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Africa and hunger

Africa and hunger

EATING and drinking are among life’s normal pursuits. Essential? Yes. Enjoyable? Certainly. And yet at times both can cause us problems, generally resulting from either too much or too little. All of TWO big, brown eyes stare at you from a picture in a newspaper or magazine. They are the eyes of a child, a little girl not even five years old. But these eyes do not make you smile. There is no childish luster to them, no happy sense of wonder, and no innocent trust. They are filled instead with bewildered pain, dull aching, and hopeless hunger. The child is starving. Pain and hunger are all she has ever known.

Perhaps, like many, you do not like to dwell on such pictures, so you quickly turn the page. It is not that you do not care, but you feel frustrated because you suspect that it is too late for this girl. The wasted limbs and bloated belly are signs that her body has already begun to devour itself. By the time you see her picture, she is probably already dead. Worse, you know that hers is far from an isolated case. Just how extensive is the problem? Well, can you picture 14 million children? Most of us cannot; the number is simply too high to visualize. Imagine, then, a stadium that seats 40,000 people. Now imagine it filled to capacity with children—row upon row, tier upon tier, an ocean of faces. Even that is hard to picture. Yet, it would take 350 such stadiums filled with children to add up to 14 million. According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), that is the appalling number of children under five who die of malnutrition and easily preventable diseases each year in developing lands. That amounts to nearly one stadium of children dying each day! Add to this the number of hungry adults, and you get a worldwide total of some one billion people who are chronically malnourished.

This planet currently produces more food than humans now consume, and it has the capacity to produce more. Yet, every minute, 26 children die from malnutrition and disease. During that same minute, the world spends about $2,000,000 on preparation for war. Can you imagine what all that money—or just a fraction of it—could do for those 26 children? Clearly, world hunger cannot simply be blamed on a lack of food or money. The problem goes much deeper. As Jorge E. Hardoy, an Argentine professor, put it, “the world as a whole has a chronic incapacity to share comfort, power, time, resources and knowledge with those who need these things more.” Yes, the problem lies, not with man’s resources, but with man himself. Greed and selfishness seem to be dominating forces in human society. The wealthiest one fifth of the earth’s population enjoys some 60 times more goods and services than does the poorest one fifth.

True, some are sincerely trying to get food to the hungry, but most of their efforts are hamstrung by factors beyond their control. Famine often afflicts countries that are torn by civil war or rebellion, and it is not uncommon for opposing forces to prevent relief supplies from reaching the needy. Both sides fear that by allowing food to reach the starving civilians in enemy territory, they will be feeding their enemies. Governments themselves are not above using starvation as a political weapon. Unfortunately, the problem of starving millions is hardly the only crisis afflicting modern man. The rampant destruction and poisoning of the environment, the persistent plague of war that swallows millions of lives, the violent crime epidemics that breed fear and distrust everywhere, and the ever-degenerating moral climate that seems to lie at the root of many of these ills—all these global crises join hands, as it were, and affirm the same hard truth—man cannot govern himself successfully.

No doubt that is why many people have despaired of seeing a solution to the world’s problems. Others feel as did Aurelio Peccei, the Italian scholar mentioned at the outset. If there is to be a solution, they reason, it must come from an extraordinary—perhaps even superhuman—source. Thus the concept of a messiah has a powerful appeal. But is it realistic to hope in a messiah? Or is such a hope only wishful thinking?[ All us have seen pictures from some famine-stricken nations of the bloated and emaciated bodies of little children slowly starving to death. But we have also seen evidences of what Dr. Kurt Franke at Germany’s University of Göttingen calls one of today’s most common ailments in the affluent world: obesity. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, every second person and every fourth child is said to be overweight. Being overweight is more than just a matter of looks; it is a major health hazard. The publication Tages-Anzeiger recently warned that “pestilence, war, hunger and death are being followed closely by a fifth apocalyptic rider—superabundance!” It added: “Never before in history have so many eaten so much.” But are people taking note? Along with the enjoyment of food goes the enjoyment of drink. When used in moderation, this can properly include alcoholic beverages. In many countries the consumption of such alcoholic beverages is on the rise.

