Are we losing the war against the obscenity of hunger?
We, as individuals, also have a great responsibility. In such trying times, the words of Mother Teresa should guide us: " If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one."
As Mahatma Gandhi had said, there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. Hunger is one of mankind's worst enemies and has driven millions of people to desperation; it has also provided the subject-matter for some powerful literature, an outstanding example being the French writer Victor Hugo's classic 'Les Miserables'.
In her article Let Them Eat Bread: The Theft That Helped Inspire 'Les Miserables' which appeared in the 'npr' (National Public Radio) in March 2017, Nina Martyris wrote:
"On a bitterly cold day in February 1846, the French writer Victor Hugo was on his way to work when he saw something that affected him profoundly. A thin young man with a loaf of bread under his arm was being led away by police. Bystanders said he was being arrested for stealing the loaf. He was dressed in mud-spattered clothes, his bare feet thrust into clogs, his ankles wrapped in bloodied rags in lieu of stockings.
"It made me think," wrote Hugo. "The man was no longer a man in my eyes but the spectre of la misère, of poverty." In his novel, Hugo portrays the family's circumstances in these few, short lines: "A very hard winter came. Jean had no work. The family had no bread. No bread literally. Seven children!"
Jean Valjean is sentenced to five years' hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread! He attempted to escape four times, and each time his sentence was lengthened by three years; he also received an extra two years for once resisting recapture during his second escape. After nineteen years in prison, he was released, but by law had to carry a yellow passport that announced that he is an ex-convict, an outcast. Hugo uses that loaf to attack society's criminal indifference to poverty and hunger and to highlight the injustice of the penal system.
'Les Miserables' should have awakened mankind's conscience, but one must ask oneself if it has succeeded in doing that. As former US President Dwight Eisenhower said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed".
As the humanitarian organisation Mercy Corps puts it, "Hunger and malnutrition are the biggest risks to health worldwide - greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Globally, food deprivation still claims a child's life every three seconds and nearly half of all deaths in children under five are attributable to undernutrition". Everyone.org, another charity organisation says "Every hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition. It's an underlying cause of more than a third of children's deaths – 2.6 million every year". There is an urgent need to take action on a war footing against such a situation.
Thus, the announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee on October 9 that the World Food Programme( WFP) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 is indeed most welcome. The award has been given for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.
The World Food Programme(WPF) has indeed been doing God's work by providing food aid through the UN system since 1961. Its website mentions: "Every day too many men and women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, 690 million people still go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Acute food insecurity affected 135 million people in 55 countries in 2019. Even more – one in three – suffer from some form of malnutrition".
Since its establishment, the WFP has responded to natural disasters and conflicts around the world. Currently, it is working in several countries, and it faces its severest challenges in three conflict-torn countries, namely Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
Announcing the Nobel Peace Prize, the Chairperson of the Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen said at a news conference: "The World Food Programme plays a key role in multilateral co-operation in making food security an instrument of peace". She also said that with this year's award, the committee wanted to "turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger".
In 2015 the global community adopted the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development to improve people's lives by 2030. Goal Two is 'Zero Hunger' which pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Achieving this goal is the priority of the WFP; if present trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8 per cent of the global population.
It may be mentioned that India has enjoyed steady economic growth and has achieved self-sufficiency in grain production in recent years. Despite this, high levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition persist. The WFP's website mentions that it has been working in India since 1963, with work transitioning from food distribution to technical assistance since the country achieved self-sufficiency in cereal production. It also says something that should prick our conscience: "India is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide, making the country a key focus for tackling hunger on a global scale. In the last two decades, per capita income more than tripled, yet the minimum dietary intake fell. The gap between rich and poor increased during this period of high economic growth".
Coronavirus has further multiplied the challenges which India faces. In the second week of April 2020 itself, the International Labour Organization (ILO) had said that about 400 million workers from India's informal sector are likely to be pushed deeper into poverty due to Covid-19. There is no doubt that during the past six months, poverty in the country has worsened; so too, has hunger. The Government, as well as many NGO's, are grappling with the colossal problem of feeding millions of impoverished people who have lost even their means of earning a livelihood.
Views expressed are personal