith, J W , pg 134)

When we think of world hunger and the countries which are worse affected we think of Africa. But we could ask why has Africa remained the poorest continent that the world has ever produced? There is a view of amongst some socialists who believe it is the self-centredness and mass corruption of African leaders who play a pivotal role in the inequalities and poverty that is so apparent in many areas of Africa. They believe that most African heads only come into power to enrich themselves and do very little regarding the millions of their own people who are dying each day through hunger and hunger related illness.

Consider the following from the United Nations

Everyone has the right to work, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection of himself and his family and an existence worthy of human dignity. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948) (www.un.org/Overview/rights.html)

Figures and facts quoted within this essay show the enormity of the problem. It also gives a better understanding as to why these problems continue, and how hunger can not be seen as a product of nature. The political causes of hunger and poverty requires political solutions. We can no longer watch as a child continues to die every 3 seconds simply because they do not have enough to eat.