On Hunger and Capitalism

Against the Current, No. 133, March/April 2008

Dan Jakopovich

“…This type of wretchedness is an abstraction for us white people. Regardless of how much we see it around us, we cannot truly understand what poverty is because we do not suffer from it. At least not as much as the Indian peasant woman I met once in Bolivia. This peasant woman had four bowls of rice and five children. She gave each of her four oldest children a bowl but not one who was sitting in a corner.  I asked her: ‘Why don’t you feed this child?’ She answered: ‘That one is the weakest, the youngest and in any case will be the first to die. I do not have enough food for all five so I have to choose, and I will not feed the one who will die first.’” — Participant at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference, London, 1967

ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, approximately 35,000 of our brothers and sisters died from what is perhaps the worst possible cause of death — starvation. A decade after the 1996 World Food Summit set the goal of cutting the rate of hunger in the world by half, today approximately 854 million people are still starving, which is a great increase in comparison to the 842 million in the year 2000 (Food and Agriculture Organization, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006).

The Nobel prize-winning Amartya Sen, as one of many, stresses that world hunger is not caused by a shortage of food but by unequal distribution (see, for example, Amartya Sen, Why Half the Planet is Hungry, Observer, June 16, 2002). Here are some basic facts on the realities of hunger under capitalism:

* It is estimated that the poor countries pay nine times more to the rich than the assistance that they receive is worth, so for instance poor countries paid 77 billion dollars to rich countries from 1990 to 1997. Largely as a result of this, poor countries focus on the export of products to foreign markets while the domestic population starves — and while the United States and European Union ruthlessly destroy enormous food surpluses in order to protect market prices.

* According to some estimates, 13 billion dollars would be needed annually to eliminate hunger, while the United States spends approximately 600 billion dollars annually on the military.

* The situation is deteriorating the most in sub-Saharan Africa. The life expectancy in Botswana, for example, has dropped to the pre-1950 level — only 39 years. The life expectancy in Swaziland today is below 33 years. (CIA World Factbook)

* Every day, more than 30,000 children die from generally preventable diseases such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, measles or malaria, which are very successfully treated or have been eliminated in the richer countries. The danger is much greater for malnourished children.

* Tens of millions of little girls have been killed in India, China and other countries where economic interests, gender inequality and social backwardness have made murderers out of their parents and relatives. Three million people die of AIDS each year, including children, although anti-retroviral drugs in rich countries have transformed this disease from acute to chronic.

* According to data from the World Health Organization, millions of people are dying every year from lack of drinking water and over a billion people do not have access to clean water. Poor people generally cannot finance the desalinization of the immense seas and oceans. In the meantime, private companies have begun to privatize water, including rainwater.

* According to Anti-Slavery International, there are still approximately 27 million slaves in the world, although some put this figure at as high as 200 million.

* Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has confirmed that the rate of malnutrition among Iraqi children in 2005 had doubled since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq and the victory over Saddam Hussein in 2003. “The silent daily massacre by hunger is a form of murder,” stated Ziegler.

In Iraq over 500,000 children under the age of five had already died in consequence of the sanctions against Iraq prior to the invasion of 2003 (UNICEF), and about 1 million people in total, according to Denis Halliday, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq who resigned in protest.

* Year upon year, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Oorganization states in its report, that approximately 6 million children under five years of age are dying from hunger annually. Meanwhile, Forbes’ annual list of billionaires shows that the 300 richest families in the world possess over 50% of the world’s wealth.

Capitalism continues “to resemble that hideous, pagan idol who would not drink the nectar but from the blood of the slain.“ (Marx)

ATC 133, March-April 2008

1 comment

  1. It is within the machine or the system we can find the problem/challenge. It is humanity that build “the machine and programmed “the system”. It is today founded, unfortunantely on injustice in wich socilist en liberal political mechanisms collaborate hand in hand. 😉

    This is hard to tackle if we continue to accuse “the other”. We need to see we take part in this game. If we continue to be competitors we will not be able to find a common ground, on wich we can build society, democracy and state of law.

    Further reading in a part of an application send to the European Court of Human Rights:


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