Note the percentage of increase in consumption of them between the late 1950’s and the early 1970’s in the following countries: New Zealand 13, Canada 17, United Kingdom 20, Sweden 26, United States 32, Ireland 41, Denmark 54, Federal Republic of Germany 61, Netherlands 83. It is common knowledge that too much alcohol can cause any number of problems for both the drinker and those around him. Excessive drinking damages the liver and the brain and can lead to premature death. New Scientist magazine of February 26, 1981, after restating the well-known fact that alcohol kills brain cells, reports on the holes left by those dead cells and states that the brains of chronic alcoholics are less dense than those of nonalcoholics. An increasing number of individuals and groups, including government agencies, are sounding a warning more loudly and clearly than ever before. But are people taking note? Not according to Mikolai Tolkan, a Polish scientist. Addressing an international congress on alcoholism, he said alcohol consumption in Poland has increased by 35 percent in five years and warned that this worldwide trend, unless halted, might pose a greater threat to mankind than the atomic bomb. The alcohol “bomb is already ticking away and few people notice it,” he concluded.

There is no doubt about it. Everywhere we look we see people very much preoccupied with “eating and drinking,” some by choice, others of necessity. What is the chief danger in this? Not in the damage done to physical health—of which people all too often fail to take note, or that they simply ignore—but in the damage done to spiritual health. What do we mean by this? On the other hand, people with too little to eat and drink may be forced to spend most of their time simply struggling to exist. Food, necessary for survival, becomes their main concern, crowding out everything else, including spiritual needs. This is well illustrated by an experiment conducted in the United States in 1945. A group of men were placed on a “starvation diet” for six months. Afterward it was found that the diet had caused them to become indecisive and pessimistic in spirit, had robbed them of initiative, and had left them almost completely devoid of any interest in spiritual matters. Short-range plans call for continued relief shipments. It has been estimated that about 662,000 tons of food must be donated to the Sahelian region this year. However, even if the rains do return within a few months, it will take many years for the damage to be repaired.

Cows that have been ravaged by starvation can no longer calve. People have been driven off their land and are facing a whole new way of life in cities. Then what about the long-range plans? Can Africa’s famines be ended for good? Most officials, when they are truly honest, will admit that the prospects are rather bleak. True, some talk about damming rivers to provide water for crops in years of drought. But that very procedure provides breeding water for blackflies, resulting in the dreaded “river blindness” in this region. Thousands of persons so afflicted already are not able to do farm work; this only adds to the economic problems. Other experts talk about “education” as solving Africa’s food problems. But to many Africans “education” often means no more than an attempt to force Western ways on them. Joseph Ki-Zerbo of Upper Volta argues that it results in Africans’ actually being made dependent on outsiders. He writes in Ceres, a publication of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization:“In Africa, where vast territories lie fallow year after year for lack of equipment and training, waiting to be valorized [made valuable], populations that maintained a balance of self-sufficiency, albeit mediocre, until the end of the 19th century are depending ever more on American millet, Soviet rice, European flour and semolina to keep alive. The underdeveloped countries are crouching more and more under the rich folks’ dining table.” No, men of this world have no real solutions to offer for the problems of famine in Africa.

But God, the Creator of the earth and the one who incorporated in it the capacity to produce food, does have the answer. The food problems of the suffering people of Africa, as well as those of persons in the rest of the world, will be solved lastingly only by the kingdom of God.TENS of millions in at least 20 African nations are hungry, malnourished, or starving. Millions of them are children. They scurry beneath the feet of the market women, sifting through the dirt for the few grains or beans that may have fallen to the ground. What little they find either goes into their mouth or is put into their begging bowl. Occasionally a stringy stalk of vegetable thrown out as inedible is chewed to extract the juice in it, and the remains are spit out.Anthills are combed in search of pieces of grain. Women spend entire days hacking apart the large, hard termite mounds to get the wild grains the insects have stored.

Many gather up the droppings of goats to extract the undigested kernels of palm seeds the animals had swallowed without chewing. Women pound dried leaves and grasses into a powder that has no nutritional value—the only food for many. Others salt and cook leaves scavenged from trees. Often farmers have had to eat the seed they bought for planting.Children are clothed in rags—some are naked except for goatskins draped over their thin frames. Nights often get cold, and the malnourished are quickly chilled and become susceptible to pneumonia, coughs, and fever.Food-distribution centers have been set up by various relief agencies, but supplies are limited and only a minority of the hungry and starving can get food. At one relief center, a hundred children who won’t get fed stand behind a rope watching others eat. A four-year-old child, weighing only ten pounds, too weak to walk, is carried by her mother.

In another food-distribution center, a mother carried her three-year-old daughter who weighed only six and a half pounds. The report said: “The child’s ribs and breastbone seemed at the point of bursting through skin stretched taut by hunger and uncushioned against the severity of her bones. Her arms and legs were sticks.”In such cases as these, starvation has reached a state called marasmus, an illness where the starving body begins to devour itself. The children’s faces take on the _expression of the very old. They are to be seen everywhere in the famine-ravaged nations of Africa.
Published: 2008-08-23
Author: emmanuel ugokwe

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