Just under seven years ago, Hyde Park in London was heaving with people grooving to the same eclectic riff of ‘make poverty history’. That July we, in Britain, were riding on the wave of New Labour, surfing on a successful Olympic bid, we felt as powerful as the rock stars who raised the crowd around us. We lapped it up believing that we and our leaders could be the power for change. We believed that change could begin from within the walls of the Gleneagles summit, arising from the political will of the G8.
This year, who knows about the G8? Yet there are still over one billion people living below the poverty line on less than $1.25 per day. Our rose-coloured vision for a better future is now tainted. Here in the UK, dreary headlines of austerity, recession, the burst bubble resound across TV screens. But in fact the world is the richest it has ever been. Total global household wealth is estimated to be $231 trillion. Not all, but most of us sleep with a roof over our heads and food on the table. Whether we feel we live well is largely a choice of how we spend and save our money.
One sixth of the world, do not have this choice.
Childhood malnutrition affects 19 million under 5s around the world. In the west the image of each child wiry armed, tummies distended beneath chequered pinafores or grey trousers is beyond our imaginations, but for too many children across the globe it is the reality. In 2009, over one billion people were officially classified as living in hunger, this is over 3 times the entire population of the United States of America.
At the 2008 meeting in L’Aquila, Ban Ki-moon was emphatic that “We need to do more, faster. The food crisis is permanently harming millions of children. They need our help. This is about even more than alleviating human suffering; it is about global peace and stability.” The G8 found the right words recognising the “urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger and poverty,” and pledged along with 5 other countries $22 billion for agriculture development. Two years on only 22% of that pledge was met.
The disconnect between the West’s lavish lifestyles and the realities of starvation is absolving governments and corporations of remorse. 40% of under 5s deaths are directly linked to malnutrition as is 11% of the global disease burden. World hunger is a man made disaster, which we, our governments and transnational corporations, have all solicited.
We feed our cars fuel over hungry mouths. 40% of the US corn crop is consumed by the heavily subsidised biofuel industry, despite the presence of viable non-food materials such as hemp.
We are allowing our governments to flog the dead doctrine of free markets. The UN assert in their Comprehensive Framework for Action, “Open and well-functioning local, regional and international markets and trade policies are fundamental to food and nutrition security.” Cambridge professor of economics, Ha-Joon Chang has read between the lines of the open or free market mantra. Distribution and functioning of money is purely a political choice. Free market economists “are as politically motivated as their opponents,” instead masquerading their political ideology as “an objective economic truth,” the human cost of which is devastating. It’s time to bury the Washington Consensus and as advocated for by the War on Want, “prioritise production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency,” tackle unjust land ownership and protect the small holders.
We need to build a civil society voice to rival the corporate lobbies, which are protecting their lucrative stake in the price speculation commodities market. Oxfam report that “Paralysis is imposed upon us by a powerful minority of vested interests that profit from the status quo.” This must change. According to the World Development Movement, the share of the food market owned by speculators, uninvolved in the food production process, has risen from 12% in 1996 to 61%. Price speculation is an important cause of escalating world food prices. Michel Barnier, European commissioner for the internal market calls it “a scandal.”
It is time to reign in the transnationals. The ABCD group consisting of ADM, Bunge, Cargill and (Louis) and Dreyfus, dominate 75- 90% of the global grain trade generating. Each generate profits in the realm of $2 to 3 billion a year. Glencore , one of the top 20 biggest companies on the FTSE 100 received $78 million from the UN World Food Program (WFP) in 2011 to deliver food aid to the worst hit famine areas, despite, the WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran being “convinced that strategically directed local purchase can benefit not only the hungry, but also poor farmers producing food.”
Between us we have more votes than the CEOs and corporate employees; we have our own leverage which should rival the forces of money. At an individual level we should be advocating and acting to decrease the intergenerational inequality gap, being driven by climate change that threatens further catastrophes on the world food supply. We should be reducing the demand for red meat. The water and grain cost of delivering red meat to our dinner tables, is taking food directly from the mouths of the hungry.
The problem is bigger than governments and the corporations; it begins with us, the citizens. Ignorance, apathy and lack of critical discourse are squandering the right to life of the voiceless billions.
We have the choice to make this the decade where world hunger ends. We can make this the decade where communities are empowered to build their livelihoods as they choose and can eat the fruition of their own creations. Starting at home, we need to grow values deeper than monetary wealth from the ground upwards and challenge this landscape which leaves so many unable to thrive.
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