(October 23, 2007) The issue of hunger means many things to many people. Most Americans think about starving babies and many even donate to help feed the hungry. This year’s “World Food Day” passed with barely a media mention, yet the world wide deaths attributed to malnutrition remain unimaginable, contributing to millions of child deaths a year and the permanent mental and physical disability of hundreds of millions more. With such an anemic public view of and retarded response to hunger, the biblical reference that ‘hunger will always be with us,” is certainly believable.
But the fact remains that we have everything necessary to end hunger now. Food production and distribution capacity is abundant. There is no shortage of money. For a fraction of what US tax payers spend on the War in Iraq each year, all the world’s children could receive adequate nutrition, clean water, sanitation, immunizations and an education to boot for a decade. The only missing ingredient–the same one documented decades ago by a presidential commission, a National Academy of Sciences study and a prestigious international commission–remains the same today. What’s missing is the “political will.”
But now, the global war on terror might be aiding in the war to end hunger. And it’s not because of any increase in humanitarian passions. It’s directly attributed to our fear of terrorists and our desire to take cost effective measures to prevent terrorism, instead of launching more costly and provocative military missions to pre-empt them.
Soldiers in Iraq are increasingly involved in building schools and health clinics or digging wells to win hearts and minds and gain more reliable assistance in locating improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The expansion of US military missions in Africa is more like a Peace Corps project than a Marine Corps incursion. And now the Navy’s role in combating global terrorism is about to expand by bringing more medical help and construction teams to regions considered possible flash points for anti-Americanism. According to Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, who recently completed maritime strategy plan for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard we will see a “renewed commitment to humanitarian missions.” Walsh’s comments matched those by Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, in a speech Wednesday October 17, 2007 to an international gathering at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Roughead was backed by Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway and Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard. “Preventing wars is as important as winning wars,” Conway said. “We can talk about what you destroy in war, but what is equally important is what you build in peace,” Walsh said. Formerly the Navy tended to cobble together responses to humanitarian disasters — such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 — on an emergency basis. But naval planners now argue that in “the battle of ideas,” humanitarian missions are a good method of counteracting suspicion of the U.S.. Walsh said, “If we wait until a crisis to form relationships, we will be late to the game,”. “Trust cannot be surged.” Future military ‘humanitarian’ missions will undoubtedly involve host governments and nongovernmental relief agencies. Clearly, hunger does not cause terrorism or create terrorists. But clearly, terrorists thrive in the lawless, lethal conditions where hunger also thrives.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto summarizes “for democracy to really succeed and to put an end to extremism, we need to attack its root cause. The solution lies in focusing on the elemental needs that matter most to ordinary people: food, clothing, shelter, jobs and education. Fostering a better level of trust and understanding among the people in the boarder areas and delivering on their key needs, is the key to improving our security situation.”
There are far more compelling national security reasons for ending hunger. Preventing the spread of infectious diseases, reducing the flow of illegal immigrants or the lessening the catastrophic consequences of global warming will require ending the lethal, debilitating and highly motivating aspects of human hunger.
But none of this is really new.
In the end notes of 1980 Presidential Commission on World Hunger it was suggested that efforts to end hunger wouldn’t likely succeed without our recognition that doing so would be vital to ensuring our own peace and prosperity.
It’s unfortunate that most liberal institutions committed to ending hunger have been to fearful of using fear to motivate our political leaders. Some progress has been made in reducing hunger but how different the world would be today if all means were mobilized by those committed to ending hunger.
At this point it would be safe to wager that even the less than inspiring hunger reduction goals for 2015 won’t be met if left to the work of humanitarians. Perhaps there is more to fear than fear itself.