Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Pope at the hunger summit

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
AROUND 1.02 BILLION people are suffering chronic hunger today, said a report released last week by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme. This sharp rise in hunger triggered by the global economic crisis has hit the poorest people in developing countries hardest, revealing a fragile world food system in urgent need of reform, the report added.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf warned: “The silent hunger crisis affecting one-sixth of all humanity poses a serious risk for world peace and security.” He called the 1.02 billion “our tragic achievement in these modern days.” Watch Diouf’s shocking six-second video message in
Before I say more, let me say that the Philippines is among the 31 countries listed as suffering from “severe localized food insecurity.”

The World Summit on Food Security (WSFS), also known as the Hunger Summit, opened in Rome on Monday, which was also World Food Day. Spearheaded by FAO, it had no less than Pope Benedict XVI exhorting the FAO member states’ representatives in all their official languages: “God bless your efforts to ensure that all people are given their daily bread.” FAO’s logo has the words “Fiat panis” which means “Let there be bread/food.”
But the Pope had his stinging moments. “Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty,” he told the delegates. “Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.”

His thoughts went to the poor, rural regions of the world. “Access to international markets must be favored for those products coming from the poorest area, which today are often relegated to the margins. In order to achieve these objectives, it is necessary to separate the rules of international trade from the logic of profit viewed as an end in itself.”

The Pope’s pronouncement on profit at the hunger summit echoed what he said in his first ever social encyclical published in July 2009, “Caritas in Veritate” (Love in Truth), where he condemned unbridled profit. “Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

I clicked Find on the computer screen to find the words “food” and “hunger” in “Caritas in Veritate” and found a long chunk on hunger and food security. Here are excerpts from chapter 2 which makes the Pope sound like a veteran grassroots development worker.

“Life in many poor countries is still extremely insecure as a consequence of food shortages, and the situation could become worse: hunger still reaps enormous numbers of victims among those who, like Lazarus, are not permitted to take their place at the rich man’s table… Feed the hungry (Mt 25: 35, 37, 42) is an ethical imperative for the universal Church, as she responds to the teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods. Moreover, the elimination of world hunger has also, in the global era, become a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet.

“Hunger is not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional. What is missing, in other words, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water for nutritional needs, and also capable of addressing the primary needs and necessities ensuing from genuine food crises, whether due to natural causes or political irresponsibility, nationally and internationally.

“The problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed within a long-term perspective, eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries. This can be done by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology that can make the best use of the human, natural and socio-economic resources that are more readily available at the local level, while guaranteeing their sustainability over the long term as well.

“All this needs to be accomplished with the involvement of local communities in choices and decisions that affect the use of agricultural land. In this perspective, it could be useful to consider the new possibilities that are opening up through proper use of traditional as well as innovative farming techniques, always assuming that these have been judged, after sufficient testing, to be appropriate, respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples.

“At the same time, the question of equitable agrarian reform in developing countries should not be ignored. The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life…

“It is important, moreover, to emphasize that solidarity with poor countries in the process of development can point towards a solution of the current global crisis, as politicians and directors of international institutions have begun to sense in recent times…”

There’s more.

On a sour note, Fian International, an NGO, said that the summit declaration has failed to mention “in any way the sell-out of African and Asian countries’ agricultural lands to foreign states and companies.” I had written about this issue (“Global land grab, agricolonialism,” 7/23/09). It’s the latest scourge.