We all live on the same planet, but there are two different worlds. In one world, food is so plentiful you can choose from hundreds of varieties within a square mile of your home. In the other world, some small children go for days without one thing to eat.
This is what is tragically happening in East Africa as Somalis flee their homeland to escape the severe drought that has descended. Children perish in this desperate search for food. Others are severely malnourished as they arrive in refugee camps. The UN World Food Programme says over 11 million people need food aid. In parts of Somalia famine has been declared.
Brian Gleeson of Catholic Relief Services, one of the aid agencies in East Africa, describes the disintegration of the food supply. He says, “Rains last fall failed completely. And spring rains earlier this year were erratic and weak. As a result, farmers have experienced horrible harvests and pastoralists are seeing their livestock dying off.” And it could get much worse if upcoming harvests fail.
The one world where food is plentiful can rescue the other where food is practically nonexistent. There are some people who take such action every day. It seems, though, that in many cases people are just unaware of the magnitude of global hunger. Obviously, the great physical distance between the two worlds plays its role. But frighteningly, some politicians are unaware too.
Global hunger is so rarely covered in the news, especially the cable TV news, which is mostly about politics or stories about a few famous individuals or scandals. You could watch day after day of these cable shows and never even know there are nearly one billion hungry people in the world.
Even in a country like Afghanistan, which does receive news coverage, that coverage rarely focuses on the hunger and poverty there. This is a crucial detail left out of the discussion on how to win the peace. How can a hungry, malnourished Afghan population develop? If enough people knew of the shortfalls in food aid funding in Afghanistan, as well as the drought now taking place, they would want to help.
After World War II and before the famous Marshall Plan which rebuilt Europe, there were some high-profile humanitarian events like the Friendship Train that mobilized Americans to fight hunger. This was the train which traveled across the U.S. in 1947 collecting food for the hungry in Europe. Public action worked in concert with the government’s response.
At that time Herbert Hoover was the food ambassador who rallied support both here and abroad. The United States’ response to global hunger today would be much better if we had a full-time food ambassador based in the White House. This ambassador would be a new member of the National Security Council working with the public and other governments on how to solve this world hunger crisis. The Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation, as well as the Global Food Security Act, called for this position, but Congress never took action.
Still, there are ways people can get involved. Imagine if every restaurant had a menu option for feeding a “Silent Guest.” People when dining out could actually give a few dollars and feed that silent guest, a hungry child in a developing country. After all, it worked in 1947 when we had the Silent Guest program at Thanksgiving to feed the hungry in World War II-devastated countries.
Just writing a letter to your representative urging them to support food aid is a big step. Congress is planning to cut international food aid, but if enough people would write to their representatives and give their opinion, this could be stopped.
There need not be two worlds. There is enough food for everyone. What is missing is enough will from enough people to take action against the greatest threat to peace there is—hunger.
Article first published as Same Planet, Two Different Worlds on Blogcritics.
See also Hear the pleas of the sick and starving in East Africa.