[News] Hunger Will Kill Us Before Coronavirus

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Thu Sep 24 11:50:41 EDT 2020


https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/39-hunger/ Hunger Will
Kill Us Before Coronavirus: The Thirty-Ninth Newsletter (2020).
September 24, 2020 - Vijay Prashad
------------------------------

[image: Baasanjav Choijiljav (Mongolia), Promise, 2018.]

Baasanjav Choijiljav (Mongolia), *Promise*, 2018.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
<http://thetricontinental.org/>.

In April 2020, a month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared
the pandemic, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) warned
<https://www.wfp.org/news/covid-19-will-double-number-people-facing-food-crises-unless-swift-action-taken>
that the numbers of people who lived with acute hunger around the world
would double due to COVID-19 by the end of 2020 ‘unless swift action is
taken’. A report from the Global Network Against Food Crises – which is
comprised by the WFP, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and the
European Union – said
<http://www.fightfoodcrises.net/food-crises-and-covid-19/en/> that the
pandemic would ensure the highest level of food insecurity since 2017.

None of these reports made the front pages of newspapers. Little was made
of the fact that this is not a crisis of food production – since we have
enough food in the world to feed everyone – but a crisis of social
inequality. This crisis – the pandemic of hunger – should have seized the
attention of every country. But it did not. Apart from a few countries
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/studies-3-coronashock-and-socialism/> –
such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Venezuela – little has been done to
create mass-scale feeding programmes to prevent famine-like conditions (as
the FAO warned <http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1276081/icode/> in
May).

Six months into the pandemic, the question of hunger remains a burning
issue. In September, the Global Network Against Food Crises released a new
report <http://www.fightfoodcrises.net/unga-side-event/en/> on the deepened
crisis. FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu warned
<http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1308236/icode/> of ‘looming famine’
in many parts of the world, particularly in Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and
Yemen. It is now estimated that one in two people on the planet struggles
with hunger. No-one should go to bed hungry at night.

[image: Shaima al-Tamimi (Yemen), So close yet so far away, 2019.]

Shaima al-Tamimi (Yemen), *So close yet so far away*, 2019.

Yemen, which has faced an unyielding war prosecuted by Saudi Arabia and the
United Arab Emirates (backed fully by the West and by arms manufacturers),
has struggled with famine and with desert locusts and now with the enormity
of the pandemic. Two days after Qu made these comments, UN Secretary
General Antonio Guterres pleaded for an end to the war on Yemen. The war
had ‘decimated the country’s health facilities’, Guterres said
<https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/09/1072692>, which are not able to
tackle the near million cases of COVID-19 in the country. The war, he said,
has ‘devastated the lives of tens of millions of Yemenis’.

It is important to understand that the population of Yemen before the
Saudi-Emirati war began in 2015 was only 28 million, which means that ‘tens
of millions’ means almost all of the Yemeni people. A new UN report
<https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/GEE-Yemen/2020-09-09-report.pdf>
shows that Canada, France, Iran, the United Kingdom, and the United States
continue to fuel this conflict with arms sales. Pressure on the Saudis and
the Emiratis, as well as on the Western arms dealers, to end this war
against the Yemeni people should be the focus of attention. It is a war
that brings starvation to Yemen.

[image: Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu (DRC), Simba Bulaya (‘Lions of Europe’),
1973.]

Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu (DRC), *Simba Bulaya (‘Lions of Europe’)*, 1973.

Equally absent in popular global consciousness is the ongoing war in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), driven in large part due to the
presence of immeasurable resources in the country (such as cobalt, coltan,
copper, diamonds, gold, oil, and uranium). The war, economic distress, and
heavy rain has brought
<http://www.ipcinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ipcinfo/docs/IPC%20DRC%20AcuteFoodSec%202020July2021June%20Snapshot%20ENGLISH.pdf>
21.8 million people (out of a population of 84 million) into acute hunger
as of December 2019, a situation that has been exacerbated since the
emergence of COVID-19. Social indicators in the DRC are miserable: 72% of
the population lives below
<https://www.banquemondiale.org/fr/country/drc/overview> the national
poverty line, while 95% live without
<https://www.radiookapi.net/2016/07/09/actualite/societe/rdc-15-de-la-population-acces-lelectricite-avec-delestage>
electricity. These are just two numbers, but perhaps the most startling is
the estimated wealth of its resources at $24 trillion. Little of this
wealth goes towards the people of the Congo.

