Every year around this time, 16 October, UN World Food Day reminds us to pay attention to the multitude of people who suffer from not having enough to eat. The hunger statistics are overwhelming. According to the World Food Programme 870 million people are hungry – that’s greater than the combined populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union. Every day approximately 16,000 children die because they are too poor to live.
Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases claim their short lives. Iodine deficiency is the greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage, affecting 1.9 billion people worldwide. It can very easily be prevented by adding iodine to salt.
The international alliance of Catholic development agencies, CIDSE, has demanded “urgent solutions to the structural problems of hunger”. The alliance states: “governments must guarantee the right to food for all human beings as a priority in national and international policies”.
In a statement for World Food Day Bernd Nilles, Secretary General of CIDSE said: “Our food system is a leaky bucket. It makes no sense to continue pouring water in it without plugging the holes first.”
A report published by CIDSE, finds that unstable food prices, caused by war, climate change and economic swings are severely affecting the world’s poorest people – both consumers and producers.
Mr Nilles continued: “We must all eat. But millions of people around the world are unable to pay more for food as prices increase. For a poor family which spends most of its household budget on food, price volatility is a matter of life and death. To stabilise prices we need coherent trade and agriculture policies, tighter rules on food speculation and the establishment of food reserves to deal with emergencies and to stabilise markets,
To read the CIDSE report see: www.cidse.org/content/publications/just-food/food-and-climate/agriculture_from_problem_to_solution.html
In the US, according to the Christian anti-poverty advocacy organization Bread for the World, more than 48 million Americans, including 16.2 million children, live in households that struggle to put enough food on the table. More than one in five children is at risk of hunger. And among Latinos and African-Americans, almost one in three children is at risk of hunger. Persons living in these homes frequently skip meals, eat too little, or sometimes eat nothing all day.
In 1979 Blessed Pope John Paul II said in New York City homily: "The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. Take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. Treat them like guests at your family table!"
But how well is America measuring up to this challenge? The US ranks last among the 22 industrialized countries in percentage of national income allotted for poverty-focused foreign assistance. Only 0.5 percent of the federal budget goes to help the world’s poor. Tiny Denmark contributes approximately twice as much of its income.
To make matters worse, the US Congress is poised to cut from the 2013 federal budget billions of additional dollars in aid to the poor. Everything from WIC – an important food supplemental program that aids poor women, infants and children in the US, to life-saving international aid is again on the congressional chopping block.
American readers are being asked to lobby their government representatives to significantly increase poverty-focused domestic and international assistance.
Tony Magliano is an American journalist based in US who specialises in justice and peace issues.