Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Starvation in the Midst of Plenty

All of a sudden I've been getting all kinds of of traffic to my post about eating mud pies in Haiti. I'm not completely sure why, except that the issue was publicized yesterday in this article in the Miami Herald. So maybe people who read the article are doing research.

This recent post from Dying in Haiti juxtaposes the spending of Shaquille O'Neal (for instance $24,300 per month on gasoline) with the incredible poverty in Haiti. One of those mud pies goes for about 5 cents. Rice is too expensive - Two cups costs 60 cents.

The World Food Programme's Hunger - 10 Odd Facts mentions that in addition to the mud pies in Haiti, people have other coping mechanisms to manage their starvation. In Angola, leather furniture has been on the menu, and
in southern Sudan, hungry people eat seeds which, normally toxic, become edible only after a ten day soak, while tree bark has been favoured in North Korea.

Some mothers, who don't have any food, boil stones in the hope that their children will fall to sleep while waiting for their "supper" to cook.

Since the beginning of the 16th century no famine has been due to simply a lack of food. There's always someone keeping the food away from the people who need it.

We have no shortage of food in this world. What we have is fabulously unequal distribution of the stuff.
In Italy, once the population's nutritional requirements are met, there would be enough food left over for all the under-nourished people in Ethiopia.

In France, the "extra" could feed every hungry person in the Democratic Republic of Congo; in the United States, surplus food would fill every empty stomach in Africa.

That means we wouldn't even have to give up any food in our bellies to put more in theirs.

Not that food aid is necessarily the solution. There are many problems with it. Food aid is used strategically, as a political tool on the international stage. As often as not it is simply dumping - rich countries can get rid of all their excess food. Locals can't compete and they must sell their farm produce for lower prices, creating or perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

The problems in Haiti aren't simply a matter of not enough food, but not enough money buy food. A destroyed economy (in large part due to the damaging IMF policies and aid embargo before the coup), odious debt, extreme inequality of income and wealth, and many deep structural challenges - not to mention the disastrous and unethical policies of Canada and the rest of the international community since the coup (which don't forget, we supported).

So maybe all the hits I'm getting signals that a tide is turning. Maybe people are starting to pay attention to Haiti. If so, Canadians check Canada Out of Haiti to see what you can do. Americans try Haiti Action Committee.

And generally, though there's no easy solution to world hunger, I like this list of 10 things you can do from Stuffed and Starved, which recommends among other things, that we:
Transform our tastes...
Demand living wages for all - without the means to eat well, we haven't a chance of living healthily...
Eat agroecologically... farmers aren't disposable and substitutable resources... This is an approach that, above all, sees agriculture as embedded within society.
Own and provide restitution for the injustices of the past and present.While Bono and his friends have, I'm sure, nothing but good intentions, their demands for aid and support are way off the mark. They propose tinkering with the level of aid given by rich countries. But what poor people of colour have been demanding is not charity, but restitution. Whether for slavery in Africa and the New World, or simply for the innumerable coups and dictators installed to service the needs of consumers in the Global North, damages are due. Not charity, but compensation for incalculable harm done by representatives of 'civilisation'.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Susan George, in How the Other Half Dies, quotes Brecht: "Famines do not 'occur.' They are organized by the grain trade."

(Which, when you think about it, even covers the famines Brecht didn't want to think about, the ones in the USSR...)