Hunger is a serious problem in this world, much more serious than most of us realize. How serious, do you ask? More than one billion people go hungry every day. That is more people than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union combined.
Food has never before existed in such abundance, yet one in seven people on this earth are going hungry.
Most of us realize at a certain level the wealth in this world is unequally distributed. However, because of the magnitude of the problem, it is difficult to grasp the pandemic that food-related diseases are today, whether it is because of a surplus of food or a lack of it. According to the World Health Organization, there are 1.1 billion overweight people in the world right now, with the same number of people undernourished. The amount of money spent daily in the United States on obesity-related diseases and weight loss programs is 10 times the amount of money it would cost to feed the hungry people in the world today.
Access to food and other resources is not a matter of availability. Rather, it’s connected with one’s ability to pay. This leads to a situation where one section of the world population (those with the most money) has an excess of resources while at the same time another section (those with little to no money) goes hungry. Indeed, globally the richest 20 percent of humanity controls around 85 percent of all wealth, while the poorest 20 percent control only 1.5 percent.
In understanding poverty and how it relates to hunger, it is important to illustrate that food in this world is treated as a commodity. This means those who get food are the ones who can afford to pay for it. People who don’t have enough money to buy food (think about the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day) don’t count in the food equation. No one is going to grow food for you when you don’t have the money to buy it. You don’t expect The Gap or
Adidas to manufacture clothes and sneakers for those people earning less than $1 per day.
What can be done to solve this horrendous problem? Anyone who wants to address the issue of world hunger needs to look at world poverty. The important thing to realize in helping the poor is that we Westerners cannot solve their poverty for them. Only the poor can liberate themselves: genuine freedom can only be won for people by themselves. We can, however, aid the poor by giving them tools: knowledge, resources and policies that would support them in releasing themselves from bondage.
Going against popular belief that more aid will help the hungry, I argue that our primary responsibility is not to simply send more money in the form of foreign aid. Our primary responsibility is to make certain our government’s policies are not making it harder for people to end their hunger. There is certainly a need for foreign aid, yet experience has shown that foreign aid is only as good as the recipient government. Or in other words: Foreign aid only reinforces the status quo. This means aid in and of itself cannot transform anything. On the contrary, it often works against the poor by reinforcing the very dynamics that work against them.
The issue is not whether we should or should not give something to developing countries, but how to give with minimal negative consequences. One of the problems of foreign aid is the actual money often doesn’t reach the poor, the people who need it the most. When we send money or supplies, our job is to make sure this aid is going to make a long lasting, substantial difference. Breaking the poverty cycle for the poor includes more than providing food. It includes investing in education, infrastructure and social services such as health care.
An immediate step we as citizens can take is to tell our representatives the best use for our money is not supporting the status quo but alleviating the largest economic barriers to true development in third world countries, such as reducing these countries’ foreign debt and supporting education and infrastructure. We should not think or act as though we know better than they or that we can or should tell them what to do simply because we have more money, yet we can support these countries by sharing our resources, knowledge and time to help them support their poor.