“Means of Life” is an inter-disciplinary approach to explore how everything is related and to pin-point the differences between what we need and what we want.
We are in the middle of an enormous global food crisis – the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oil. Now there has been a warning that a severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer, and resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock. This situation, the drought, the shortage and the soaring prices have an immense impact on the global economy, but they have a disastrous impact on the world’s poor.
China is the world’s largest crops producer and largely self-sufficient in food production, so the recent drought will force China to import large quantities of food in response to the drought and that could drive international prices even higher than the record levels recently reached.
The following are excerpts from Hunger Notes
No one really knows how many people are malnourished. The statistic most frequently cited is that of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which measures ‘undernutrition’. The most recent estimate, released in October 2010 by FAO, says that 925 million people are undernourished. As the figure below shows, the number of hungry people has increased since 1995-97, though the number is down from last year. The increase has been due to three factors: 1) neglect of agriculture relevant to very poor people by governments and international agencies; 2) the current worldwide economic crisis, and 3) the significant increase of food prices in the last several years which has been devastating to those with only a few dollars a day to spend. 925 million people is 13.6 percent of the estimated world population of 6.8 billion, . Nearly all of the undernourished are in developing countries.
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. 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 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9). The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.
What are the causes of hunger is a fundamental question, with varied answers.
Poverty is the principal cause of hunger. The causes of poverty include poor people’s lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries, conflict, and hunger itself. As of 2008 (2005 statistics), the World Bank has estimated that there were an estimated 1,345 million poor people in developing countries who live on $1.25 a day or less. This compares to the later FAO estimate of 1.02 billion undernourished people. Extreme poverty remains an alarming problem in the world’s developing regions, despite some progress that reduced “dollar–now $1.25– a day” poverty from (an estimated) 1900 million people in 1981, a reduction of 29 percent over the period. Progress in poverty reduction has been concentrated in Asia, and especially, East Asia, with the major improvement occurring in China. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people in extreme poverty has increased. The statement that ‘poverty is the principal cause of hunger’ is, though correct, unsatisfying. Why then are (so many) people poor? The next section summarizes Hunger Notes answer.
Harmful economic systems are the principal cause of poverty and hunger. Hunger Notes believes that the principal underlying cause of poverty and hunger is the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do. We have described the operation of this system in more detail in our special section on Harmful economic systems.
Conflict as a cause of hunger and poverty. At the end of 2005, the global number of refugees was at its lowest level in almost a quarter of a century. Despite some large-scale repatriation movements, the last three years have witnessed a significant increase in refugee numbers, due primarily to the violence taking place in Iraq and Somalia. By the end of 2008, the total number of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate exceeded 10 million. The number of conflict-induced internally displaced persons (IDPs) reached some 26 million worldwide at the end of the year . Providing exact figures on the number of stateless people is extremely difficult But, important, (relatively) visible though it is, and anguishing for those involved conflict is less important as poverty (and its causes) as a cause of hunger. (Using the statistics above 1.02 billion people suffer from chronic hunger while 36 million people are displaced [UNHCR 2008])
Hunger is also a cause of poverty. By causing poor health, low levels of energy, and even mental impairment, hunger can lead to even greater poverty by reducing people’s ability to work and learn.
Climate change Climate change is increasingly viewed as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Increasing drought, flooding, and changing climatic patterns requiring a shift in crops and farming practices that may not be easily accomplished are three key issues. See the Hunger Notes special report: Hunger, the environment, and climate change for further information, especially articles in the section: Climate change, global warming and the effect on poor people such as Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year, study says and Could food shortages bring down civilization?
Can you see it now ?
This should be enough information for us to really consider the consequences of everything being related and interconnected. Can you see how the drought in Russia, the flood in Queensland, the economic crisis, the end of the fossil age, the revolts in Egypt are closely related ? Fact is, that a world crisis does not only just have one single reason – it is everything playing together. The weather, global warming, economic and political decisions, industrialisation, banks, investment bubbles and many more. You can take it a step further and contemplate the fact that our habit to “divide and conquer”, our tribal thinking of “we and them” contributes to this. Just think borders, national interests, greed, hoarding, waste, wars – and how everyone of us is contributing to this every day. Are you driving a car ? Do you have a pension plan ? Believe in nationality and borders? It is humbling to realise how anything we do contributes to the world we live in. What we are getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a changing world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.
The question remains, what can we do, what can everyone of us do, to mitigate the fundamental, drastic and severe effects of a global catastrophe, that we seem to be heading to. It is our responsibility to become conscious now, to forget about all our petty little concerns and worries, and focus on the big issue at hand – how to prepare for a world that is going to change rapidly and unstoppable.
Wold hunger and spiritual starvation are closely related. How can we be so blind, so arrogant and so obstinate not to see that every one of us is responsible for what is going to happen to the world now. And each and everyone of us has a holy duty to put three things before anything else –
- Be conscious
- End separation
- Act with Compassion
And by that I do not mean to listen to a few spiritual tapes and light a candle. It means – transform now – it is our responsibility and duty reach out to our brothers and sisters and heal this earth.