It is day two of my seven day journey for World Hunger, where I am going hungry in honor of the 1.2 billion chronically undernourished people in the world. I woke up this morning with a dull head ache, already dreading the thought of having to go an entire day before I could eat. The one meal I ate yesterday evening barely kept me full until I collapsed into bed a few hours later. Through the night any semblance of satiety evaporated and I wake up to a stomach clamoring for food, hands too shaky to lift my hairbrush. The thought of sitting in my home-office, just a few steps from the kitchen, all day long, without making my usual half dozen or so trips to the fridge or pantry seems unbelievable. I tried to muster up my waning energy so I could write about one of my favorite topics: the role the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund play in creating poverty and chronic hunger, as well as share an interview with poverty and development expert Rosanna Barbero.
Morning is usually my favorite time of day, everything seems bright and the potential of what could be accomplished always makes me smile. But not today. Today the only thing I can focus on is how many hours until I can eat. When I send an email I think about eating, when I answer the phone I think about eating, when I take the dogs for a walk I think about eating. I cannot imagine living like this for an entire lifetime, haunted by the idea of food every second of the day. I’ve thought about food so much over the past day the word has almost lost its meaning. How is it possible that we live in such a divided world? Why is it that some people are so saturated with food, food to eat, food on television, food in magazines, food in books, that they completely take it for granted, while other people are besieged by food because of its absence?
The 1.2 billion women, men, and children who are suffering from chronic hunger right now live in a world with an abundance of food. This fact makes my head spin. The world produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, in spite of a 70 percent population increase, and yet 35,000 people will die today from hunger related causes because they are not able to have their share. The fact is chronic hunger is not caused by a lack of food, it is caused by poverty. In our world this poverty is not a rare condition, it is, in fact, the norm for most of humanity. Almost half of our planet, 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. 1 out of every 2 children alive today exist in poverty, 640 million people (that is twice the population of the United States) live without adequate shelter, 400 million people have no access to safe water, and 270 million people have no access to health services.
In many cases this poverty is not an aberration or an unfortunate tragedy; it is a central requirement of our global system dominated by ‘free’ market capitalism. This system is often referred by scholars as Walden Bello and Vandana Shiva as ‘globalization’ and is premised on ever expanding markets, cheap raw materials, and even cheaper labor, and it thrives on the exploitation of the weak and the powerless. In a world with finite resources the only way some people can be very, very rich, is if other people are very, very poor.
Developed nations, led by the U.S. through the World Bank and the IMF under the banner of ‘freedom’, have forced devastating economic policies on countries too underdeveloped and powerless to resist. The central tenets of these neoliberal strategies are fiscal austerity, privatization and financial liberalization. These policies benefit the industrialized nations who can reap more benefits from free trade while sending the recipient nation into a tailspin of skyrocketing debt, crumbling infrastructure, and eviscerated social programs, all while creating an insurmountable wealth gap between the rich and the poor. These policies also form one of the main causes of poverty and chronic hunger.
Whether through political force, the threat of economic sanctions, or military might, the U.S. forces weaker nations to accept these IMF/World Bank policies and open up their economy to the global market, all in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘development’. These poorer countries are not allowed to protect or subsidize their fledgling industries which inevitably collapse when faced with global competition. In an ultimate act of hypocrisy the U.S. heavily subsidizes and protects its own industries, creating an imbalance of power that is overwhelming for nascent industries forced to compete on this uneven playing field.
While the countries’ industries are put out of business and the workers put out of a job, these same IMF and World policies require all social programs to be severely curtailed or eliminated entirely. The small safety net once relied upon by the poorest of the poor, like welfare, food subsidies, free schools or health care, is removed and the people most at risk are shoved into a total free fall, no jobs, no safety net, and no hope.
Countries that were once self-sufficient net food exporters are now forced to scrap the sustainable crops that were providing food for their citizens, to focus instead on growing cash crops for export in order to raise money to pay back their debts. This creates a situation where the farm land is used primarily to produce non-essential crops for Western consumers, leaving the citizens unable to grow their own food and unable to afford the imported food in the stores. As desperation lowers the value of labor, investors flood into the country enticed by the lack of regulation, environmental protections, and investment retainer laws. The social situation in the country grows unstable, capital flows become volatile as the market price for raw materials fluctuates, investors grow uneasy as the situation spirals out of control and the money is quickly and easily pulled out of the country since the IMF forced all protectionist laws to be dismantled. Country after country has followed this pattern and has been left in shambles, the development policies failed, the economy collapsed, and burdened with massive debts to repay.
