Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/4)
Hunger due to injustice and free market famines
Food Day, on 16th October saw the launch of a Right to Food
campaign in Spain by NGOs who argue that hunger is a result of social
injustice and not a lack of food. Following this a report has exposed
the free market famine that devastated the Sahel in 2005. The two articles
are reproduced with permission from the South-North Development Monitor
(SUNS) # 6122, 18 October 2006 and # 6126, 25 October 2006 respectively.
Development: Hunger due
to injustice, not lack of food
By Tito Drago, IPS, Madrid,
16 October 2006
Millions of people die of
hunger-related causes every year. However, that is not because of actual
shortages of food, but is a result of social injustice and political,
social and economic exclusion, argue non-governmental organisations
that launched a campaign in Spain on World Food Day Monday.
October 16 was established as World Food Day in 1979 by the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), commemorating the agency's
October 16, 1945 founding date. Monday also marked the first day of
Anti-Poverty Week, which will include events in Spain and around the
world to raise awareness of the issue.
FAO's slogan for World Food Day this year is "Invest in Agriculture
for Food Security". But NGOs argue that the problem is not a lack
of food production, but of the injustice surrounding access to and use
Theo Oberhuber, head of the Spanish environmental NGO Ecologists in
Action (EEA), told IPS that enough food is produced in the world to
cover the needs of everyone, so that no one would have to go hungry.
But, he added, there are two problems that stand in the way of this.
The first is that a large part of all food, whether agricultural products
or food obtained from oceans or rivers, goes towards feeding livestock
"whose meat and by-products are consumed mainly in the countries
of the industrialised North."
The second, he said, is social injustice. In many countries, the majority
of the population cannot afford food, "not even food of lesser
Olivier Longue, director-general of Action Against Hunger in Spain,
pointed out to IPS examples of lower-quality food: in Malawi and Guatemala,
for instance, corn forms the basis of the subsistence diet, while in
the Philippines the staples are corn, potatoes and plantains.
Action Against Hunger reported that every four seconds someone in the
world dies of hunger-related diseases and that nearly one billion people
suffer from hunger around the world.
The global NGO also noted that six million children a year die of hunger,
which is responsible for half of all deaths of children under five.
In addition, many children who survive hunger and malnutrition suffer
disabilities for the rest of their lives.
The international NGOs Engineers Without Borders, Caritas and Veterinarians
Without Borders, along with Prosalus, a Spanish organisation that promotes
health care in Africa and Latin America, launched in Spain the campaign
"Derecho a la Alimentacion: Urgente" (Right to Food: Urgent),
and presented a DVD Monday in which they state that food security cannot
be achieved without support for agricultural development.
They note that FAO statistics show that more than 70% of the people
suffering from hunger around the world live in rural areas, where they
should be able to feed themselves through agriculture.
The campaign is demanding that governments recognise food security as
a basic human right, and that they review their policies on the question
and promote agricultural development in a framework of environmental
But the EEA questions the FAO's call to "Invest in Agriculture
for Food Security" because of the growing influence of agribusiness
and concentration of land.
The EEA stresses that "more than 70% of the global pesticide market
is in the hands of six giant agrochemical corporations, of which only
three will be left within a few years."
The group adds that these companies control a large part of global seed
sales in a lucrative captive market, by means of sales of genetically
modified (GM) varieties that are resistant to the firms' own herbicides.
In addition, the offspring of some GM plants are sterile, which means
that they cannot be stored to grow future crops. Poor farmers thus become
dependent on transnational companies, and are forced to buy new seeds
The EEA also points out that the world's 10 biggest food companies account
for one-quarter of all food produced worldwide, and 10 large chains
account for one-quarter of all food sales. As an example of the consequences
of that policy, "in Spain, farmers often receive only 25% of the
end price," says the NGO.
"If that is the situation in a developed European country, it's
not difficult to imagine what happens in countries of the South, where
the rural population lives in infra-human conditions," said Oberhuber.
Health: Report exposes
a free-market famine
By Stephen Leahy, IPS, Canada,
20 October 2006
In a world of paradox and
plenty, 852 million people are starving while one billion people are
overweight, with 300 million of them considered medically obese.
And the numbers of people whose health are at serious risk due to starvation
or from obesity is rising rapidly.