On 30 June 1960, when Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba pronounced the
independence of the DRC from Belgium, he said that ‘Congo’s independence is
a decisive step towards the liberation of the whole African continent’ and
that the new government would ‘serve its country’. This was the promise of
the country and the continent; but Lumumba was assassinated by the
imperialist bloc on 17 January 1961, and the country was handed over to the
Western multinational corporations. Before he died, Lumumba wrote a poem,
with a hope that remains alive:

*Let the fierce heat of the relentless midday sun*
*Burn up your grief!*
*Let them evaporate in everlasting sunshine,*
*Those tears shed by your father and your grandfather*
*Tortured to death upon these mournful fields. *

It is hard to feel this hope at times, with northern Nigeria seeing an
increase
<http://www.fightfoodcrises.net/fileadmin/user_upload/fightfoodcrises/doc/GlobalNetwork_Technical_Note_Covid19_Food_Crises_Sept_2020.pdf>
in its population of hungry people by 73% during the pandemic, Somalia
seeing an increase of 67%, and the Sudan seeing an increase of 64% (a
quarter of whose population is now acutely hungry). Burkina Faso, meaning
‘the Land of Upright People’, meanwhile, has seen a 300% increase in cases
of acute hunger. When Thomas Sankara led Burkina Faso for four years from
1983, his government nationalised land to guarantee access to those who
worked it and launched tree planting and irrigation projects to increase
productivity and combat desertification. After the government passed an
agrarian reform law in 1984, Sankara went to Diébougou, where he addressed
a peasant rally with the promise, ‘Improve our land and farm it in peace.
The time is over when people, sitting in their parlours, can buy and resell
land on speculation’. All of this ended when Sankara was assassinated in
1987.

The famine sweeping these countries is not from want of resources. The DRC
has 80 million acres <https://www.investindrc.cd/fr/Agriculture> of arable
land, which could feed two billion people if it were cultivated with food
crops in an agro-ecological manner; but, as of now, only 10% of the
country’s arable land is cultivated. Meanwhile, the country spends $1.5
billion per year in food imports – money that could be used to invest in
the agricultural sector, where the main work is done by women subsistence
farmers (who own
<https://africa.unwomen.org/fr/news-and-events/stories/2020/03/onu-femmes-remerciee-en-rdc>
less than 3% of the cultivated land). A lack of power amongst the
agricultural workers and the farmers results in a lopsided system that
privileges a handful of agri-business conglomerates rather than
cooperatives and family farms.

[image: Parmar (India), Riot, 1965-1975.]

Parmar (India), *Riot*, 1965-1975.

This brings us to India. The far-right government of Narendra Modi pushed
through three agricultural bills in the upper house of parliament by voice
vote, the loudest shouting their assent while the problems with the bills
were not allowed to be debated. The bills have names that suggest an
orientation towards small-scale farmers, but they will implement a policy
that favours the agri-businesses: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce
(Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection)
Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential
Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The bills put the entire agricultural system
in the hands of ‘traders’, meaning large corporations, who will now set the
terms for prices and quantities. The absence of government intervention
leaves family farms at the mercy of large corporations, whose power will
now be largely unchecked. This will adversely impact food production and
will certainly contribute further to the impoverishment of small farmers
and agricultural workers in India.

As hunger increases, so does the attack on those who farm the soil. Little
wonder that farmers and agricultural workers across India say that hunger
will kill them before coronavirus. This is a slogan familiar to farmers and
agricultural workers from Brazil, who – as we demonstrate in our dossier
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/dossier-27-land/> no. 27 *Popular
Agrarian Reform and the Struggle for Land in Brazil* – have long been in
the midst of a fight to bring democracy to the land. Like Sankara’s Burkina
Faso, the brave *sem terra*s [landless] of Brazil have their own project:
to reforest land that was once saturated with agro-toxins, to occupy
unused land that they then farm through agro-ecological practices, and to
forge ‘a broad demand for a new vision for the country as a whole’.

Warmly, Vijay.
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