The preventable tragedy of modern global hunger
Richard Parncutt 

August 2013
Richard Parrncutt ICMPC 2012

Thousands of innocent people are dying unnecessarily. They are doing so as I write this text, and as you read it. Today, yesterday, tomorrow, and every day. We, the comfortable residents of industrialised countries, act as if it has nothing to do with us. Yet we are directly involved. We cannot plausibly claim to be innocent.

Today, one billion people in developing countries, who are mainly black (or not of European origin), are at risk of death by hunger and preventable disease. The people whose lives are currently threatened by hunger live many countries on three continents, e.g. Somalia, Zambia, Mali, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, North Korea.

It seems obvious to me that this tragedy is racist. If the people affected were of European origin, we would presumably have prevented this continuing disaster long ago, and we would be more prepared to prevent it now. We ensure that all (white) children in cars are seated in special seats that reduce the probability of dying in an accident to a tiny fraction of one percent, but at the same time we tolerate a world in which hundreds of millions of (black) children will die in their first five years with a probability of 10 to 50%.

The tragedy of global hunger and disease is also preventable: we have had the resources to prevent it for decades. We merely need to take its main cause and the main solution seriously. 

An emerging new cause of the tragedy of hunger in coming decades is climate change, which for example will affect fresh water supplies and reduce the area of arable land for agriculture in warmer countries. There is a lot of talk about climate change, but counterstrategies are being implemented so slowly that catastrophe is inevitable.

Beyond that, the tragedy of modern hunger also has many complex historical and economic causes (conflict, unfair trade, AIDS and so on). The main solution is international aid of all kinds, which could sustainably reduce poverty if rich countries gave 0.7% of their gross national product, as all have repeatedly promised. But the average rich country is currently giving only about half that amount – just enough to maintain poverty at current levels (more). 

In the longer term, the main solution is education. Children in developing countries need the regular school subjects: languages, mathematics, science, history and so on. In addition, every child in every school in every country should learn about the religions of the world, their common moral code, the main problems currently facing the world, and how they could be solved. 

We are all guilty, because we are in a position to prevent the tragedy of global hunger, and for the most part are not doing so. Few citizens consider climate change and international aid when voting in elections. When politicians fail to address these points, it is mainly because their voters are not interested.

The uniqueness of the Holocaust

It is tempting, but wrong, to compare today's hunger tragedy with the Nazi Holocaust or Shoah. The Holocaust was the worst crime ever committed. Its special status is based on several aspects: its scale (the sheer rnumber of people killed), its premeditated nature (the intention was clear long before the systematic killing began, and the process was carefully planned), the racist theory that motivated it, and the ruthless industrialisation of the killing process. For this reason, nothing can be compared with the Holocaust without trivialising it. 

Today, as we acknowledge the reality and uniqueness of the Holocaust, we must also respect the human rights of those one billion people who are living in poverty right now and whose lives may at any time be cut short by hunger, preventable disease, or curable disease. While I sympathize with the views expressed in here and here, the word "holocaust" should be reserved for the Nazi Holocaust.

There are big differences between the Holocaust and today's hunger tragedy. Hunger is not about killing people. Instead, we are allowing them to die. Today, in the rich (“postindustrial”) countries, it is easier for us to prevent or limit the tragedy of hunger than it was for Germans and others during World War Two to prevent or limit the Holocaust. Today, our attention in industrialized countries is not diverted by the crisis of war at home, so we don't have that excuse. Today, we are well informed about all details of global hunger, if we bother to seek them out (an internet search takes a few seconds). The number of lives that are at risk from hunger today is about about 100 times greater than in the Holocaust. The death toll exceeds that of the Holocaust every year, year after year; but the deaths are spread over a bigger geographical area (in some fifty developing countries). That does not make today's hunger worse than the Holocaust, but it does underline the enormity and urgency of the situation.

Why compare, when comparison is so problematic? I want to limit and eventually prevent the tragedy of hunger - not merely talk about it. I want people to wake up and realize what is going on. I want action. If it is necessary to shock people to achieve that goal, so be it. The right to life of millions of people is more important than the right of people in rich countries not to be shocked. 

We are right to accuse those millions of Germans and others who contributed to, or failed to resist, the murder of millions of Jews and others during World War Two. We are right to accuse the allies of failing to bomb the train lines to Ausschwitz. We are right to accuse the Catholic Church for not having done enough. We are right to prosecute those who today like to pretend that the Holocaust never happened. 

