Saturday, May 30, 2009

New York Times' Columnist Travels To Africa

I've been following New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof on Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, you can follow him, or "fan" him at:

He just arrived home from a trip to 5 west African countries with a sophomore from the University of South Carolina, Paul Bowers, who won a trip to accompany him.

Several of their reports focused on nutrition - the outstanding lack of it. Here's one of their videos from Sierra Leone:

Many of the commenters on Kristof's blog On The Ground, Facebook account, and Times' articles expressed sadness, outrage, and desire to help. There was one comment that stood out for me. I hope the author doesn't mind me sharing it. It was from the blog post, Malnutrition and the Economic Crisis:
"Seldom is the story of a starving child in Africa only about that starving child and his or her lack of food. It is emblematic of a profound break down in community that signals every aspect of human rights violations, abusive governments, poverty — and the misspending of Western funds.* It’s a complex problem not dealt with solely by putting iodine in water or zinc in flour."
* I'll add unfair trade practices and inequitable effects of climate change to this.

The problem is big, it's complex, but it's not intractable.

Here's another comment that struck me, although not in a positive way. When I mentioned the need for aid to developing countries, someone replied:
"Let them eat local. They should grow their own. The US can't be feeding the world's population."
Is this reflective of the locavore movement? If so, then it has either lost its way, or I've lost my understanding of it. The local food movement grew from the broader sustainability movement. Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present, as well as the future. Right now, we're not meeting the needs of the present.

I question a movement for which it's more important that someone eat "the best and most delicious food" grown locally, than whether someone has food at all, especially when that someone's lack of food is in part our doing:
"Around 45 million of the 900 million people estimated to be chronically hungry are suffering due to climate change." And ... "The vast majority of deaths [due to climate change] -- 99 percent -- are in developing countries which are estimated to have contributed less than one percent of the world's total carbon emissions."
- Report: Climate Change Crisis 'Catastrophic'
How can crops be grown, self-reliant food economies established, if the ground available to plant is being decimated by rich countries' greenhouse gas emissions?

Aid has many forms. I believe the US and other rich nations do have a responsibility to aid the world's hungry. Unfortunately, much of the aid we've promised to help people cope with droughts, floods, heatwaves, and other climate disasters hasn't been sent:
"World's richest countries have pledged nearly $18bn* to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, but less than $1bn has been disbursed."
- Rich Nations Failing To Meet Climate Aid Pledges
* The UN estimates $50-70 billion is needed immediately just to tackle effects due to climate change.

And this aid is distinct from other forms of aid that impact nutrition - aid to relieve effects of poverty, lack of education, and healthcare.

It's nice to see someone with Mr. Kristof's reach drawing attention to this topic.


virginia said...

"Let them eat local" reminds me of "Let them eat cake."

insensitive to the reality of growing "their own" when soil, seeds, and advice are not just one exit down, at the local home, no money for the "cashier".

one of your most thoughtful posts...

Unknown said...

when such things exist i say - lack of political will - period.
this is one of the acute problems of developing countries -

there is no problem that cannot be solved by mankind. - in india such problems exists in pockets in rural and urban -- and it exists because resources are controlled by the authorities. And many waste a lot of resources -- let me give you an example regarding energy - does one need 6 bulbs of 100watts in a kitchen of 10 x 9 and an additional 4 bulbs of 50 watts each (track lightining). another 6 bulbs in the adjoining dining area of 8x9 -- that is the reason why people have electricity and others are not provided with electricity because people abuse them ! -- the same is the case with food ---Buy a lot because one can afford and then throw them in the trash can?!

--it was a rant but few people abuse so much that a larger percentage of population cannot get a lot of resources ( needs )

it was a rant -- way out of the topic --you can decide to keep it or delete it

Perovskia said...

Anrosh.. don't feel bad. I've also ranted here before and Bix is quite understanding :) I empathize with your frustration and will give a similar rant but on a different tangent....

What gets me is CEO's these days leaving companies with a $20 million dollar buy-out/severance package, or professional athletes who make $10 million a year. Our resources are NOT being spent wisely. They can clearly be put to better use helping others in need, but western society is too materialistic.

That's my beef.

Unknown said...

perovskia -- those CEO's have got away with everything --bailed out! in broad day light and the government has supported them with everything. i have written quite a bit about on my blog .. In fact the elected government have betrayed the citizens. ironically the companies have coffed up more and the taxpayers money also has landed in the same pockets.

Bix said...

Rant away. I agree with everything everyone said.

Those CEO salaries/perks are a killer, literally.

Perovskia said...

Anrosh.. I'm not much on politics; don't trust 'em as far as I can throw 'em. But you're right.. materialism buys materialism.

Bix.. Thanks :) And yes, they -literally- are a killer, unfortunately. I have another rant about over-paid peoples, but this isn't the time or place.

The public awareness is there, but most people don't care. I don't know what needs to be done to get them the help they need (and it's sad because what they *need* is so simple).

Maria Verivaki said...

the disadvanteaged suffer simply so that there is a universal class system - they can be helped, but it doesn't suit the order of things as we know it

what frightens me now is a side issue to the one you present - will biofuel needs deny people their nutritional needs more so than now?

Bix said...

I read that 1/4 to 1/3 of the entire US grain production was diverted to ethanol production last year. That increased the market price for grain, substantially - worldwide. It, as you said, raised food prices.

(Although the economic slump has reduced oil use which is keeping the price for fuel artificially low right now, keeping food prices lower too. When oil prices return to expected, food prices will trend up even higher.)

The US government subsidizes ethanol production. So, in effect, we are subsidizing the higher price for food. I don't see the sense in that, but minds better than mine make those decisions.