Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Starvation raising its ugly head in human lives and in public governance

 In a piece entitled, “Russian Invasion of Ukraine threatens the global food supply,” which appeared in The Star, April 11, 2022, by Tom James, we read this:

Both Russia and Ukraine are the third and eighth-largest producers of wheat in the world, according to the UN. The Crumbling of these warring export economies could trigger famine, geopolitical stability, and poverty across the globe. That’s why we need an action -plan for cross-border trade of a similar magnitude to the Marshall Plan after the Second World War….The sudden lack of wheat and n fertilizer, on which the world relies, will not be confined to Europe and Russia. Many countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East will remain vulnerable to food shortages. Up to 90 percent of Lebanon’s wheat and cooking oil comes from Ukraine and Russia, which has already triggered a food price inflation of 1000 percent. Similarly, African countries import approximately $4 billion of agricultural products from Russia in 2020, and Ukraine was Indonesia’s second-largest importer of wheat. This is just a snapshot of the world’s food system; one that is slowly grinding to as halt in front of our eyes.

 James’ words are both chilling and motivating. They focus the mind, the body and the spirit on a world seemingly beating its chest (at least in the west) for the ‘unity’ among EU and NATO members in support of Ukraine. Meanwhile, India, China, Iran, and a host of other countries have either abstained from or opposed votes in the Security Council condemning Russia and Putin for this massacre. There is such an obvious lag between the time when world powers/leaders learn highly significant information that demands timely and proportional response and their response time. We have watched this drama play out on cigarettes, on acid rain, on mileage requirements in autos produced in North America, in Ruanda, in Kosovo, and in Syria. We have been in a similar place so often that one has to speculate that the “lag” time, like the “tail wagging the dog” meme is part of the hard wiring of the ‘establishment’ at least in countries that pride themselves in being democratic, free, and observant of something called world order.

Sadly, too, we are watching a lagging approach to address the daily requirements of Ukraine for weapons, weapons, weapons, (to quote their Foreign Minister). And it is not only a lag in time, but also in the seriousness of the commitment. Only yesterday, we learned that Slovakia is considering sending MIG’s to Ukraine, after weeks of diplomatic dancing around the fine print of the NATO charter.

The apocalyptic cries of the scientific community decades ago, warning about the dangers of increased CO2 into the atmosphere, may have, in part, inured political leaders to the apocalyptic itself. And yet, such inuring is a deeply embedded theme of western and Christian culture and theology. Judgement Day has been ‘coming soon’ for some two thousand years. The Messiah’s return has been on the radar of many religious folk for a very long time. And that signal on their radar has been part of the consciousness and the unconsciousness of western people forever.

Many of these pieces have listed the combined and converging impact of several existential crises, long before the war in Ukraine erupted. And while there have been peripheral steps on the environment file, in several western countries, the full commitment of those same countries to providing financial resources to developing countries so that they can, too, develop strategies to cope with global warming and climate change, remains unfulfilled. So too, the commitments to the Paris Accord, promises made, hang in the wind as promises unkept. That is why children in Europe have launched a law suit to put teeth into those commitments, and make countries follow through.

Political rhetoric, however, is full of both platitudes and good intentions, paving, as the proverb notes, the road to hell….while pumping up the self-inflation of the speakers’ political image before the voters. Perhaps that’s why, every day we listen to Biden, on whatever file, he is uttering two words, “No Joke!” as if to say that he anticipates his audience will consider his words bafflegab, and not take them seriously.

As for anything akin to the Marshall Plan, an American initiative, heroic and epic at the same time, the world will remain sceptical until we see the measures needed to implement a trading package in futures, for example, as James recommends. Starving people are not silent and compliant. On, we find a piece by Madeleine Keck, on April 7, 2022, entitled, “Sir Lanka Faces Acute Food shortages and Starvation Amid Economic Crisis,’ subtitled, ‘Mass protests have erupted across the country’. Her opening paragraph is startling, and should be a kind of canary in the coalmine for all of us:

Sri Lanka’s political turmoil and economic crisis have brought about a catastrophic food shortage, with the nation’s 21 million residents now forced to pay triple for basics like rice, sugar, lentils and milk powder. The price of milk powder, the Indian Express noted, jumped by close to 1000 Sri Lankan rupees in days, about 500 rupees….The 2021 Global Hunger Index ranked Sri Lanka 65th out of 116 ,countries…

The Guardian, April 6, 2022, in a piece by Hannah Ellis-Petersen,, South Asia correspondent, headlines the piece: ‘Sri Lanka facing imminent threat of starvation, senior politician warns’. The speaker of the parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, quotes by Ellis-Petersen, says, ”The food, gas and electricity shortages will get worse. There will be very acute food shortages and starvation,’ (he) told the legislature.

