The Hunger Wars

As you read this, a ceaseless stream of thousands of Somalis, weakened by hunger and drought, is flooding over the border into Kenya. Thousands of children are dying along the way, while the three refugee camps of Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley lack enough food and water to alleviate the suffering of almost half a million people. The United Nations can’t fund an emergency intervention because the international community is not responding quickly or effectively enough.

Climate change, caused primarily by industrialized countries and disastrous deforestation, is striking this part of the African continent with relentless violence. I ask myself if this is not a just cause to mobilize Europe on a peace mission. For months, the crimes of the petty despot Gheddafi have been met with expensive bombing missions whose end result is still unclear. Armies are “keeping the peace” in various parts of the world in order to guarantee democracy, while all the great powers put together cannot feed a helpless people, resigned to starving to death. As always, the only response to the violence of a vilified Nature comes from the noble world of humanitarian organizations, missionaries, development workers and some UN commissions, who beg for solidarity and crumbs of bread. The Italian saying, the bread of others has seven crusts, is really true.

The impact of climate change on agriculture will be increasingly devastating for sub-Saharan Africa, which already has over 300 million malnourished people out of a population of 800 million. We must give the Kenyans their due; even though they too are suffering from this serious drought, they are still welcoming half a million migrants with great dignity. Refugee camp representatives are using microphones to request that food is shared with the new arrivals. This is the real front that must safeguard our future, our democracy. A front defended not with weapons but with a new army of women and men convinced that starvation can be defeated. Former Italian president Sandro Pertini was no dreamer when he urged us to empty the arsenals and fill the granaries.

Those who demand a halt to the influx of African migrants here in Italy make me laugh. With this policy of indifference towards inhuman living conditions and lack of action when faced with humanitarian emergencies the influx will never slow down. The real question that we have to forcefully ask ourselves and politics is if the right to food is or is not an inalienable right for all of the world’s communities. Because if it is, then we have to work towards an unprecedented mobilization, able to unmask the indolence of governments.

The FAO has talked of $37 billion a year to drastically reduce deaths from hunger. That’s nothing! Meanwhile President Lula’s “Zero Hunger” program has slashed mortality from malnutrition in Brazil. The truth is that our planet has food for everyone. But the dominant food system is profoundly unjust, penalizing the poorest, plundering natural resources and responding to the growing number of hungry by proposing to produce more, ever more. Incentivizing production and waste: That’s the watchword.

Future conflicts will be caused by the grabbing of water resources and fertile land. Never before has the battle to eliminate hunger been so important, more important than all the others. We can only hope that governments can abandon their lethargic response to take swift action to this emergency in the Horn of Africa.

By Carlo Petrini
Slow Food International President

First published in The Repubblica on July 21, 2011.
Translated from Italian by Carla Ranicki

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