But what about us, today? Today, it seems we still have our heads in the sand. It is time to learn from the mistakes of World War Two. It is not enough to merely write "never again" on the walls. The evil of the Nazis had no genetic basis. Both the Nazis and the people they killed belonged to one and the same "race". But homo sapiens sapiens is not always wise wise, it seems. The Holocaust taught us that any cultural group can commit horrendous crimes. It follows that we must always be alert for signs of developing new disasters right here and now, in our midst. We must be careful not to contribute to new disasters. We must take action to prevent tragedies, especially if those tragedies are happening right now. 

We will be judged by the historians of the future. The way things are going, they will not be very kind to us.

So whose fault is it?

Most of us are guilty of the crime of failing to prevent or limit the tragedy of global hunger, if only because we have enjoyed a high standard of living and education but never taken action of any kind against hunger or its companions disease, poverty, unfair trade, tax evasion and so on. But some are more guilty than others. The most guilty are those with the greatest means to slow, and hence collectively prevent, this tragedy, without significant risk to their own quality of life. The most guilty are also those who are indirectly encouraging this crime by general distortion of the truth. Altogether, these people fall into five categories: the rich, the readers and writers, the rockers and royals, the religious radicals, the repudiators, and the racists. 

The rich: All those with much more money than they need to live happily and comfortably, especially the billionaires, of which there are over one thousand in the world. If Bill Gates can do something, so can the others.

The readers and writers: Those with the best education and highest degree of freedom of speech, especially those thousands of university professors with tenure in all academic disciplines (including the author of this text). Most university teachers and researchers are free to support or launch projects to make the world a better place, working in their spare time. They also have (or should have!) better than average communication skills and opportunities to network with influential people. more

The rockers and royals: Anyone whose private life is being reported in detail in gossip magazines. Famous musicians and actors, and members of royal families, are right to be offended by such blatant invasion of privacy. But gossip magazines also represent a golden opportunity. "Stars" can easily influence public opinion simply by making the occasional public statement. Millions will listen. If the "stars" understand this opportunity and miss it, something is wrong.

The religious radicals: Extremists and fundamentalists of all kinds, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever. Modern hypocrites (to borrow Jesus' term) are training innocent children (citizens of the future) to believe rather than to think, and to obey rather than to take responsibility. They are clouding global political discourse with a constant shower of truth distortion.

The repudiators: Deniers and denialists. They have a nasty habit of rejecting expert advice or judgment and pretending to know better themselves. They have been known to deny the relationship between smoking and cancer, or between HIV and AIDS. Others deny the theory of evolution, or the historical fact of the Holocaust. Some deny that international aid can alleviate poverty, believing that all the money will be lost by administration, middlemen and  corruption. In the past decade or two, climate deniers have been vigorously slowing progress toward a solution of the global climate crisis. If basic mainstream climate science is correct, which it surely is, climate denialism will have catastrophic consequences in the future.

The racists: Populist political parties whose main message is one of hate and greed. Far-right political parties whose supporters are convinced they are victims of other groups (or of all “foreigners”). Groups that treat Others as fundamentally inferior or as scapegoats.

Even worse are those people who simultaneously belong to more than one of these categories. For example, the American Tea Party movement has been campaigning relentlessly to destroy Barack Obama, the first black US president (and surely one of the best, even considering the problematic decisions that every president makes). Every time pragmatic altruists such as Obama make progress toward solving a major problem in the interest of millions of people (e.g. health care in the US), people calling themselves “conservatives” rise up to prevent progress. 

I guess there is no God, after all. But if there was one, we would meet Her on the Day of Judgment. She would identify members of all the above categories who had no made a significant personal contribution to a solution of these problems. She would not be amused.

Most of the above categories are dominated by white men aged 40-80

The author of this text is a white man aged 40-80. I respectfully ask other white men aged 40-80 reading this text, who are honest and responsible enough and sufficiently free from delusion to understand my main point, to wake up and get active. Stick your neck out in those areas in which you have influence. Exemplify that stereotypically male attribute of COURAGE. Risk losing old friends and gaining new ones. Focus on the big issues and work for fundamental change in the interest of all people with whom you have contact, which in our increasingly globalized world is everyone - all seven billion of us (approaching ten billion by the end of the 21st century). Give your life new meaning beyond the usual material, social and family comforts. Aspire to emulate the wisdom, impartiality and influence of the best tribal elders of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That is what we older men are supposed to be like - but we are also entirely free to choose the attitudes and behaviors that we will  present to other people. 

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