2002: A Bad Year for Poor People

The following points illustrate how 2002 was a bad year for poor people in developing countries:

Hunger became widespread in Africa, with people at risk of famine increasing from several million to 50 million people.
AIDS increased its grip on the continent, and threatens to spread rapidly in Asia 1, 2. A large number of people in Africa– those infected and those at risk of being infected– have not changed their behavior sufficiently to reduce the HIV infection rate.
Conflict continued to ravage many countries.
Many– really most– governments in developing countries continued to be controlled by small groups, who benefited themselves at the expense of everyone else in the country.
Developed countries continued their pursuit of self interest, at best ignoring developing countries and at worst– the most typical case– pursuing their self interest at the expense of those countries, which the developed countries justified as helping developing countries. (The cloaking of self interest in assistance rhetoric brought to mind George Orwell’s concept of “double think” [e.g. black is white] in a vivid and concrete way.)
A bright spot in the year appeared to be a large number of international conferences directed toward the problems confronting poor people and indeed the world, such as the World Food Conference, the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in South Africa, and the International Conference on Sustainable Development held in Monterrey, Mexico. The conference outcomes, however, were pretty much a joke, with by and large no or very minimal new funding for initiatives, and many key issues left off the table. Perhaps the most successful was the Monterrey Conference, which did succeed in extracting from the United States a pledge for new development assistance money. The pledge was obscure; however, pledges of money are not actual money, and the Bush administration– (and Congress, the funding branch of the U.S. government) has other objectives, all of which Hunger Notes predicts will sharply reduce the actual cash forthcoming in 2003 and future years, which will have the effect of reducing the power of the pledges made to change the current situation.

Well, what was the good news?

Hunger Notes does not know that there was much good news. Some of the positive aspects of the world we did not really report on in Hunger Notes 2002, such as the significant contribution of private citizens in the United States and elsewhere to NGOs which assist poor people in developing countries. Such assistance in the United States now far outstrips development assistance given through the U.S. government. (The U.S. government, rather than take the step of increasing its assistance to developing countries, wants to redefine official development assistance so as to include the assistance to poor people by ordinary U.S. citizens, which is a step both deceptive and clueless as to the desire of U.S. citizens to help those poorer than themselves). Similarly, and more importantly, in the developing world, poor people are aware of the dysfunctional, self-serving, and oppressive nature of their governments, with their knowledge being a positive force for change.

As we review the articles published in Hunger Notes in 2002, we are struck by only three positive elements: 1) that there is some international response mechanism for issues such as famine and AIDS, 2) that in Mozambique and Sri Lanka (and perhaps other countries) there was a diminution of the conflict that has ravaged these countries, and, 3) (in part by considering Hunger Notes authors and readers) that there is knowledge– not nearly as widespread as it should be– of the issues that need to be resolved in favor of poor people, and people willing to try to understand these issues.

The poorest people of the world do not have a minimally acceptable life in terms of food, health, shelter, and the education of their children, and the actions of human beings and their institutions, considered globally, did not move them toward such a life in 2002.

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  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
    • Educate the general public and target groups about the extent and causes of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the world
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    • Facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions
    • Promote individual and collective commitments to sustainable hunger solutions.