[Viewppoint]Feeding the famished

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[Viewppoint]Feeding the famished

‘I found children fallen here and there when I visited the school on Monday morning. I was told that they hadn’t had anything to eat since we distributed corn porridge on Friday. A bowl of corn porridge is not the most nutritious meal, but to the children, it was the only lifeline they had.”

This statement is from Han Bee-ya, the head of the international relief team at World Vision Korea, as she testified about her experience in Zimbabwe upon returning home from a food aid project. In that country, 125,000 children are barely surviving on the free meal service. Their lives are hanging by a thread, and it may be cut at any time.

International relief organizations’ food aid programs are greatly hurt by the rising grain and oil prices worldwide. The lives of the extremely poor are in danger, as their only hope is the food aid. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 860 million people are suffering from starvation globally. Every five seconds, a child dies of hunger.

And these are not just stories from faraway lands. Our neighbor North Korea is on the verge of another major famine right now.

There are two completely different worlds on planet Earth today. There is one world where people worry about not getting enough to eat. In the other, people are concerned about the safety of their food.

The latter includes the United States, which is experiencing a salmonella outbreak from tomatoes, and Japan, where people are boycotting food products made in China after pesticide was found in dumplings. Korea also falls into the latter, as Koreans are scared the beef that will land on their dinner tables will have mad cow disease.

Of course, we can’t overemphasize food safety. However, to those who are not sure where their next meal will come from, safety concerns are a luxury. They would likely rather eat anything than die of hunger.

The world is not an equal place. At one corner, people care about how they are going to fill the fuel tanks of their cars. On the other, people have trouble filling their own stomachs.

On one side, the foremost concern is developing new seeds that resist pests and climate change in order to produce as much food as possible. Back on the other, even the idea of genetically modified food repels.

The followers of the Slow Food movement want to eat small meals of good, organic food, but there are people on the other side who can’t even afford to eat unhealthy fast food.

How can we reduce the gap between the two worlds? Jean Ziegler, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food and the author of “Hunger in the World as Told to my Son,” says that humans are the only creatures that can feel the suffering of others as their own, and the only solution is to change our consciousness.

American writer Susan Sontag shared the thought, and said that we need to contemplate the fact that suffering people exist on the same planet as the privileged.

In other words, the only solution is that the people on one side of the world have to reach out to those on the other. So far, action has not been very quick.

In 1996, developed countries held the United Nations World Food Summit and pledged to reduce the number of starving people in the world by half by 2015. However, the fund to help poor countries boost food production has decreased notably, and famine has spread even further.

Earlier this month, another UN World Food Summit was held, and over 180 participating nations repeated the pledge of the last decade. The countries promised to chip in $6.5 billion for a start. Will they be able to stick to the pledge as the situation grows more urgent?

In order to save people from dying of hunger, the fund has to be used for food distribution as soon as possible. Also, seeds, fertilizer and agricultural technology have to be provided to guarantee more food in the future.

We can only make a change when we feel others’ pain as our own. Tens of thousands of candles have been lit to protect the safety of our dinners tables. I wish at least 1 percent of those candles were for the famished.

*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shin Ye-ri
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