POSTSCRIPT / December 14, 2021 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Feeding the hungry, especially children

MOST Filipinos who watched the video of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo last Friday may have focused, understandably, on Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s speech, and missed the lecture of David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program (Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2020).

We share below excerpts from Beasley’s speech on the widespread lack of food for the body’s nourishment – as differentiated from the deprivation of truthful information for the mind as discussed by Ressa on the same stage.

Beasley recalled: “On April 10, 1815, on an island in Indonesia, a volcano erupted. It sent a massive plume of ash into the air that encircled the globe. A year later, 1816 became ‘the year without a summer’. Incessant rains fell here in Norway, Britain, China, and the US. It snowed 20 inches in July in Boston. Crops failed. Livestock died.

“People starved. Food riots. Looting. Burning of cities. Floods of refugees. Epidemics of typhus. And it took decades to recover. Millions died in places just like this — the worst famine of the 19th Century.

“No one saw it coming. With famine, no one ever does, until it’s too late. This time we see it coming, as clear as day, and it will affect us all. Unless we act.

“The 20,000 peacemakers of the World Food Program believe food is the pathway to peace. Working with 115 million people in 80 countries, we have learned that there is great richness in those who are seen, in the eyes of the world, as ‘the poor’. And many of us who are considered ‘rich’ are actually poor in the things that matter most.”

He was talking of widespread starvation and famine, which are physical conditions different in degree and scope from merely of random persons being hungry at times.

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BEASLEY’S report on starvation is different from the hunger that a Social Weather Stations survey has revealed – that in the third quarter this year “hunger” declined in the country except in Metro Manila, where the experience of hunger is highest at 14 percent of families.

There was a lower incidence of hunger in Balance Luzon and Mindanao, both at 10.3 percent, and the Visayas at 6 percent. Hunger has been worst in Metro Manila in 21 out of 95 surveys since July 1998.

The SWS survey conducted Sept. 12-16 involving 1,200 respondents found that 10 percent of families, or an estimated 2.5 million, experienced involuntary hunger – hunger due to lack of food – at least once in the past three months.

That hunger rate is 3.6 points below the 13.6 percent (estimated 3.4 million families) in June 2021. It is 11.1 points below the 2020 annual average of 21.1 percent, but 0.7 points above the 2019 annual average of 9.3 percent.

The pollsters asked respondents in their native language: “In the last three months, did it happen even once that your family experienced hunger and did not have anything to eat? Did it happen only once, a few times, often or always?”

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IN OSLO, the WFP head talked of the great divide between the wealth of billionaires, who earned an additional $1.8 trillion during the pandemic, and the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night:

“The facts of hunger right now: 811 million people are chronically hungry; 283 million are in hunger crises (marching toward starvation). Within that, 45 million in 43 countries are in hunger emergencies (famine is knocking on their door).

“The world has often experienced famine. But when has it ever been so widespread, in so many places, at the same time? Three reasons:

* First, man-made conflict. Dozens of civil wars and regional conflicts are raging, and hunger has been weaponized to achieve military and political objectives.

* Second, climate shocks/climate change. Floods, droughts, locusts, and rapidly changing weather patterns have created severe crop failures around the world.

* Third, COVID-19. The viral pandemic has created a secondary hunger pandemic, which is far worse than the first. Shutdowns destroyed livelihoods, stopped the movement of food. Shutdowns inflated prices. The net result is the poor are priced out of survival.

“The ripple effect of COVID has devastated the global economy. During the pandemic, $3.7 trillion in incomes – mostly among the poor – have been wiped out, while food prices are spiking. The cost of shipping food has increased 3 – 400 percent.

* * *

BEASLEY said: “The first thing we need to do is restore our moral compass.

“The highest standard of humanity has always been the Golden Rule. It is part of all religions and cultures – and is the foundation of the culture of the World Food Program. I learned it as a child as articulated by Jesus of Nazareth: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ or ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ A more accurate way to translate that from the ancient Hebrew would be: ‘Love your neighbor as your equal.’

He suggested four “Golden Rule” action steps:

1. Leaders of the world, in America, in China, in Russia, in India, the Gulf states, the EU, the UK, and elsewhere: We need you to assert your power and stop all of these horrible wars. The global cost of violence and conflict is $15 trillion each year. We could solve every problem on earth with that money.

2. Billionaires of the world, give us the $6.6 billion needed to prevent famine now and save 45 million lives now.

3. Billionaires, give us your creative genius to reinvent food security all over the world. Charity is important, but it will never be enough. You know how to revolutionize phones, cars, rockets, and retail. Help us revolutionize how the planet eats.

4. Let’s break down all the divisions of the world the old-fashioned way – by sitting down together and breaking bread.

“That’s the very best way to learn how to be equals and to realize how special and wonderful and beautiful everybody on this planet is.

“For the love of the children of the world – let’s feed them all.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 14, 2021)

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