Reasons Why So Many Go Hungry
“EVERY day, nearly 2 billion people wake up to face a world in which their lives will be dominated by a single desire . . . for food,” observes L. R. Brown of the Overseas Development Council. Millions of persons need more or better food. Is the earth to blame for man’s lack in this respect?
No; the earth appears capable of supporting billions more persons than the present 3.7 billion who now populate it. Some authorities say there is twice as much arable land available for cultivation as what has been used in recent decades.
Unpredictable Weather Aggravates Food Shortages
But one major factor that greatly limits the amount of yield that can come from even excellent soil is weather: “No answer,” says a Newsweek article, “has yet been found to the whims of the weather.”
Much of the famine situation in Asia and Africa was brought on by drought. Monsoon rains in 1972 were too limited or too late to benefit India’s summer crops. Rains in Bangladesh were 40 percent below normal during the growing months. The weather’s irregularities also dangerously affected production in the Philippines. In the north, the rice crop was ruined by the worst floods of the century; while in the south, crop yields were limited by drought.
Russia, on the other hand, has suffered large grain losses in the last two years because of receiving only light snow cover during the winter; grain crops were thus left to suffer frost damage. In China, the Hsinhua press agency says that not only drought, floods and frost, but also windstorms, hail and insects devastated many of their crops. The world’s current food crisis should realistically remind man of his weakness before the natural elements.
The uncertainties of weather have largely canceled out the effects of the “green revolution.” It is feared, however, that the “green revolution’s” limited success may be even further curtailed. Why?
Because when a large area is planted with a single grain crop it is vulnerable to affliction by a single devastating plant disease. Similarly, insects that thrive on one variety of grain can wipe out a whole crop. Indeed, a local joke in Pakistan says that ‘the new miracle wheat has given rise to a new miracle locust!’
Technology Fails to Solve Food Shortage
While control of the natural elements is out of man’s hands, what about technology? Although it has developed techniques and equipment that are valuable, it has also done much to contribute to the current food shortage. ‘Urban sprawl’ gobbles up much fine farmland as man’s cities grow. Industrial pollution and wrong use of commercial fertilizers have greatly lessened the fertility of countless acres.
Further, much agricultural research today, while centering on “cash crops,” is oblivious to the real food crops of poorer nations. An article in BioScience magazine points out that the world’s food problem persists largely in the tropics. Nevertheless, most scientific study is on crops that thrive, not in the tropics, but in the temperate zones.
Modern technology has not, therefore, solved the overall food shortage. In fact, in some respects it has contributed to the current crisis. Other factors, also of man’s making, have likewise seriously aggravated food shortage.
Politics and Hunger
Man’s political wars—not ‘natural causes’—can be blamed for the suffering from food shortage right now in places like Cambodia and Bangladesh. Agricultural systems, grain and water supplies, as well as draft animals, have been destroyed by war.
As a result, there have been food riots and looting, as in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. Soldiers guarding bridges have assessed “black taxes” on trucks carrying produce into that city, doubling the price of food; prices have trebled in other places in Cambodia.
In Bangladesh, food cannot get into ports that have been blocked by mines or sunken vessels; many bridges in that country are still not usable. Through last October, of $1,000,000,000 in relief funds sent to Bangladesh, only one third was used for food. The remainder was needed to restore the nation’s transportation and communication systems.
The political system itself often cripples efforts at fighting famine. Notes Newsweek:
“In Indonesia, bureaucrats are the problem. Under a typical Indonesian system called abs asal asal bapak senang (as long as the father is happy), agriculture officials not only failed to report the bad news of production setbacks to President Suharto but also failed to build up the government’s stockpile of rice.”
Similarly, Economic and Political Weekly of Bombay, India, admits:
“The pattern by now is wearily familiar; the complaisant officials tell the junior ministers what they want to hear, the junior ministers tell the senior ministers what they want to hear and so on till the chain ends with the Prime Minister.”
Religion and the Famine
Religion, too, often contributes to the food problem. Consider an example.
Seventy-three people live in the village of Nazrichawk in the Indian state of Bihar. The soil there is described as “good.” Further, after the last drought, in 1967, an effective irrigation system was set up. Today, however, the diesel pump operating the irrigation system is rust-coated and the people go hungry! Yet they can afford to get the pump fixed. Then why does it stay in disrepair? Answers Natural History magazine:
“The problem is that the necessary work projects would require a group effort: to develop schemes any more sophisticated than a bullock-drawn waterwheel demands consensus on such issues as water distribution, financing and labor. Such common needs, however, rarely unify a community divided by religion, caste, and politics. . . . A multitude of small, caste-oriented political parties are active throughout the state, and their activities further fragmentize the villages. Instead of being a community, a village often disintegrates into hostile factions splintered along religious, political, and caste lines.”—January 1973, pages 34 and 35.
Yes, people starve because religion and other social forces divide them! But there is another way in which some religions affect the food problem adversely.
