Food, like shelter and health care, is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a fundamental right of all people, irrespective of circumstances or income. And yet one in nine of the global population does not have enough to eat – despite the fact that there is enough food to feed everyone. 800 million people are literally starving to death in a world of plenty is a level of human injustice which beggars belief. The causes of hunger are not complicated. While the rich indulge to excess, and fill to overflowing, people are allowed to die of hunger-related illnesses simply because they don’t have enough money to buy food. People starve and live with ‘food insecurity’ for one fundamental reason – poverty.
Poverty is not simply defined by a lack of income, but virtually all other types of poverty, including poor health care, poor education, poor nutrition, as well as the more psychological effects – poor self-esteem, personal shame and embarrassment – flow from this basic underlying, and decidedly crude form of poverty. And whilst poverty affects everyone no matter age, the impact on children is devastating, making them vulnerable to all manner of exploitation, threatening their safety, rights, health and education.
In developing countries, according to UNICEF, “more than 30% of children – about 600 million – live on less than US $1 a day [The World Bank poverty line is $1.90 A DAY].” Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year, 90% of whom are the victims of long-term malnourishment – rather than emergency famine. And for those who survive early childhood, hunger leaves a lifelong legacy of cognitive and physical impairment.
Although the vast majority (98%) of those living with acute food insecurity are found in ‘developing’ – i.e. poor, countries – perhaps surprisingly an additional 50 million people or so (14% of the population) are in America – supposedly the world’s richest nation, but significantly also the country with the highest levels of wealth and income inequality in the world.
Sub-Saharan Africa (where 25% of children are malnourished) accounts for 214 million people living with food insecurity, but the greatest concentration of starving human beings (525 million), according to figures from The Hunger Project, lives in Asia. Inevitably, given its population (1.3 billion), the largest proportion is in India (over 200 million), where the causes of hunger are pretty much the same as everywhere else in the world: High levels of poverty, inequality, rising food costs, inflation and poor governance. We could add to this list: lack of sharing, or distribution of foodstuffs to those in need, and crucially ending food waste. According to the United Nations Development Programme, “up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted,” 21 million tonnes of wheat alone. Globally around a third of all food produced (1.3 billion tonnes) is wasted; in America the figure jumps to half. In addition to wasting food, all the resources needed to grow and distribute it are also squandered, the key ones being energy and, crucially, water: the UN informs us that, “250 km3 of water is wasted in growing these [wasted] crops, an amount that would meet all the world’s water needs.”
But as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation explains, “even when enough [food] is produced…there is no guarantee that a market economy will generate a distribution of income that provides enough for all to purchase the food needed.” The fact that food is burnt, or left for rats to feast on, because it’s cheaper to destroy the produce than distribute it to those in need reveals the inhumane nature of the economic rules that fuel such shameful neglect.
India ranks 80th out of 104 countries in the Global Hunger Index and is home to a third of the world’s poor and hungry. Approximately one in three Indian children are malnourished, and some 3,000 die every day from diet-related illnesses. This in what is regularly hailed as the world’s fastest growing economy, where (according to Forbes,) 111 billionaires and almost 200,000 millionaires live. The same absurdity – of extraordinary insular wealth, excess and greed alongside desperate poverty and crippling suffering – is repeated globally. Oxfam states that the annual “income of the world’s richest 100 people is enough to end global poverty four times over” – worldwide there are 1,826 billionaires, with a combined wealth in excess of $7 trillions.
Worldwide hunger is not the result of population or lack of food; as Oxfam states “it’s about power, and its roots lie in inequalities in access to resources and opportunities,” as well as financial inequality and the economic injustice that feeds poverty. Inequality results from a fundamentally corrupt economic system; in fact it is inherent in the system itself. A system that has labelled everything a commodity – including food, shelter, health care, education – to be profited from until exhausted – and everyone a consumer to be exploited into penury then discarded. It is a system that drives compassion and the natural human qualities of sharing and empathy into the shadows; it devalues community and champions individual success no matter the cost to other people or the environment. It says you can feed yourself and your family only if you have money to do so; if not we will sit in comfort and complacency and watch you and your children die.
The chasm between the rich and the rest is greater today than ever. Currently the richest 85 people in the world are worth more than the poorest 3.5 billion; the lower half of the global population possesses just 1% of global wealth, while the richest 10% own 86% of all wealth: “the top 1% account for 46% of the total”! And unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked, Oxfam forecasts that, “the combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people next year.”
Duncan Green, Oxfam UK’s senior strategic adviser tells us the fact “that hunger exists at all shows the urgency of redistributing income and assets to achieve a fairer world. That redistribution has not already taken place is truly something to be ashamed of.”
Oxfam states, that “our leaders reformed the system so that it works in the interests of the whole of humanity rather than a global elite.” This means designing a just model with sharing at its heart so that the resources of the world, including food and water, are shared equitably amongst the people of the world. The charity is calling for what they describe as a Global New Deal, in order to “reverse decades of increasing inequality”. It consists in a radical programme to deal with everything from closing tax havens, which “hold as much as $32 trillion or a third of all global wealth,” to dealing with weak employment laws and investing – not cutting public services.
The Socialist Party holds out no hope for Oxfam’s success if it remains within the parimeters and constraints of the capitalist system . It is time to design an economic system, not driven by corporate profit, greed and the obscene accumulation of capital, which is fuelling inequality and causing the premature deaths of hundreds of millions of the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world. Time for a socialist world that allows for the required sharing of food, water, land and other natural resources, as well as knowledge, skills etc.