Taking food for granted

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As someone who had a relatively comfortable upbringing in the UK it was always easy to disconnect from the realities of what was going on outside the confines of my own little bubble. All my life I've had enough to eat and thought nothing of it. If I try and imagine the hungriest I have ever been, nothing really comes to mind. For much of my life I assumed this was how it was for most people. Sure, I saw the occasional television fundraiser full of sad-faced celebs travelling around Africa, but somehow I felt no connection with it. It was like watching a movie, something I could turn off and forget about. Life went on.

Since moving to Asia more than five years ago, I've travelled to a lot of places where I've come across poverty in its absolute, most unforgiving form; no celebrities, no telethons, no sugar coating. It shocks you, it disturbs you, it makes you feel uneasy. You start asking yourself all sorts of cliche questions like, "How can I justify my lifestyle when there are people — men, women and children — who are malnourished?" It's a confusing state of mind to be in because it's as hard to look as it is to look away.

There are, of course, people, groups, politicians, governments, organizations and charities working to end poverty, but there is no easy solution and the reality is that aid often misses the target. You need only read a few posts on Tales From the Hood to understand this. It's clear that if developing countries and fragile states are to get anywhere near Millennium Development Goal #1 ("Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger") we're going to have to stop taking things for granted and change the way we perceive aid.

The g7+ grouping of 17 fragile states is calling for a New Aid Deal that works on the basis of a more realistic set of interim goals being put in place. Countries like Timor-Leste, Nepal and PNG are active members of the g7+ and the key theme is that aid has been too donor-centric for too long.

The proposed ‘New Aid Deal’ is not about donors ‘giving’ fragile states a better deal – but about fragile states demanding a better deal.

Looking at Asia as a whole, the need has never been greater to break the cycle of poverty and support children to grow up with their rights in tact. About 600 million children growing up in Asian developing countries will be severely deprived of some of the most basic things that most of us take for granted: food, safe water, sanitation, health services, shelter, education services, information. Most of these children will live in rural South Asia where rates of child malnutrition are among the highest in the world.

So why are these children malnourished? Quite simply it's because their families don't have access to things like health, education, clean water and jobs. The children grow up into adults and have children of their own who face the same exact situations.

The underlying causes of poverty aren't hard to spot. Take a trip to Bangladesh and you'll see how there are just too many people in too few urban areas with too few jobs. The scale of it is baffling. Head over to Timor-Leste and you'll see brand-new cars cruising through the streets of Dili thanks to the new wealth of a select few while out in the districts development is virtually non-existant and subsistence farming is still the norm. Pay a visit to Bangkok and beneath the skyscrapers and the neon lights there are slums full of migrant workers.

There is no quick fix, but engagement at every level is essential. The people, not the donors, must be in the driving seat if aid is going to have an impact. Similarly, children, their families and their communities must be directly involved with what organizations do. We sometimes take it for granted that we think we know what people and entire countries need.

Getting people involved in shaping their own futures will have more impact than simply giving people what we think is going to benefit them. And this includes children. If children are denied the basic rights mentioned above then they will grow up in poverty and struggle to reach their full potential.

Children living in poverty are deprived of nutrition, water and sanitation facilities, access to basic health-care services, shelter, education, participation and protection, …leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, to reach their full potential and to participate as full members of the society. (Statement adopted by the UN General Assembly)

There is still a long way to go.

Today is Blog Action Day, which coincides with World Food Day. Bloggers around the world are putting up posts about food and this is my somewhat garbled contribution to the occasion. The idea behind Blog Action Day is to get people thinking about these kinds of issues.

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One thought on “Taking food for granted

  1. Interesting take on the situation. My 2c worth. Poverty is a difficult thing to measure, as is wealth. A simple tally of money (the traditional gdp) is wildly inaccurate, misleading.

    As regards wealth creation, while I agree with the usual criticisms of corporations—low wages and so forth, I see the largest impediment to development as being the local elites. The wealthy who use the police and military to oppress and exploit their own people in order to maintain their wealth and social position. If the coppers in the 3rd world were sacked crime would disappear. If the militaries were sacked far fewer locals would be shot. Both courses of action would save a great deal of money, and make the world a safer place.

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