FWD: The Politics of Hunger

Peace through Reason (prop1@prop1.org)
Fri, 13 Nov 1998 06:47:53 -0500

The politics of hunger
Now here's a statistic you might have missed. The total wealth of the=
three richest individuals is greater than the combined gross domestic=
(1) of the 48 poorest countries - a quarter of all the world's states.=20
Everybody knows inequality has increased over the last 20 years of=
ultra-liberalism. But who could have imagined the gap had widened so far? In
1960 the income of the 20 % of the world's population living in the richest
countries was 30 times greater than that of the 20 % in the poorest=
Now we learn that in 1995 it was 82 times greater (2). In over 70 countries,
per capita income is lower today than it was 20 years ago. Almost three
people - half the world's population - live on less than two dollars a day.=
While goods are more abundant than ever before, the number of people without
shelter, work or enough to eat is constantly growing. Of the 4_ billion=
living in developing countries, almost a third have no drinking water. A=
of all children receive an insufficient intake of calories or protein. And=
billion people - a third of the human race - are suffering from anaemia.=20
Is this the way it has to be? The answer is no. The UN calculates that the
whole of the world population's basic needs for food, drinking water,
and medical care could be covered by a levy of less than 4 % on the
wealth of the 225 largest fortunes. To satisfy all the world's sanitation=
food requirements would cost only $13 billion, hardly as much as the people=
the United States and the European Union spend each year on perfume.=20
Next month will see the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on=
Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to a standard of living
adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,=
food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services". But
for most of humanity, these rights are increasingly inaccessible.=20
Consider, for example, the right to food. Food is not in short supply. In
food products have never been so abundant. There is enough available to
each of the Earth's inhabitants with at least 2,700 calories a day. But
production alone is not enough. The people who need the food must be able to
buy it and consume it. And that is precisely the problem. Thirty million
a year die of hunger. And 800 million suffer from chronic malnutrition.=20
Again, there is nothing inevitable about this. Climatic problems are often
predictable. When humanitarian organisations like Action Against Hunger (3)
able to intervene, they can often nip a famine in the bud in a matter of
And yet hunger continues to decimate whole populations.=20
Why? Because hunger has become a political weapon. In today's world, no=
is gratuitous. Hunger is a strategy pursued with unbelievable cynicism by
governments and military regimes whom the end of the cold war has deprived
of a
steady income. Rather than starving the enemy, as Sylvie Brunel points out
they are starving their own populations in order to cash in on media=
and international compassion, an inexhaustible source of money, food and
political platforms.=20
In Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, North Korea, Burma and Afghanistan, governments
military leaders are holding innocent people hostage and starving them for
political ends, sometimes with appalling cruelty. In Sierra Leone, the men=
ex-Corporal Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in a horrific
year-long campaign of terror, have been systematically chopping off=
hands with machetes to prevent them cultivating the land. Climate has become=
marginal factor in major famines. It is man who is starving man.=20
Amartya Sen, the winner of this year's Nobel prize for economics, is=
for showing how government policies can cause famine even when food is
abundant. On several occasions, he has stressed "the remarkable fact that,=
the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever
occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free
(5)". Rejecting the arguments of the neo-liberals, Professor Sen contends=
greater responsibility for the well-being of society must be given, not to=
market, but to the state. A state that must be sensitive to the needs of its
citizens and, at the same time, concerned with human development throughout

Translated by Barry Smerin=20
(1) Overall national production of goods and services.=20
(2) Human Development Report 1998, United Nations Development Programme, New
York, September 1998. See also Dominique Vidal, "Dans le Sud, d=E9veloppemen=
t ou
r=E9gression?", Le Monde diplomatique, October 1998.=20
(3) UK office: 1, Catton Street, London WC1R 4AB, email aahuk@gn.apc.org; US
office: 875 avenue of the Americas, Suite 1905, New York NY 10001, email
(4) See Sylvie Brunel and Jean-Luc Bodin, G=E9opolitique de la faim. Quand=
est une arme, (annual report by Action Against Hunger), PUF, Paris, 1998,=
p., 125 F, soon to be available in English as "The Hunger Report".=20
(5) See "Human Rights and Asian Values: What Lee Kuan Yew and Le Peng don't
understand about Asia", The New Republic, July 14, 1997.=20
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =A9 1998 Le Monde diplomatique=20