“The world has more than enough food. Yet, today, more than 1 billion people are hungry. This is unacceptable.”
So, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again reminded world leaders at today’s opening of the World Summit on Food Security in Rome. Sounds familiar? The fact is hardly new or surprising to leaders in the world. No sensible diplomat would also dispute that global hunger is anything but acceptable. However, this trumpeted consensus is instantly disillusioned by the real dispute among countries and agencies on strategies, best aid practices, and the levels of commitment required to combat the global hunger.
According to the Associated Press’s report, delegates at the summit disapproved the $44 billion pledge called for by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization but pledged to halve the number of hungry people by 2015. The summit also signaled a potential shift away from food assistance toward agricultural aid–technology, irrigation, fertilizer, high-yield seed, etc. for local farmers, livestock herders and fishermen. As Ban was quoted in the report, at the core of an international approach to food security is not just to feed the hungry, but “to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”
Although the focus on agricultural aid and “empower[ing] the hungry to feed themselves” at the summit in rhetoric could be promising, how or will these promises materialize into actions and results? What impact would the summit’s strategies yield during actual implementation on the ground?
In the past, despite the apparent pouring of resources and assistance from wealthy nations to the global South, many have argued, aid has rarely had their intended effects–or what may be said to be their intents. In a debate held in 2007 “Aid to Africa Is Doing More Harm than Good,” William Easterly suggested, “So aid would be a great thing if it worked. But the sad tragedy is that … money meant for the most desperate people in the world is simply not reaching them.” Moreover, as George Ayittey also put it, “First of all, aid, foreign aid, is not free.” Aid, in various ways, has often been tied to conditionalities and geopolitical interests that are not always in the best interest of the recipient countries. Whether agricultural aid and other strategies under consideration at the World Summit on Food Security will effectively tackle these issues or replicate the disappointing impact of past international aid and assistance is still a haunting unpredictability.
In the mean time, surely, world leaders gathering at the World Summit on Food Security are expected to continue with the hair-pulling and nail-biting if countries are truly serious and sincere in their commitment of how to help the needy help themselves.
Malnutrition, New York Times contributor David Rieff writes, is the “ghost at the party” in rapidly developing India. Despite the country’s rising development, 43 percent of children in India under age of 5 remain underweight. This figure perplexes readers even more next to comparative figures cited by Rieff from China and sub-Saharan Africa: a low 7 percent in China and 28 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. If India’s economic growth is indeed the success story that it has often been cited to be, why then is malnutrition still plaguing the children and people of India?
To our concern, Rieff reports, no one is quite sure why. Rieff points to the lack of women’s empowerment in rural and urban areas, the Indian government’s delayed response and sluggish initiative to act on the dire situation as major factors that contribute to the situation. However, the current status that perhaps demands more immediate attention is the “great deal of denial” among Indians that does not recognize this nutritional crisis and the severity of the stunt on the growth of India’s youth, lives, and, by and large, India’s future workforce and long-term well-being.
The path for India that Rieff is convinced of would help to radically bring change and improvement to the current malnutrition in India is a radical re-orientation of the Indian government to resemble China’s hybrid market-socialist and centralist state model. The merit of the Chinese system, according to Rieff, lies in the central power that the system confers the state to be more decisive and assertive in ways that India’s democracy does not allow. “Democracy is without question good for adults,” Rieff cited from an aid worker in India, “but I’m not convinced it’s necessarily the friend of small children.”
Despite the sensational quotation, I am unconvinced by the article’s hasty suggestion that if India is more like China, malnutrition in India would be eradicated. The article takes for granted that a more centralist state willing and ready to exercise its power would translate to an effective, better-performing state whose prioritization would always align with what is best for the country’s population. The Chinese government may have the power to make malnutrition a state priority, but would it? What solutions would it exactly propose to solve the malnutrition crisis? Clearly, malnutrition in India calls for immediate attention. But, more importantly, it calls for grounded solutions that target at the roots of the condition, not a wagering on political models and regimes.
By Nhu Truong
Why have women been counted out of the equation for development? Why is it important that foreign aid should direct more focus to educate and empower women in ways that can allow and create opportunities for greater female involvement in society and the economy? And, finally, how do we identify the invisible pressures of culture and tradition that are visibly tied to prevalent perceptions of women’s place in the family, society, and a country’s development as a whole?
Joined by the Wagner Women’s Caucus and Professor John Gershman, students participated in IPSA’s Reading & Discussion Group on October 15, 2009 for a discussion on these important questions about the effect of development on women. The discussion was grounded on a reading of two articles: “The Women’s Crusade,” and “Rights Versus Rites.”