Changing the talk on World Food Day

That deep poverty affects the majority of people in the world is a widely accepted fact. Poverty is essentially about food. It is about hunger and thirst. If the world admits the existence of large-scale poverty it cannot escape the conclusion that a vast number of people also don’t get enough to eat. As these persons very survival is at stake this is not a question that can be resolved at leisure.

Unfortunately, the global discourse on hunger and poverty is full of rhetoric and defects that must be overcome if solutions are to be reached. For instance, the use of statistics to describe food availability and poverty, themselves often grossly inaccurate, belies the chronic malnutrition and sometimes stark starvation faced by children, the elderly and working population in many parts of the world. The persons who actually suffer from the problems also are not included in the discourse. The global media and relevant institutions do very little to make their voices heard. In fact, to do so would be too disturbing for everyone else involved.

There are many benefiting from the exploitation of hungry and impoverished people. These persons and their agencies operate at local, regional and international levels. They include companies seeking the cheapest possible labour, and all kinds of middlemen trying to extract profits from agriculture, fishing and other trades. This exploitation takes advantage of a silent global consensus that people around the world should not be equally compensated for similar types of work. Once this principle is accepted, there is no limit to its application. Gross poverty and hunger inevitably result. A wage becomes arbitrary; a meal is held hostage by fate.

At present, however, hunger still tends to be misrepresented as stemming primarily from natural conditions outside of human control. This description does not account for the real issue: management of resources. Inequitable distribution of land, water and other basic resources is accompanied globally by heavy repression. Under these circumstances, no amount of cash doled out by international agencies on the pretext of alleviating poverty will have a lasting effect.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights assigns the global community a duty to protect the basic rights to life, work and health. Stark poverty and hunger amount to a denial of all these rights. When states and the international community together fail to prevent poverty and hunger, they are in fact protecting those who violate these rights. The duty to protect rights implies that action is taken to prevent unscrupulous exploitation.

To resolve the problem of world hunger, emphasis must shift to the duty of the state to protect these basic economic and social rights, in the same way that such expectation exists regarding civil and political rights. Concerned organisations and individuals in civil society must pressure governments and international agencies to recognize the intimate relationship between food on the one hand and the rule of law on the other. Finally, they must work to build an alternative discourse on hunger and poverty that centres on, not excludes, those who everyday awake to begin the struggle for their next meal.

— Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC

See further:

The Permanent People’s Tribunal on the Right to Food and the Rule of Law in Asia <html://>

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-36-2003
Countries : Asia,