Poverty

Notes & Comment

3The Review of Religions – February 2004 Food for Thought Twenty years ago it seemed as if a moment of sanity had swept across the world as it responded to the cry of the dying people in Ethiopia. With governments either unable or unwilling to act, people responded to the plight that was broadcast to their living rooms. Hundreds of millions of dollars were donated to alleviate the s u ffering of those in the famine- ridden country and perhaps also to alleviate the donors’ guilt of not having taken any interest beforehand. The noble efforts were welcome and saved up to two million from death, but as a recent BBC report1 made clear, it was not enough; at best it was a palliative measure rather than a longer term cure. Sadly, twenty years on the situation for the poor in Ethiopia is no better with more people facing starvation now than in 1984. The aid that reached Ethiopia was valuable in sustaining life for millions but there was no real larg e – s c a l e development investment in the country. The result of this is that its agricultural capacity has weakened and hopes of reviving the country’s ability to be self-sufficient in food are disappearing as fast as its dusty topsoil. Its food production has dwindled. On average each year nearly six million Ethiopians are still kept alive by international aid (although this figure was a staggering 14 million in 2003). Ethiopia’s predicament, however, is not an isolated one but it does act as a stark reminder of the invisible plight of the poor and destitute whose lives are nothing more than a daily struggle for survival. The figures make shocking reading – compare the six million in Ethiopia with the 900 million or so worldwide who live in chronic and persistent hunger – that is one person for every seven on the planet. There are one billion people surviving on less than one dollar per day, and every day nearly twenty-four thousand die of hunger.2 Although the vast majority of this crisis is faced by the Third World, it is by no means exclusive to it. Those who find themselves living in the margins of society in the developed world also suffer the same torments of hunger and poverty. Yet, as many economic studies have shown, the problem of hunger is not due to there being insufficient food in the world. Even now, as noted by the UN’s World Food Programme, there Notes and Comment 4 The Review of Religions – February 2004 is enough food in the world not just to keep people alive but to allow them to lead healthy and productive lives. This is despite a huge population increase in the latter half of the twentieth century. This abundance of food is in line with the Islamic teaching that God, Who is ar-Rahman and ar-Razzaq i.e. The Gracious and The Provider, has created man and provided ample resources so that no person should go hungry. So where is all this food? Some is stockpiled in the developed world and some is exported by the third Third world World to finance its debts, wars or corruption – or in extreme cases all three. However, it is also disturbing to note that some is simply consumed in excessive amounts as a result of greed and indifference. In this respect it is rather perplexing to see that as one part of the world is dying as a result of little or no food the other is dying due to too much food. Obesity and its related problems are on the increase worldwide, but especially in the developed world. Furthermore, the findings of a recent study by the US based National Research Council show that it is not just people that are becoming overweight but also their pets. The study reveals that twenty-five per cent of dogs and cats in the western world are obese and at risk of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems3. How strange this must seem to those hanging on to life. Is this not a reflection of the cruel disparity of the modern world? Often we hear that a key to solving the problems of the Third World is education, so that the poor can learn and apply their knowledge for self- advancement. It would seem that the developed world could also benefit with a few sharp doses of education as well – for the sake of their own health and the health of the 900 million who suffer the pangs of hunger every day. For them, the additional amounts spent by people on overfeeding themselves and their pets would be enough to make the difference between life and death. Fareed Ahmad – UK References 1. Ethiopia: A Journey with Michael Buerk 11/1/2004. 2. World Hunger: 12 Myths. By Frances Moore Lappe, Institute for Food and Development Policy B a c k g rounder Summer 1998, Vol.5, No.3. 3. The Daily Telegraph, 2/1/2004. Notes & Comment