While what the World Health Organisation calls a global epidemic of
obesity is a health issue of the modern world, hunger and malnutrition
are old and bitterly intractable problems.
More than 50 million Africans currently need food assistance, according
to the UN World Food Programme. More than 120 million Africans are living
permanently on the edge of emergency food aid, says the British charity
Why is hunger chronic in Africa? Why are 300,000 children in the Sahel
Region at risk of death from malnutrition each year?
"There is enough food, but people don't have enough money to buy
it," says Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute,
a US-based policy think tank on social, economic and environmental issues.
"Sixty-three percent of people in Niger live on less than a dollar
a day," Mittal told IPS.
Hunger is mainly the result of poverty. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) reports that there is enough food to give everyone
in the world more than 2,000 calories a day, she says.
This week, the Oakland Institute released a report investigating the
causes of the 2005 food crisis in Niger that gained world attention.
Niger is in the heart of the Sahel Region, a largely dry swath of savannah
bordering the Sahara that includes the countries of Senegal, Mauritania,
Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia, among others.
"Drought and locusts did not cause the 2005 food crisis as many
believe," Mittal said. "It is a result of free market-based
development strategies of the World Bank and others."
One year ago, more than one quarter of Niger's 12 million people were
starving. Both world attention and emergency food aid came late, too
late for many children.
However, food production that year was only 7.5% below what was needed
to feed the people, the Oakland Institute report, "Sahel: Prisoner
of Starvation", discovered.
Acute malnutrition has been chronic in Niger, the world's poorest country.
During the 2005 food crisis, a kilo of millet was more expensive in
Niger than a kilo of rice in a European supermarket, said Frederic Mousseau,
a senior fellow at the Oakland Institute and co-author of the report.
"The 2005 crisis in Niger highlighted the tragic limits and shortcomings
of market-based food security policy," said Mousseau.
A few big grain traders operating under the free-market conditions mandated
by the World Bank controlled the market and sold to the highest bidders.
Some of those bidders were in other countries, the report found.
Niger used to have a grain bank - a large reserve of stored grain for
years of lean harvests - as well as government-regulated cereal markets,
but these were abandoned under the structural adjustments dictated by
the Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Similar free-market philosophies, such as "the user pays",
were applied to medical care so that poor people could not afford medicines
and cannot work to earn money to buy food. And school fees mean that
only 17% of children now go to school.
Such policies have made most of the people of Niger much poorer and
generated "free-market famines".
And when the inevitable 2005 famine struck, it took enormous efforts
by non-governmental organisations like Doctors Without Borders to get
the world to pay attention.
"It is shameful to ignore the plight of millions of people,"
International aid arrives too late, is targeted at the wrong things
and is usually only a short-term measure that does not tackle the root
causes of hunger, CARE International UK said in a new report this month.
CARE International is one of the world's largest aid agencies, and its
report, "Living on the Edge of Emergency - An Agenda for Change"
is also in response to the 2005 Niger food crisis and the endemic hunger
found throughout the Sahel.
"It is a disgrace that money is still given too late and for such
short periods, then spent on the wrong things to truly fight emergencies,"
said Geoffrey Dennis, CARE International's chief executive, in a statement.
As a result, crises are growing in frequency, the charity said. In the
last year alone, 35 million people in southern and western Africa and
the Horn of Africa region faced starvation despite a whopping $5.6 billion
In Niger, one dollar a day spent early would have prevented malnutrition
among children. Delayed aid meant that it cost $80 to save a malnourished
child's life, the report said.
Aid should be more regular and predictable, targeted at recovery and
prevention programmes such as seed distribution and improved veterinary
services, and should provide training, the report says.
Ethiopia has suffered food crises almost every year since 1986, yet
the United States' spending on long-term development to withstand shortages
is less than one percent of its emergency aid, which for the US can
top $500 million a year, it notes.
In the short term, national food reserves should be established in Niger
and other countries of the Sahel, the Oakland Institute report recommends.
Market regulation is also necessary to ensure food sovereignty. Aid
should fund support systems for family farmers, such as encouraging
consumption of traditional crops, and the levels of cheap food imports
that undermine investment in local agriculture should be reduced.
The United States and the European Union spend hundreds of billions
of dollars in support of their own farmers, Mittal points out.
"Niger is a small window on what is happening in many other countries,"
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