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Home : Viewpoints : Editorials
7/2/2013 11:20:00 AM
Why people go hungry
Catholic News Service
Cows graze on a farm just outside Postville, Iowa.
Catholic News Service
Cows graze on a farm just outside Postville, Iowa.

Hhere is an editorial from the June 12 issue of the Prairie Messenger, the official Catholic weekly newspaper for western Canada published by St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. It was written by international editor Benedictine Abbot Peter Novecosky.

Prairie farmers eagerly anticipate getting their crops into the ground each spring. A late spring this year dampened that enthusiasm somewhat, but fair weather has now enabled most of the crops to be planted in this part of the world. Farmers depend on their crops for their livelihood, and the world depends on a good crop for part of its food supply.

However a plentiful global food supply does not guarantee that people will have enough to eat. Millions of people go hungry every day -- for a variety of reasons. In general, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, nearly half the citizens in developing economies and a quarter (25 percent) in emerging markets say that, at some point in 2012, they had been unable to afford the food their families needed.

Rich countries enjoy better access to food than do poor countries. In Australia, Canada and Germany -- three of the richest countries surveyed in terms of 2012 GDP per capita -- roughly one in 10 or fewer have struggled in the past year to afford food. Meanwhile, in Uganda, Kenya and Senegal -- among the poorest countries surveyed -- half or more say food for their family has been hard to come by.

A shocking finding was that the United States deviates from this pattern. Despite being the richest country in the survey, nearly a quarter of Americans (24 percent) say they had trouble putting food on the table in the past 12 months. This puts them in a class closer to that of Indonesia or Greece rather than Britain or Canada.

The disparity in America is related to the uneven distribution of wealth among its citizens. From 2009 to 2011, the mean net worth of the upper 7 percent of American households rose by an estimated 28 percent, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released U.S. Census Bureau data. The lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent.

More specifically, the mean wealth of the top 8 million households in the affluent group rose to an estimated $3.2 million from an estimated $2.5 million; the mean wealth of the 111 million households in the less affluent group dropped to an estimated $134,000 from $140,000. Another comparison shows that the 20 richest Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the 47 million people who were helped by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

The Pew analysis notes: "These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat." Affluent households, it explains, typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home.

From 2009 to 2011, the Standard and Poor's (S&P) rose by 34 percent, while the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, a leading measure of U.S. residential real estate prices, fell by 5 percent. That continues a steep decline in housing prices that began with the market crash in 2006.

Meanwhile, at a U.N. General Assembly meeting on sustainable development goals May 23, Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, noted that worldwide hunger is an "ongoing scandal."

He called the lack of access to adequate food and nutrition "a moral and humanitarian crisis exacerbated by manmade policies and practices." Manmade obstacles include a failure to provide access to markets for producers in developing countries, diverting food resources from consumption to energy production, waste of food resources in order to preserve higher market prices for producers and armed conflicts.

"Hunger is one of the world's most solvable problems," he said. He pointed out that "per capita food production has steadily risen and total world food production now exceeds what is needed to give every person sufficient food and nutrition."

Sufficient food, yes. But sufficient income and fair policies, no.

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