To add insult to injury these countries are required to repay the money that was loaned to them so they could implement IMF’s failed strategies, often with sky high interest attached. The citizens who were not given a say in whether or not they wanted these changes, suffer the brunt of their failings, and then are crippled with the burden of paying for them. This engineered catastrophe creates a cycle of poverty from which it is hard to escape. The bottom line is that food is always available to those who can afford it. Blaming drought or natural disasters for world hunger while overlooking the poverty created for millions of people by man-made policies allows the inequality and devastation to continue and flourish. To find out more, please watch the video “The Luckiest Nut in the World“:
Countries who could be using their resources to deal with hunger must instead dedicate their energy to paying off their debt. Take this quote from Susan George from “A Fate Worse than Debt”
“Debt is an efficient tool. It ensures access to other peoples’ raw materials and infrastructure on the cheapest possible terms. Dozens of countries must compete for shrinking export markets and can export only a limited range of products because of Northern protectionism and their lack of cash to invest in diversification. Market saturation ensues, reducing exporters’ income to a bare minimum while the North enjoys huge savings. The IMF cannot seem to understand that investing in … [a] healthy, well-fed, literate population … is the most intelligent economic choice a country can make.”
To further understand the connection between our global economic system and poverty induced hunger I contacted my good friend Rosanna Barbero. Rosanna has spent the past two decades traveling the world as a development worker, feminist activist, and gender specialist with Oxfam. She was the founder/director of Womyn’s Agenda for Change in Cambodia and pioneered the Gender and Trade Mekong Network, and supported the establishment of the Women’s Network for Unity, a sex worker Union in Cambodia and one of the biggest grass-roots sex worker networks in the world. She has been a committee member for World Social Forums, the world’s largest anti-globalisation network, as well as an advocate against the IMF, WB and WTO, and a member of the Jubilee South Network.
Burge: How have globalization and ‘free’-market capitalism led to such growing inequality and poverty in the world?
Barbero: ‘Free’-market in the global economy simply means that multi-national corporations are free to go where they want and do whatever they want with no checks, accountability or regard for sovereign nations. The fundamentals of neo-liberal economics are privatization, de-regulation and liberalization. It removes all protectionism for nation states and pits them against the machinery of multi-nationals, local capitalism can not compete with the power and resources of these companies that are worth more than some economies of the nations of the global south. So, in short, with no hope or chance to develop, grow, or create the conditions that allows people to improve their life and livelihoods, nations become poorer as they sell off their natural resources and their service industry, and their people become impoverished and debt ridden like their nation, as they pay more for the essentials to sustain life.
Burge: In the communities that you have worked with how have these ‘free’-market policies influenced democracy? They claim to promote democracy, yet citizens do not get to vote on whether they want to enact these IMF/World Bank policies.
Barbero: Countries that I have worked in are poor and need loans, in order to be eligible for loans they are forced to develop what is called the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), standard World Bank and International Monetary Fund “poverty reduction”, which is exactly the blue print of the discredited structural adjustment, a proven failure. The policy matrix of the PRSPs lists the reforms a country has to implement prior to receiving a loan. As part of these reforms and restructuring, it includes selling state owned enterprise, removing or reducing tariffs, tax breaks for foreign companies, reducing public services, privatizing educations (selling) and running health for profit and not for the welfare and well being of a population. This is to satisfy the Bretton-Woods institutions, which also monitor the progress of this process, and governments become accountable to the undemocratic, unelected WB and IMF and not to their people.
Burge: Can you describe how poverty and chronic hunger leads to the
disintegration of a community and creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to change?