In the April 7, 2022 edition of The Humanitarian, Danielle Renwick writes a piece entitled:” ‘No one has been spared’; The Climate Crisis and the future of food”. In it we read this:

Climate change threatens our food systems as we know them. Some 821 million people currently suffer from malnutrition worldwide, including 151 million children under five, whose growth is stunted. A warming planet will put even more people at risk of hunger in the years to come, according to a recent  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In some place it already is….West Africa is suffering its worst food crisis in a decade, with some 27 million people going hungry due to droughts, conflicts, and the economic fallout of the pandemic, according to Oxfam International. Severe drought combined with other factors, also puts 28 million people in East Africa at risk of severe hunger, the aid group says. But inflation and rising prices are also seeing new hunger hotposts emerge, from Peru to Sri Lanka to Lebanon. And the impacts of the war in Ukraine are leading to urgent calls to address ‘a new layer of global food crisis’.

The word crisis is among the most visible in our vernacular…the crisis of the war, of the pandemic, of the climate change and global warming, and of the starvation of millions. Underlying all of these is the issue of how the people of the world are/will/will not manage the economic implications of the maelstrom of these combined forces.

The number of agencies, philanthropics, individuals, that are diligently trying to meet tidal waves of need around the world, perhaps given enhanced focus in Ukraine and the deplorable utterances from Putin about his intent to continue to dominate, devastate and wipe out Ukraine, in order to take it over, make the question of where and how and how much to donate in a world seemingly drowning in desperation, exasperating, if not paralysis.

As far back as October 31, 2021, Global News reported: Food Banks Canada’s HungerCount2021 report show that visits to food banks climbed 20 percent nationally since the arrival of COVID-19, with one-in-four locations experiencing a 50 percent increase in demand.

We are all reckoning with substantial hikes in food, gasoline and housing costs. And the plight of those on the edge of survival continues to tug at the heart strings of people like us in the developed world, considered ‘privileged’ by those who are starving, living under bridges, in refrigerator carboard boxes or pushing their grocery cart along town and city streets looking for scraps, for clothing, shoes or even rugs for warmth.

 Compromising on the requirements to meet the global warming/climate change crisis, in order to provide fossil fuels in the face of the Ukraine war, is only one among many compromises that we will have to make if millions are not going to starve. Similarly, compromising on the budgeted amounts for long-term goals in favour of those needs considered immediate is another of the shifts we are all going to have to make. Shifting from butter to margarine, in that context, seems almost invisible and unworthy of note.

What rides above all of this talk of crisis, however, are two things:

1)    There is not a single person on the planet who is or will be exempt from these converging crises

2)    There is no existing or even a hint/prospect of a wide and deep international consensus, nor vision, nor strategy to move toward anything that might resemble a Marshall Plan…for food sustainability, for toxic emissions, for geo-political resolution of conflict, or for global vaccination distribution

The various excuses, rationalizations, legalese and bureaucratese and thumb-twisting, as well as body and policy squirming among those in governance especially, indicates there are more clouds at that level than solutions. The non-profits, the work of citizens, as history has shown, far outpaces that of government.  And it may well be that we will have to lean on that sector, along with the private sector to seek and to find solutions to our multiple crises.

Governments, increasingly, have some steep, rocky and precipitous climbs out of the morass of internecine warfare and sabotage, within and between competing nations. Starting with Zelenskyy’s pleas to the United Nations, either act or reform yourself! Russia does not only not belong on the Human Rights Council; she does not belong in the Security Council. However, even saying that, everyone knows that China will veto any move to remove Russia from that body. Just yesterday, we read that China had transported a quasi-secret supply of weapons to Serbia, an ally of Russia, to a country that only recently elected a right-wing leader.

Those of us watching from the sidelines and attempting to make sense out of what is otherwise a series of senseless or even non-moves, continue to be shift between bewilderment and outright despondency over the tardiness, the sponge-spines in many quarters and the deep and seemingly irreparable divides between the right and the left. Paralysis by extremes, both of them pleading for headlines, public attention and high opinion poll numbers, is a sure-fire path to both political oblivion and also to a profound failure to conduct the public’s legitimate business.

The public’s legitimate business, along with millions of human beings,  are both being starved of  warranted and justified nutrition. And the predictable outcome of starvation is, last time I checked, mortality.


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