The Bates Student - November 6, 1998


Hot plates of food, the rich gifts that we forget
Writer reminds us of the humanity and complexity of hunger in our world, and what we must persevere with for change to occur

Staff Writer

It is a rainy melancholy afternoon, and I'm walking to Chase Hall for lunch. Sooner than I expected, I get into Commons and I'm in the process of the usual card swipes, long lines (made short today by the Food fair in the Gray Cage) and tray loading. I get my tray and look at the plateful of rice and Thon's renowned Thai stir fry as I walk down across the hallway towards my favorite spot, the middle room. After sitting down, I proceed to bite and chew and half hour later, I call it a "lunch" while my barely touched plate stares at me, making me cringe with guilt at my wastefulness. "What will happen to this food?" my prickly conscience (and I think I have one, in case you doubt it) asks me. As I continue staring at it, (for the first time in a long time) three powerful images float to my mind; they are my images and my stories about hunger and poverty.

Image I: I see a young skinny African boy standing next to a thorn tree in the sweltering Kenyan heat. He smiles colorlessly at the herds of animals he must take care of. Then he appears lost in a train of thought. As he stands there, he painfully remembers how he had to drop out of school in order to work as a herdsboy to earn money for his school fees and to help his parents feed his family. As he shouts at another errant animal, he looks at the now dying sun with the hopes of the first solid meal of his day.

Image II: I remember this photographic image, partly because I'll never forget it, and partly because it was my first very traumatic experience with the hunger and extreme poverty suffered by millions all over the world each year. It is an image of an emaciated, dying innocent child in Ethiopia during the Great Sahel regional famine of 1984-85. She is sleeping, coiled on the dry parched earth next to dried up shrubs and trees, while up in the air several hungry and powerful vultures circle in the heat of the midday sun, waiting for the child to die. Let me spare you the painful details because you can figure out the ending.

Image III: I remember during a Social Welfare, Education, and Ethics class in junior year in high school reading an article about another equally shocking practice. It described how farmers in either the United States or the European Union (or both) were dumping grain into the sea to drive up the prices of grain in the world market after a very successful season.

These are mental images I always remember, and some of them have a happy ending like that of the skinny little boy who went back to school and went on to college after extreme poverty, and later became perhaps the greatest influence in my life. Others like the photographed innocent girl are now painful, immortalized memories which will continue to haunt a world divided into haves and have-nots to move on towards guaranteeing food for all of us and our children to come.

Perhaps a good start to understanding what I'm talking about would be to briefly outline and analyze the causes of hunger and poverty. If you guessed overpopulation, count yourself wrong. The chief cause of poverty and hunger is the lack of resources and power. As an Oxfam America fact sheet describes it, millions of hardworking people all over the world desire the best for themselves and their loved ones; yet because they lack resources such as land, credit, water and access to markets, they are bound with their descendants in a cycle of poverty. To give an example, in Guatemala, 2% of the population owns over 65% of the land and like in most developing nations, all major sources of credit are rarely available to the peasant farmers. Without land or credit, any meaningful production of food is impossible. Every year, millions of others (e.g., in Sudan currently), face starvation and disease due to militarization and wars. Able breadwinners die in battle leaving behind helpless orphans, crops are destroyed while families are forced to flee their lands and homes to the squalor and poverty of refugee camps. Other causes of hunger include a variety of social problems like discrimination, alcoholism and drug addiction and the debt burden in third world countries. Indeed a nation such as Mozambique spends double on debt repayments compared to what it spends on health and education combined.

Consider this: The Y2K bug is increasingly becoming a great cause of concern as we approach the next millennium. As Blaise Salmon writing in Maclean's, superbly describes it in a comparison with the hunger problem, estimates put the cost of avoiding a global electronic meltdown at almost $2 trillion and no one doubts that this gargantuan cost will be met. Yet a much more serious crisis is ignored whose cost of solution

is mere pittance compared to the cost of fixing the millennium bug. Here are a few daunting statistics I picked up to show you the gravity of this crisis. Everyday, more than 841 million people go to bed on empty stomachs (35 million of them in the US alone). Further, 1.4 billion people survive on less than $1 a day, while a total of 3 billion live with less than $2 a day (probably the cost of a bagel at a Dunkin Donuts outlet).

These statistics contrasted with the fact that the richest 500 billionaires own more wealth than 60% of humanity combined, make a compelling case for a reevaluation of society. This unfortunately is in a world that has seen more increasing prosperity than at any other stage in history.

The cost of fixing this problem: providing basic healthcare and sanitation, improved maternal and reproductive health, better primary education, clean water and food on the table would be approximately $60 billion per year for the next ten years. That certainly is not asking for too much, considering that the total worth of Bill Gates alone before the recent Wall Street tumble was slightly more than that.

In fact, I honestly believe it is an understatement to claim that even though we have enough resources, we lack the will, because I think it's more serious than that. As author and film maker, Sembene Ousmanne remarkably said it, the greatest pain is not knowing that you lack something, but knowing that someone wishes you to stay in that situation for the rest of your life.

It's time we started doing something, for the sake of all of us, now and to come. One way we can all make a difference is if we take time and share our energies and resources, which combined with all of humanity's efforts, will be a big step forward. One such opportunity is the upcoming Bates Hunger Awareness and action week next week.

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Last Modified: 11/08/1998
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