Certain religions discourage small families; yet more births mean more mouths to feed. Already India alone has 550 million people. Each year that country increases by another twelve to thirteen million people. That is the equivalent of the entire population of the continent of Australia! Though the Indian government seems to have earnestly tried to encourage smaller families, its success has been limited—by religion.
As a case in point: Recent figures show that in the last decade the number of Hindus increased by only 24 percent, while the number of Moslems was up 31 percent. On learning this, what did Hindu religious leaders do? Bombay journalist A. S. Abraham says they “lost no time in using these statistics to buttress their repeated appeals to Hindus not to practice family planning for fear of becoming a minority in their own country. They simply ignored the fact that Hindus constitute 82 percent of the population, while Moslems account for roughly 12 percent.” Such religious leaders do much to nullify the government’s efforts at controlling population.
Furthermore, most Indians readily comply with the wishes of their religious leaders. Why? Because to them children are a form of wealth. Farmers, for instance, use their children to ‘look after the goats.’ Too, parents want children who will take care of them in their old age. Many Asian children die early in life; thus the more offspring one has, parents reason, the greater the likelihood that some of them will survive until the parents’ old age.
Opposition to government programs for birth control comes not only from ‘Eastern religions.’ Christendom, too, is a source of stiff opposition.
In 1930 Pope Pius XI summarized the official Catholic position on birth control in his encyclical Casti connubii. He called most birth-control methods “an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” Popes since then have reaffirmed this belief.
The current pope, Paul VI, told a United Nations audience in October 1965 that “artificial control of birth” is “irrational.” Then, in July 1968, he issued his own encyclical on the subject, Humanae Vitae. By mid-1970, just two years later, the population of Catholic South America had increased by another ten million persons, or about twice the number of people living in the entire nation of Bolivia! Yet, since 1944, food production per person has been decreasing more in Latin America than in any other part of the world.
So-called Christian religious leaders should be aware of the truth stated by the Christian apostle Paul: “If anyone does not provide for his own relatives and especially for members of his immediate family, he has denied the faith; he is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, in the Catholic New American Bible) The size of one’s family is, of course, a personal matter. Nevertheless, should parents be encouraged to bear so many children that they cannot “provide for” them, leaving them to go hungry? Obviously not.
Some of the world’s largest religions, therefore, must share the responsibility for earth’s bulging population and food crisis.
There are yet other factors that contribute to famine conditions, factors that are difficult for well-fed persons from ‘rich nations’ to appreciate fully.
Effects of Malnutrition
One of these is the adverse physical effect of malnutrition. Hungry people often cannot provide food for themselves. They are prone to disease, since natural immunity vanishes with poor diet. Persons with wasted legs and who cannot walk because of malnutrition can be seen in many countries. How much heavy work can such persons do on farmland?
Mentally, too, people are affected by malnutrition. What may at first appear to a visitor as a natural ‘calm’ in some nations is often the tiredness, aimlessness and complacency brought on by a poor diet. Arthur Hopcraft says about one country in his book Born to Hunger: “I saw very little playfulness among children; hardly any games being played. The prevailing frailty and dullness of the children is one of the most affecting aspects of everyday life.” Can dispirited, weakened persons be expected to respond vigorously to the challenge of providing ample food for their families? They are obviously limited in what they can accomplish.
Unfortunately, too, people from richer nations often fail to realize that, while persons reared in an altogether different culture generally think differently than they themselves do, this does not necessarily mean that they are backward or inferior. Yet men considered dedicated to solving world food problems may regard themselves as superior to the natives of a foreign land. This limits their effectiveness. It is one more reason why the world still has a food crisis. Says Cornell University’s H. D. Thurston:
“The ability to meet one’s hosts and treat them as equals and coworkers often is more important than one’s scientific knowledge. . . . Even the poorest farmer and laborer often has great pride and human dignity. The least suggestion of inferiority will be resented and may ruin all one’s future work.”
Yet, the humility needed to solve this system’s international food problems is not readily found.
The food shortage, therefore, runs much deeper than merely the right combination of soil and weather. Man’s political, technological and religious activities and social attitudes, as well as his lack of humane consideration, have unquestionably complicated the problem beyond the ability of imperfect men to solve.
We today, as a consequence, are witnessing a worldwide paradox. Just consider: man now has the technical ‘know-how’ for producing abundant crops by using vast irrigation and storage systems. He has schools to teach sophisticated agricultural techniques. There is impressive farming equipment to cultivate huge areas of land. An international F.A.O. keeps men informed about the food situation everywhere, and fast communications advise them where supplies are necessary. Rapid transportation systems can speed food to where it is needed. Nevertheless, thousands of people still die EVERY DAY from starvation.
Why now, at this time, does this paradoxical situation exist? There must be a reason. And, just as importantly, is there a sure solution to the world’s food crisis?
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Irregularities of weather and other problems have greatly reduced the effects of the “green revolution”
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LEADERS OF PROMINENT RELIGIONS ENCOURAGE LARGE FAMILIES—EVEN IN POOR COUNTRIES!
‘Hindus must not become a minority’—Hindu Leaders in India
‘Birth control is irrational’—Pope Paul VI
‘What are we to eat?’