advent week four day two

 

The cries of the poor and hungry are never far from any of the authors of the Bible. Compassion runs through the Biblical narrative from beginning to end. In the next to last chapter of the last book of the Bible we read:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There shall

be an end to death, to mourning, to crying and pain’

(Revelation 21: 4).

And God’s care is celebrated in the

Psalms:

He has satisfied the thirsty and has filled the

hungry with good things’ Psalm 107:9



 

 

Advent 2009 – A World In Waiting

Week Four – Labor, Life, Love

Day Two – World Hunger

 

The cries of the poor and hungry are never far from any of the authors of the Bible. Compassion runs through the Biblical narrative from beginning to end. In the next to last chapter of the last book of the Bible we read:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There shall

be an end to death, to mourning, to crying and pain’

(Revelation 21: 4).

And God’s care is celebrated in the

Psalms:

He has satisfied the thirsty and has filled the

hungry with good things’ Psalm 107:9

 

Yet one in six people in the world today – over 1 billion people – are suffering from chronic hunger now, this Advent, this Christmas. That is an increase of 200 million people in the last two years. That sort of hunger is not about a desire to eat more. It’s about a lack of nutritional food. And the effects are all too obvious. Malnutrition saps the ability to fight off infections and diseases, with the result that even the most common illnesses can be fatal, especially to malnourished children. According to the UN World Food Programme, hunger (undernourishment) and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide. More than 9 million people every year die of hunger, malnutrition, and related diseases every year – most of them in Africa and most of them children. In Africa, more people die of hunger than from AIDS and malaria combined. ‘Is there a food shortage in the world?’ The UN World Food Programme’s answer is no: ‘There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life’.

 

So why are a billion people suffering from chronic hunger? The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation has looked at the countries where the problem is greatest and classified them according to which of three broad factors is most significant. In six countries, including Zimbabwe and Somalia it is attributed to ‘exceptional shortfall in aggregate food production supplies’; in another six countries it is put down to ‘widespread lack of access’ and in nineteen countries it is seen as due to ‘severe localized food insecurity’. To try to address these immediate needs, the World Food Programme assisted 100 million people in 2008. That leaves 900 million more!

 

Nor is hunger the only problem with world food. There are also concerns about affordability in the prices of food, concerns about security in terms of access to food and concerns about sustainability in methods used for the production of food. Food prices rose steeply in 2007 and the following year, so dramatically that riots broke out across the developing world. Although the steep rise in 2008 was followed by a somewhat less steep decline, by early 2009 world food prices were still 75% above what they were at the beginning of the decade. Even in the UK, food prices rose 11.3% between 2008-2009. As for food security, one of the most controversial trends in recent years is about foreign investors and even governments buying up huge areas of agricultural land in the less developed countries. Since 2004, over 2½ million hectares of land have been allocated this way. And this figure excludes smaller allocations (of less then 1,000 hectares) as well as transfers of all sizes for which there is insufficient documentation.

 

The contracts are sometimes vague, simple, based on an inadequate assessment of costs and benefits, and lacking in compliance measures. Even where a deal may bring gains to a developing country it does not necessarily help local people.

 

All this has put the food question high on the international agenda and triggered a much-needed burst of activity. In April 2008, the UN established a High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis and a month later the World Bank Group set up the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) to provide immediate relief to countries hard hit by high food prices.

 

And sustainability? By 2050 the world’s population is likely to rise to 9 billion. And it’s not just about more mouths to feed. As the developing countries become more prosperous, their people’s eating habits will change – not always for the better. There, too, unhealthy eating habits are already leading to an increase in illnesses such as diabetes. And, there too, the demand for more meat may mean that more sheep and cattle will have to be raised with more land being set aside for the production of animal feed – and more releasing of methane gas by livestock into the atmosphere.

 

We must all change. Perhaps the experience of so many people in rich countries, like the US and the UK, having to queue up at soup kitchens and food banks, as well as steeper costs even for bread, fruit and vegetables may serve as a wake-up call.

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