Helping the Hungry Nations

POLITICS

IN CALCUTTA, there is a grand hotel with large windows overlooking the streets of the city. During the sun bleached days, one can see from that window a postcard scene of Indians selling trinkets and flowers to the tourists. But at two o'clock in the morning the trinkets and flowers have been sold and the tourists have disappeared. Instead of the deserted, eerie streets of an American city, the view is one of thousands of people without homes, food, or hope, resting wearily in the streets.

Overpopulation is a major cause of the staggering problems of the Third World. While a high standard of living coincides with a low rate of population growth, poverty has come to mean a high birth rate in most third world countries. The United Nations predicts that in the next thirty years the earth's population will probably double, with 3.5 million more people living on the face of the globe. And world hunger will be increasingly prevalent as more hands grasp for food.

The facts speak for themselves. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Association reported in 1975 that 460 million people are constantly hungry. More than one out of every four children in the developing countries dies before he or she becomes five years old. And many of those who survive are mentally and physically retarded because of malnutrition. These people are not part of a disaster famine that captures the attention of the news media; they die of slow starvation in India, Latin America, and Africa. And when drought robs their crops of water, disastrous famine quickly sets in because, having been weakened by malnutrition, they have no defense against starvation. In the African Sahel, Bangladesh, and India, millions have perished under these famine conditions.

Rather than addressing the problem, the United States has decreased humanitarian aid to third world countries by about 60 per cent in the last fifteen years. As Jimmy Carter said in his radio chat last Sunday afternoon, the United States only devotes three-tenths of one per cent of its GNP to foreign aid. This figure is substantially less than corresponding figures for France, Germany, and England. And although Carter has claimed all along that he has a deep concern for those suffering in other nations, his priorities seem to be similar to Ford's in the area of foreign policy. Carter favors a heavy emphasis on military spending ($120 billion) and minimal interest in food aid ($3-4 billion) and on Sunday, in response to a hostile question concerning humanitarian aid, Carter admitted he would keep spending at approximately the same level as the Republican administration.

In addition to the small size of the financial contribution, American efforts to ease the problems of overpopulation and hunger have been fragmented and confused, tangled in a complicated web of bureaucracies. In a report released last July, the Republican minority staff of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, found that no single agency has final authority for U.S. participation in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and the world-wide attempt to conquer hunger. Senator Charles Percy, ranking Republican committee member, said U.S. resources that are "spent in a haphazard and uncoordinated way would appear to contribute more to the growth of an international bureaucracy than to the elimination of world hunger."

But no matter how the problem is tackled bureaucratically, the mated evils of overpopulation and hunger need to be considered on two levels. In the short-term, the United States and the other developed countries can and need to help check famine and slow starvation. For now the poorer nations will have to depend on the developed world, particularly the United States and Canada, for food to save their starving. In a speech given in 1975, Morris Udall said, "Together with Canada, we control a larger share of the world's exportable grain than the Middle East does of its oil." The foundation of a grain reserve would therefore depend heavily on the agreement of the United States to participate.

Realizing this, just after the election in November, Carter's economic advisers told Western European officials that the U.S. would take initiatives early in the year to form a system of international food reserves. But it is now March of the next year and nothing has yet been done.

Even more importantly, the developing nations, in the long run, need to achieve self-reliance. There should be a world-wide endeavor to develop better farming methods for the third world. Representative Udall remarked that in 1947, 45 per cent of the federally budgeted research went for agricultural research. In 1975, only 1.5 per cent went for agricultural research. And there are numerous possibilities of ways to increase food production. Ways of increasing the productivity of the land need to be investigated. The desert can be made to bloom. The failure of the Green Revolution was due in large part to the kind of technology developed. It required heavy capital input, and little human labor. As a result, only the rich farmers could afford the technology and the poor were still unable to buy the food. Careful consideration of these mistakes should be made before more research is done. By increasing the budget for agricultural research, these possibilities for increased production of food might be realized.

Much of the impetus for increased food production will have to originate in the developing countries themselves. A recent United Nations report states that it would be possible for the developing nations to feed their rapidly increasing population by cultivating "currently unexploitable arable land" and by increasing land productivity. But to cultivate currently unused land requires a willingness to spend lots of money. And that would require in turn the developing nations to shift their priorities. These nations have become increasingly concerned with their military strength rather than with the strength of their people. In fact, according to a study made by Ruth Sivard entitled World Military and Social Expenditures, 1976, the developing world has more than doubled the amount of money it spends on the arms race.

Just as hunger seems to be the inevitable consequence of overpopulation in third world countries, so the second element of the long-range attempt to solve the world food problem is population control. As of now the world expenditures for population control only amount to about $3 billion as opposed to $300 billion for armaments and defense. But simply throwing money at a problem will not produce the solution. National leadership and an adequate standard of living are both crucial to successful population control. And again the impetus for population control must come from within the developing nation. In most third world countries, there is a severe maldistribution of wealth; 3 or 4 per cent of the population control most of the money and power. The governments of these nations will need to facilitate a redistribution of wealth so that people can at least afford food and shelter.

INDIA HAS CHOSEN virtually to ignore the economic side of the solution and is instead attempting to tackle the problem politically. In doing so the government of India ignores the primary cause of population growth, poverty. The government of India has instituted some rather harsh new laws to encourage sterilization. An $11 award for undergoing sterilization has been fairly successful. From May to September of 1976, 2 million people were sterilized. And civil servants who have more than three children lose their jobs. In some states they also lose eligibility for housing loans or land grants.

Other nations such a Mexico, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, have established nation-wide family planning projects, also with enthusiastic government support. The fact that these programs have had some success gives reason to hope that with enough money and courageous leadership, the Third World may be able to decrease significantly its birth rate.

In the coming years the developed world and the United States, those nations where a high standard of living is followed by low birth rate, will have a responsibility to help pull the Third Worldout of its morass. But ultimately the conquest of over-population and hunger must take place in the poor nations themselves.