Tim Louis: Rethinking world hunger with help from the Nobel Prize–winning UN World Food Programme

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      As you know, my partner, Penny, and I are big fans of Democracy Now! It’s a daily global news hour with Juan González and Amy Goodman, who, once again, opened our eyes to a hugely important issue.

      Their recent show, "Food is the Pathway to Peace", featured the UN’s World Food Programme—the largest humanitarian organisation in the world that deals with hunger and food security. It was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for “its efforts to combat hunger” and its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict areas and helping prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war. In fact, two-thirds of the WFP’s work takes place in conflict zones.

      However, the story goes much deeper, and that evening I got a real education about the root causes of hunger in the underdeveloped world.

      This is not to say there isn’t extreme and serious hunger in the developed world, including right here in Vancouver, but most of us are aware of the causes of it—insufficient income due to the lack of a universal basic income; a minimum wage and other income supports that are far too low; and all the other manifestations of income inequality we see right in our own backyards.

      Before I get to what I learned about the root causes of hunger elsewhere in the world, let me tell you how moved I was by David Beasley, former governor of South Carolina and the current executive director of the World Food Programme. He used the opportunity of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the WFP to deliver a powerful speech urging wealthy nations to prevent famine and millions of deaths.

      Analyses show that with the climate emergency and the pandemic factored in, the world is headed for a famine that could kill hundreds of millions of people. As Beasley put it, “270 million people are marching toward starvation.”

      In 2019, three million children died of malnutrition and hunger, twice as many children as died in total from the pandemic so far. Every night, 690 million people go to bed hungry.

      Beasley explained how often he is told by friends and associates how lucky he is to have a job where every day he gets to save the lives of so many people, particularly children. But he explained that, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

      Every night when he goes to sleep he wrestles with the decisions he made earlier that day when forced to choose which children would die because the World Food Programme does not have enough resources to feed everyone in desperate need.

      So what are the root causes of all this terrible hunger?

      We don’t have room here to outline them all, but one of the main ones is that foreign corporations and other nations take control of farmland that historically has been used to feed local populations.

      The tragedy is that these corporations use it to produce export crops that we in the West devour, such as coffee, tea, bananas, palm oil and luxury crops.

      Believe it or not, every year the world as a whole produces 50 percent more calories than are needed to feed every last person on Earth. In Africa, for instance, every year the continent produces more calories than are needed to feed its entire population, but much of this food is exported to us in the West.

      Here are a few more eye-opening facts I learned:

      • The worth of wealth in the world today is US$400 trillion! Unbelievably, this already mind-bogglingly large figure grew in only 90 days during the height of the pandemic by US$2.7 trillion!
      • Ten billionaires—including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who saw his wealth more than double—have so far reaped $400 billion during the pandemic.
      • The value of the entire world food system is just over US$5 trillion.
      • The World Food Programme needs only US$5 billion order to save 30 million lives.

      I was so glad the World Food Programme was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize back in September as it heightens the profile of this very important agency and makes people more aware of the critical work it does.

      Yes, you can make a direct donation to the WFP to further its good work, but it’s more urgent and effective to take direct political action. Write your local MP and urge her or him to support a federal policy that will prevent Canadian-owned corporations from expropriating land in underdeveloped nations to produce exports and luxury goods for us.

      In the meantime, it’s easy to choose to buy products like bananas, cocoa, coffee, and more that have the distinctive blue and green Fairtrade markFairtrade International and Fairtrade Canada work with small-scale local farmers and workers around the world so they are less marginalized by global trade, and so they get fair prices and fair living wages for their products.

      I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than by taking action to help alleviate the terrible hunger that surrounds us. Penny and I hope that 2021 is better for us all in all ways.

      Daily atmospheric CO2 [Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (Dec. 31, 2020): 415.15 ppm

      One year ago (Dec. 31, 2019): 413.2 ppm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blog, which lists the daily carbon dioxide count in parts per million in the atmosphere at the end of every post. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.