Food Insecurity in Asia and Global Catholic Citizenship

By Dr. Paul Hwang (Director ALL Forum)

We have heard of food and energy crisis in many parts of the world including Asia since Russian invasion in Ukraine has begun in February, 2022. Statistically speaking, 36 countries imported more than 50% of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine in 2020. Compared to this, in March 2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Food Price Index leapt to its highest level since its inception in 1990.

Although Asian countries improved their food supply by harvesting a lot of crops this year, hunger is rampant in some countries in Asia especially North Korea. Quite similar is four countries like Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia are facing food shortages, according to the FAO announced in May, 2022. The UN body predicted that North Korea’s food situation would continue to deteriorate. It added that North Korea’s rice and corn stockpiles are expected to run out within this month unless additional emergency food aid is provided.

What made its situation worse is the Covid19 which has just been outbroken and infected 4 million people there. In addition to North Korea, Cambodia and Laos are suffering from food shortages due to flooding, drought in Sri Lanka, and complicated problems resulting from the transition from centralized to free market system in Mongolia. In particular, in Laos, 420,000 people, a quarter of the total population, are in need of emergency aid.

What is the causes of hunger and food insecurity in many countries in the world and Asia? Generally it is due to economic instability such as conflict, poverty, hyperinflation and rising commodity prices, and environmental factors such as floods and droughts. This time is different simply because of the pandemic. Blockades and closures caused by the deadly virus have devastated people’s livelihoods and led to a sharp increase in poverty and inequality around the world.

Ilustration: Food Security

In many countries, restrictions and blockades for quarantine measures for more than two years have also meant suspension of food supplies, delays in overseas remittances, and suspension of school meals. The sharp rise in food prices is putting a huge strain on household finances, and poor families are being hit hard.

Conflict and all kinds of war are the biggest cause of hunger in the world, and 65% of people who actually face severe food insecurity are caused by conflict and civil war according to news reports. In third-world countries, poverty and prolonged conflict have destroyed their livelihoods, forced families to leave their homes, and countless children, including girls, are suffering from hunger most.

We can’t say more about the cause of hunger without saying about climate change. Hurricanes, cyclones, floods and droughts because of it affect harvests, leading to food insecurity. Climate change also increases the spread of crop pestssuch as locusts, damaging and destroying crops to harvest. Inflation and the economic crisis have affected food accessibility for many people. Even if food is available, it is too expensive to make it easy for many people to get it. Due to the influence of the pandemic, many people lost their livelihoods and their income decreased.

Who are the most vulnerable to this kind of hunger, food crisis or food insecurity? Women and girls account for 70 percent of the world’s hungered. And as families and communities struggle, girls are more likely to quit school than boys, and are more likely to be at risk of child, early marriage, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and unwanted pregnancy. In addition, starvation is particularly dangerous for adolescent girls and pregnant or breastfeeding women, increasing the risk of miscarriage or death during childbirth.

This is a report from a NGO working for women and girl children. What has all the information got to do with Catholics like us? We as a Catholic are not to be confined in our country nor a continent but to be identified as a world Catholic citizen who concerns for the poor people in the world. When you put yourself as a global citizen and look at the poor suffering hunger, it will be only then that the problem of global poverty, food crisis, and hunger comes into the task of yours as a global Catholic with the full spirit of Catholic citizenship.

Indeed, the word “Catholic” or “Catholicity” means the universe or the pluriverse if you want from the beginning. Therefore, a Catholic is born to be a concerned neighbor who takes good care of the marginalized and abandoned in the world and the universe.

SRI LANKA: Island Nation Paradise Rapidly Growing Hungry

By R. Pieris, Colombo

At the beginning of 2022, Sri Lanka was like any other nation in the South Asia region: inflation rates were higher than experts would like them to be, but stable politically, socially and economically. Our paradise of an island had many issues over the years, but people loved living here, after all, it is our home. But since April, all of Sri Lanka’s past mistakes, the wrong decisions, the ill-timed decisions, corruption of leaders, impact post COVID hit in full force as our nation uses the last of its foreign reserves which doesn’t even cover the cost of essential goods.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst ever economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948, and except for maybe 2-3% of our population, everyone suffers the consequences of fuel shortages, gas shortages, the prices of goods rising at least once a week, food shortages, electricity cuts, medicine shortages etc.

Credit Image: dw.com

The lack of finances to purchase imports directly results in a massive shortage of food, and also the prices increase due increases in fuel costs, electricity costs etc. Many people and many families have resorted to having two meals a day now, and some to one. Increasing number of patients dying because they could not find fuel, diesel or petrol or a vehicle with plenty fuel to get the patient to hospitals, especially newborns. Friends and relatives look for particular meds for someone they know, and by the time they get it, the patient has already passed away.

