End indifference

  • November 20, 2009
{mosimage}In the time it takes to read this sentence, somewhere on the planet a child will die of starvation. That’s one dead child every five seconds, six million children this year, out of one billion undernourished people in the world, according to statistics from the United Nations.

Those are the eye-popping numbers rolled out at the opening of a three-day world food summit in Rome. Organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , the summit was convened to study how to replace inadequate and inefficient aid programs with well-funded initiatives to make poor nations self-sufficient in food.

Politicians and bureaucrats addressed a host of political, financial and technical issues but, although they announced a vague strategy to increase aid, fell well short of the FAO’s objective of raising $44-billion annually to eliminate world hunger in 15 years. The tepid result caused some aid agencies to brand the summit a waste of time.

Measured in terms of pure dollars, the critics are correct. The summit accomplished little. But the real failure of this type of symposium is that it advances a belief that world hunger can be alleviated solely by persuading nations to spend huge amounts of money. Investment is vital, of course, to provide equipment, irrigation systems, technology, fertilizer and so on, but cash alone will not solve a problem nurtured as much by man as by nature.

Addressing the summit, Pope Benedict XVI attacked the issue from a spiritual perspective, denouncing a 21st-century ethos of greed, exploitation and waste. Droughts, global warming, population growth, wars and world recession have undeniably contributed to the spread of world hunger. But Benedict said the fundamental issue is not one of too little food. Even in these difficult times, the planet can “sufficiently feed all its inhabitants,” he said. The root problem is a diminishing respect for the fundamental value of right to life. 

“Acknowledgment of the transcendental worth of every man and every woman is still the first step towards the conversion of heart that underpins the commitment to eradicate deprivation, hunger and poverty in all their forms,” Benedict said.

World hunger will only be eliminated when paying lip service to poverty is replaced by a society that genuinely affirms the dignity and right to exist of all men, women and children. Currently, as Benedict pointed out, instead of affirmation for all life, society is selective. Its actions often suggest acceptance of a Darwinian socio-political order where some nations will be inherently poor and others rich, where some people will eat and others starve. The Pope called this phenomena “resigned regret, if not downright indifference.”

The world has witnessed “downright indifference” become embodied in the greed, neglect, exploitation and waste that will contribute this year to millions of deaths from hunger. Replacing that indifference with respect for the sanctity of all life is the key that will unlock the vaults to feed the world.

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