OpEd, Politics

The negligence that brought hunger into the 21st century

For decades, the world has grown enough food to nourish everyone adequately. International aid groups have been in the driver’s seat in the fight against global poverty, with billions of dollars to rescue the ailing situation. But out of the world’s eight billion people, hundreds of millions of them mostly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and South America continue to wallow in extreme poverty.

Not to forget, in 1984, in Ethiopia, more than 12 million people had teetered on the verge of starvation, and nearly 1 million of them died. The suffering was so intense, so vast, and so pitiable that the world swore such famine would never happen again.

Yet not even twenty years later, “never again” was happening again, in a place called Boricha and many of Ethiopia’s blighted regions. And this time, even more people 14 million were desperate for something to eat.

The able world with all the winning cards at hand has done little or even worse to lift these people out of poverty. Think about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which are an urgent call for action by all the countries. Zero Poverty tops the list followed by zero hunger. But South Sudan, a country that still imports vegetables from the neighboring country choose number 16th which is peace.

We cannot also close our eyes to the fact that the men who mediate peace are the ones who also create wars and run to the negotiating tables. How would you trust a man who set your house ablaze to be the one to put the fire out?

The truth is the world is not what you think it is. The Western world would grow food worth 500 million dollars and donate this food to poor African countries instead of encouraging them to grow their own food and be self-reliant. Now these people will be dependable for the rest of their lives.

This is because poverty is a weapon that is used by the alpha men to shut people’s eyes to the realities of the day. But still, when things are not right in Africa but fine in America, it represents civilization’s collective failure.

In an imagined African country, Ajai had cradled his emaciated son for an hour and a half as they rode in a donkey-drawn wagon over rutted dirt roads to this makeshift clinic. The clinic has no medicine not even doctors. His son was starving to death. He weighed just twenty-seven pounds when he arrived. His arms and legs were bone-thin, his head swollen from the effects of protein deficiency. He did not cry or plead for help. His eyes were deep, dark, empty holes. Farewell, they said.

Ajai is a small-scale farmer, harvest shrank even further than expected. Ajai will have nothing to eat this time as a result of insecurity and climate change.

As the pain of hunger gnawed relentlessly, Ajai began selling off his few possessions to buy food. First, he sold his ox, which pulled his plow. Then he sold the family cow, which provided milk. Then he sold the goats. With nothing left, Ajai watched his only son waste away. Instead of lugging bags of surplus corn to the market town, as he had the year before, he now carried his dying son.

Ajai’s story shows humanity’s failure to solve some of the pressing problems. We have the information and tools. But we haven’t done it. We explored the heavens. We wired the world for the Internet. We embarked on quests to conquer AIDS and assail global warming. We lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class. Yet somehow, we haven’t eliminated the most primitive scourge of all.

In Ethiopia in 2003, the United States provided more than $500 million in American-grown grain to feed the hungry but only $5 million in agricultural development aid to help them avoid becoming hungry in the first place.

The hunger that grows from these decisions, the catastrophe that is man-made is preventable. And there is more to do than donate money. There is a need for informed people to advocate for policy reform and new practices that work for the world’s poorest, to be aware of the global consequences of self-interested decisions, to roll up their sleeves and get to work in the fields. Fighting hunger isn’t hopeless. It is a battle that can be won, for this generation has more weapons at its disposal than any other.

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