Editorial — Winning the war on hunger

Given all the attention being afforded — rightfully so — to the presidential election, we can all be forgiven if some other significant news events might have passed us by.

Such as the importance of Oct. 16, for instance.

If the date doesn’t jump across the synapses of your hippocampus (that part of the brain that houses memory) then allow this brief missive to bring it to your attention.

Each year Oct. 16 is celebrated — or acknowledged — as “World Food Day.” It is the one day each year set aside to remind the luckiest people of the world, those who never want for food and water, that there are millions across the globe who aren’t as fortunate.

Think about the following numbers the next time you see a commercial for an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. Think about these numbers when you stand at the door of your refrigerator trying to decide exactly which one of the many snacks it holds will sate your appetite for the moment.

In a recent nationally-distributed column, social justice writer Tony Magliano noted that world hunger statistics “are overwhelming.”

According to the World Food Programme, Magliano wrote, 870 million people across the world are hungry each and every day — and that is a number that is greater than the combined populations of the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

“Every day approximately 16,000 children die because they are too poor to live,” Magliano said. “Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases claim their short lives.”

In its annual news release about World Food Day, the anti-poverty organization Bread for the World noted that hunger isn’t a stranger to families in this country, either. More than 48 million people in the U.S., including 16.2 million children, miss at least one meal every day. One in five children in the world’s richest country — our own — go to bed hungry at night.

According to an Oct. 14 news story by Christopher Doering of the Gannett Corp.’s Washington Bureau, the battle against world hunger has made some progress, but is also facing significant obstacles.

“Some are concerned,” Doering wrote, “that too much focus is being placed on growing food rather than boosting infrastructure and educating farmers.”

“You can’t solve this problem from Iowa. There is no way Iowa farmers, as productive as they can be, will ever make sure that poor people in other countries are going to get enough food,” said Gawain Kripke, policy director with Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization.

“We have to pay attention on not just the overall production but the distribution of food,” he said.

Doering noted that the 870 million hungry people in the world — as noted earlier — actually represents a decline in the number of malnourished people in the past two decades. The United Nations says most of the worldwide decline occurred between 1990 and 2007, but since then progress has stalled, Doering’s article noted. There is also concern that the rising cost of food world-wide will soon swell the ranks of the hungry around the world.

So what’s to be done?  It’s easy to point to the problems; not so easy to suggest solutions.

But Catholic Relief Services (CRS) can at least point us in the right direction.

Earlier this month CRS announced that its popular Lenten Rice Bowl campaign is getting a new name. It’s now going to be called the CRS Rice Bowl, and the program will make a new, concerted effort to encourage “greater connection between Americans and millions of people around the world struggling to overcome hunger.”

In a Catholic News Service story dated Oct. 16, Carolyn Woo, president of CRS, also pledged $150 million from the agency over the next three years toward food, nutrition and agriculture programs. The pledge is part of a $1 billion effort by members of an alliance of U.S.-based international humanitarian organizations called InterAction.

For nearly 40 years, the “rice bowl” program has, each Lent, raised money to fight hunger by placing cardboard “rice bowls” on tables in family homes and school classrooms to collect financial contributions.

This year, CRS is supplementing the traditional bowl with online, multimedia and social media resources that will be available to individuals, teachers, young people — everyone — with suggestions of additional fund-raising activities and ways to help continue the fight.

Each year the Rice Bowl campain collects about $8 million, with 25 percent of the funds staying in local diocesan communities and the other 75 percent helping fund CRS anti-hunger efforts across the globe.

Sure, the Lenten season is a little ways off. But it’s never too early to start planning the next battle in this never-ending war.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor

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