Barbero: A simple example is when a country like Cambodia, which had food security because most of its people lived off the land and grew enough variety to eat. In the case of a natural disaster they could withstand the period of loss of staple food by fishing and foraging for forest foods. Under the free market dogma, small farm holding gives way to large cash crop production, such as cashews, as an example. Farmers then compete for scarce land, they are sold new seed varieties, then fertilizer, pesticides, diesel, pumps, etc and go into debt. If the rice price of the food falls, they fall with it because they can not sell their crop, feed their family and pay back their debt. If there is a natural disaster they can not withstand it because of the debts. Or if there is an illness, they cannot cope because health care has been privatized and they can no longer afford it. It does not take long for a family to go into so much debt that they have to send a daughter or a son to find work in the city or neighboring countries. A girl child can often fall prey to predators that are looking for young women for the brothels. Given little choice and the dire need at home a girl child may agree to an unfavorable situation. The father and mother sell their labor seasonally to the plantation owners, and communities and families disintegrate. Young children are raised by old grandparents and generations are missing.
Burge: What do you say to those who claim that globalization has lifted
people out of poverty and improved the lives of the poor?
Barbero: Where? For those that have been lifted out of poverty there are countless more that have entered poverty. Globalization has been good and beneficial for the capitalist and their compliant corrupt cronies.
Burge: Why do you think so many people in developed nations continue to believe that ‘free’-market capitalism and globalization is a good thing?
Barbero: Because the propaganda touts the free market as the answer to all. The word free confuses people and people think it must be good because freedom is a good thing.
Burge: The IMF and World have admitted that the structural adjustment of the past decades were largely misguided mistakes. Do you think their new individualistic approach will be an improvement?
Barbero: There is no new individualistic approach. They are still using structural adjustment. It is the same policy matrix they have just given it a new name. Yet another trick, my dearest, to confuse everyone; look closely, it’s the same structural adjustment program.
Burge: Thank you Rosanna for talking with Conducive Chronicle.
The problem of world hunger is complex and multilayered and while there are other causes of poverty and hunger, failed economic policies predominate, and are entirely man-made and therefore preventable.
Dinner tonight was a meal inspired by the cuisine of Southern India; a dish of lentils and rice, with a sauteed onion, bell pepper, and one chopped tomato. The bit of cilantro and pinch of turmeric I added brightened everything up and added a nice touch. As hungry as I had been throughout the day I assumed I would tear through my entire portion, but halfway through I felt full. I struggled to finish the meal, knowing that my body needed the calories and the nourishment, and I didn’t want to be hungry in a few hours when I go to bed.
It is only day two and I already find that I am handling food differently. Whether it is chopping a carrot, or measuring out my portion of rice, I have noticed a certain quiet reverence seeping into my mind. I look at the food and think this is what sustains me, this is what keeps me alive. I am remembering all the times in my life when I wasted food and I cringe. The total calorie count for tonight’s dinner was a little over 1,000, less than half the amount of what I am recommended to eat in a day.
|Food Name||Amount||Calories||Fat (g)||Carbs (g)||Prot (g)|
|Olive Oil||2 Tbsp||239||27||0||0|
Total Calories: 1,081
Total Fat: 42.8
Total Carbohydrates: 147.5
Total Protein: 29.4
To support the organizations I write about in this series, purchase a World Hunger: Be the Solution Tee. Proceeds from the shirt will go to the Small Planet Institute Fund and the International Fund for Africa. All tees are sweat free and available in organic cotton. To see the selection of World Hunger tees at Conducive’s Humanitarian & Human Rights Tee store, click here
Natasha’s World Hunger Journey
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 1
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 3
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 4
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 5
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 6
7 Days for World Hunger: Day 7
To follow Kenda Swartz Pepper’s World Hunger series from the beginning, you can click the links below:
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 1
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 2
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 3
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 4
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 5
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 6
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 7
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 8
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 9
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 10
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 11
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 13
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 14
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 15
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 16
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 17
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 18
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 19
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 20
21 Days for World Hunger: Day 21
Solutions for World Hunger: Part I
Solutions for World Hunger: Part II
Sustainable giving programs dedicated to providing solutions that help eliminate poverty and world hunger.
Further reading on this topic:
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
Globalization and its Discontents by Saskia Sassen
The New Rulers of the World by John Pilger
Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey