“Mommy, I’m Hungry!”

“And there will be famines. ...”

Are we living in a time of famine?

Extreme poverty remains a daily reality for more than 1 billion people who subsist on less than US$1 a day. Hunger and malnutrition are almost equally pervasive: More than 800 million people have too little to eat to meet their daily energy needs. More than a quarter of children under age five in developing countries are malnourished.
Malnutrition in children contributes to over half of child deaths. It is caused not only by food deprivation, but also by the debilitating effects of infectious diseases and lack of care. Over 150 million children under age five in the developing world are underweight.
Out of 13 million deaths in large-scale conflicts from 1994 to 2003, over 12 million were in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia. Not surprisingly, these regions are also home to three quarters of the world’s 37 million refugees and displaced persons and the areas where the number of hungry people is growing.
Over the same period of time, 669,000 people died as a consequence of natural disasters. Nearly three quarters of these deaths were in Eastern and Southern Asia.12

All of this is compounded by a profound climate change that is affecting—or soon will—every corner of the world. Sir John Houghton, a British climate expert and co-chair of the Scientific Assessment Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warns that we have yet to see the ravages that global warming will wreak: “Forests will die, diseases like malaria will spread, and starving refugees will wander across borders as weather becomes more extreme.13 The impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a ‘weapon of mass destruction.’”14

While it took until 1830 to reach a world population of one billion, it only took 100 years more to add a second billion (1930), 30 years for the third billion (1960), 16 years for the fourth billion (1976), and 11 years for the fifth billion (1987). World population has more than doubled in the last 50 years and now tops 6.6 billion. The world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030. As the number of people increases, per capita availability of water and arable land decreases.

More than 2.7 billion people will face severe water shortages by the year 2025 if the world continues consuming water at the same rate [and] another 2.5 billion people will live in areas where it will be difficult to find sufficient fresh water to meet their needs.15 The control of water resources is predicted to become a major cause of armed conflict in the future.16

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) Secretariat issued an urgent call for disaster preparedness in light of [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment] global climate report that confirmed global warming, rising sea levels and increasing acidity in the oceans. The Director of the Secretariat, Silvano Briceno, says that spells an upcoming increase in disasters, including heat waves, floods, droughts, and stronger hurricanes and tropical storms.17

The Simple Solution

The terrible irony is that the world does produce enough food to feed its expanding population. While some famines are caused by drought or other natural disasters, most starvation in the world today could be avoided were it not for humanity’s selfishness and inhumanity. War, sanctions, government corruption, and economic oppression are all symptoms of the real problem. While innocent children starve, some rich nations destroy millions of tons of food in order to keep prices artificially high and other states impose artificial barriers such as sanctions, which hurt the poor most of all.

An AP article tells us that the authoritative Bread for the World Institute expressed such sentiments in its fifth annual report:

“World hunger is rooted in a breakdown of humanitarian values,” according to the organization, which lobbies for bigger anti-poverty programs. Its report identified violence, political powerlessness, poverty, racial discrimination, and environmental strains as the main causes of malnutrition.18

World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70-percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 calories per person per day.19 The recommended daily intake of calories for men is approximately 2,500 and for women 2,000 according to Britain’s Food Standards Agency. The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow enough food or income to purchase it.

The inequities present in the world are brought out when we consider that the amount of money that the richest one percent of the world’s people make each year equals what the poorest 57 percent make.20 The richest fifth of the world’s people consume four fifths of the world’s resources.21

The financial costs to end hunger are relatively slight. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion a year. Animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.22
852 million people across the world are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago. Every day, more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes—one child every five seconds.23

If we could all learn to simply follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as we wish they would do unto us, even such daunting problems as widespread famine could be eliminated.

The Great Waster: War

Famines are frequently the result of war, so more war usually means more famine. Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) highlighted the wanton waste of war when he declared,

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. … Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. ... Is there no other way the world may live?24

Here are some contemporary facts that put what Eisenhower said in perspective:

The cost to the U.S. alone for the war in Iraq was over $480 billion in December 2007. Researchers say each day of the U.S. war on Iraq costs $341 million.25
An astronomical 2.1 million dollars are spent worldwide on the military every minute.
An F-35 Lightning II aircraft will cost around $50 million.
A Westland WAH-64 Apache attack helicopter cost $46.2 million
An Abrams M1A2 battle tank costs $5.6 million
A Tomahawk missile: $1.3 million
A Sidewinder air-to-air missile: $200,000
Tank shells range from $2,000 to $36,000 each.

According to the World Food Program, 20,000 children die of hunger every day, even though only 19 US cents can feed a child a meal.26 The money spent financing one minute of the war in Iraq would give three meals to over 415,000 children! There are approximately 400 million chronically hungry children in the world. Every one of them could be fed three meals for what is spent on just 16 hours of fighting. The amount spent on the Iraq war from 2003 through May 2008 could have fed all the world’s hungry children for over six years!

Worldwide, there were some 37 million refugees and displaced persons in 2005—largely as a result of wars, political turbulence, civil conflict, and social unrest.

Conflict-induced internal displacement affected some 50 countries across Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East in 2005. Over 12 million people were displaced in Africa alone.27

Many are appalled at the money that small developing countries spend on armaments while vast numbers of people of those countries are destitute, but are more understanding of the developed countries that “can afford it.” But the developing world is spending a paltry amount compared to the major players.

World military expenditure in 2005 is estimated to have reached US$1,118 billion in current dollars and is projected to [have reached] $1.2 trillion in 2007. This corresponds to 2.5 percent of world GDP or an average spending of $173 per capita. World military expenditure in 2005 represents a real terms increase of 3.4 percent since 2004, and of 34 percent over the 10-year period 1996–2005.
The 15 countries with the highest spending now account for 84 percent of the total. The U.S., responsible for about 80 percent of the increase in 2005, is the principal determinant of the current world trend, and its military expenditure is 48 percent of the world total, distantly followed by the UK, France, Japan, and China with 4–5 percent each.28
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