In terms of food in particular, Sri Lanka is forecasted to face a huge crisis because the harvest of the last season has dropped dramatically because of the infamous fertilizer mess up, but even at present, a lot of families more than half of the community struggle to make ends meet and cannot imagine prices going higher than this.

Students, especially most university students, struggle financially as they contemplate giving up their studies to provide for their family. They are faced with a harsh life choice since their daily budget has gone up more than three times the usual amount which they used to pay and hence they tend to cut down costs by cutting down meals etc. Organizations have turned to benefactors and sponsors to ask for money to give in scholarships to sustain students as much as they could.

Credit Image: The Indian Express

Just yesterday, a mother who stole a breadfruit from a tree and sold half to get half a kilo of rice for her child, was arrested. Crime, robberies, suicide and emotional distress rates have also gone up, as people are voicing their displeasure and discomfort in different forms as many of us feel that we’ve been robbed: of our futures, of having a comfortable and affordable life.

Through my own personal experience, food prices are 3 or more times above what it used to be at the beginning of this year, and bus fares are 6 times more than what they were back then. Most of the food items in stores are either empty or quite hefty in price. Communities in Sri Lanka are slowly going hungry and also will be facing long term consequences health wise for eating unbalanced diets resulting in malnutrition, and by eating less number of meals (which is quite common now) will result in starvation.

However, we as Sri Lankans between hardships will always stand strong, and we truly appreciate the genuine help we receive as a nation from the international community. This crisis has taught us to be more sensitive to everyone around us, to recognize their needs, even the unspoken ones. May Sri Lanka get to stand up strong on her feet again soon, and may God bless Lanka with his divine providence.

No Food No Life : Crisis in Sri Lanka, Sprouting allover Asia

By Neilan D’Souza

How is it possible that today’s modern world still struggles to successfully practice and implement one of the oldest occupations ever known to humankind – Agriculture. And at the same time we are able to easily ignore the fact that it is also responsible for the highest number of deaths in the world – Hunger. No disease/disaster what so ever has come close to claim lives in such figures. No this not another variant of any virus but a mere consequence of a human developed economic system – Capitalism.

According to UN, each day, 25,000 people (around 9 million people every year), including more than 10,000 children, die from hunger and related causes. Some 854 million people worldwide are estimated to be undernourished, and high food prices may drive another 100 million into poverty and hunger. Hunger and under-nutrition are the greatest threats to public health, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. And this is not because the world is not able to produce enough food to feed 7.5 billion people but it is simply because most of the food is wasted or not consumed on time.

Image: https://news.cgtn.com

1.5 billion tons of food is wasted every year, we clearly do not have a problem of supply and demand what we have is a problem of production and distribution. Food insecurity is not a natural result of population growth but a man made crisis caused by a failing inhumane system as with many other basic human necessities under a capitalist system which regards food as a commodity which has to be traded in order to make a profit.

The more food we make and sell the more money there is to be made. And so under the disguise of creating a system which produces food for all we have developed a modern intensive farming method which aim to produce greater quantities to be sold, in contrast has brought down the quality of food and also caused immense environmental damage. It is only now in the recent decade that we have began to witness its catastrophic effects in our daily lives.

This vicious cycle of a capital lead economy has to go away because the new normal of Climate Change, Food Insecurity, Consumerism and Throw-away Culture simply cannot sustain the World anymore. An eye opening example is the present economic crisis which the common people in Sri Lanka are suffering from. The present government’s move to suddenly ban chemical fertilizers overnight led to drastic crop failure at the same time when the country was slowly reviving itself from the damages caused by the pandemic.

https://news.un.org

Today this has escalated the cost of food so much that most of the people in Sri Lanka can only afford one meal a day. It is impossible to imagine the struggle of a country where almost 30% of the population are engaged in agriculture but cannot afford even three meals a day.

Without food there is no life – and if the intention of food production is catered towards earning capital and not life we need to stop and undo such systems which requires involvement from each one of us. We all can begin from denying the popular throw-away culture, cutting down on consuming more food than we actually require and without neglect we must atleast share food with those who do not have or fall in short of.

If there is one thing that we Christians must learn from the teachings of the Bible is that from the Bible’s beginning all the way to the end, there’s a clear picture of God’s compassion for the poor. God is passionate about caring for the needs of the vulnerable, and also promises to champion their cause-even when the rest of the world neglects them.