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The Age of Crises: Hunger Poverty Inequality [Part VI]

By Farooque Chowdhury

03 October, 2010

The face of hungry is a familiar face in today’s world. Hungry faces, a symbol of a crisis created by the world system, even appear in the land known for prosperity, and overwhelm the map of plenty. It is now, the world over, not in millions, but in billions that boldly announce the failure of the world system in providing food after propagating the beauty and effectiveness of withdrawal of state from food “business”, a strategic sector. This millennium began with death touch to poor: Hunger and malnutrition each year takes away more than 9 million people including 5 million children worldwide; about 2-3.5 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (Why health is the key for the future of farming and food, Centre for Food Policy, and UK Public Health Association, 2002). FAO said in mid-2009 that one in six people, 1.02 billion, would suffer from hunger by the end of 2009. The historic level of hunger is without precedent. Another 40 million people have been pushed into hunger primarily due to higher food prices, according to preliminary estimates published by FAO. This brings the overall number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007 and the ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty, FAO warned. "World food prices have dropped since early 2008, but lower prices have not ended the food crisis in many poor countries," said FAO Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem while presenting the new edition of FAO's hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008. "For millions of people in developing countries, eating the minimum amount of food every day to live an active and healthy life is a distant dream. The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality," he stressed. The vast majority of the world's undernourished people -- 907 million -- live in developing countries, according to the 2007 data reported by The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Of these, 65 percent live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. South Asia and Central Asia have suffered setbacks in hunger reduction. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in three people -- or 236 million (2007) -- are chronically hungry, the highest proportion of undernourished people in the total population, according to the report. Most of the increase in the number of hungry occurred in a single country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, as a result of widespread and persistent conflict, from 11 million to 43 million (in 2003-05) and the proportion of undernourished rose from 29 to 76 percent. Almost all of the malnourished people live in developing countries: 642 million in the Asia-Pacific region, 265 million in sub-Sahara Africa, 53 million in Latin America-Caribbean region, 42 million in the Middle East and North Africa. The developed countries are not free from hunger: 15 million. “Take the United States. It is a rich country, but for the majority of the population, a substantial majority, the last thirty years have probably been among the worst in American economic history” (Noam Chomsky, interviewed by Simone Bruno, Znet, October 13, 2008). It is estimated that the number of people facing a food emergency has doubled since 2006 to 220 million because of natural hazards or conflict (World Disaster Report, 2009, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). Conflict is a “contribution” of capital. Reasons behind conflicts in African and the Balkan countries are the evidences. Either there are attempts to grab the natural resources in these countries or interests related to geostrategy of the world powers, and geostrategy is connected to accumulation by capital.

But the “[f]armers around the world grow more than enough food to feed the entire world adequately. Global grain production yielded a record 2.3 billion tons in 2007, up 4% from the year before, yet, billions of people go hungry every day. … [T]he core reasons for continuing hunger … turns out that … commodity speculators and huge grain traders like Cargill control the global food prices and distribution. Starvation is profitable for corporations when demands for food push the prices up. Cargill announced that profits for … the first quarter of 2008 were 86% above 2007. World food prices grew 22% from June 2007 to June 2008 and a significant portion of the increase was propelled by the $175 billion invested in commodity futures that speculate on price instead of seeking to feed the hungry. The result is wild food price spirals, both up and down, with food insecurity remaining widespread” (Peter Phillips, “Global Starvation Ignored by American Policy Elites”, Global Research, September 5, 2008). The key drivers of food prices and their complex interactions remain the same, according to a new Farm Foundation report, What’s Driving Food Prices? (March 2009 Update). Since 2006, energy and agricultural markets have become closely linked as biofuels production surged. A confidential World Bank report said: biofuels caused world food prices up by 70 percent (Aditya Chakraborty, The Guardian, July 4, 2008).

Poverty is the dominant reality in the present world. The World Bank poverty figures exposed the fact that the golden mantra of globalization on which the mainstream media and academia banked failed to reduce the curse of poverty. Moreover, with the revision of the World Bank’s international poverty line from $1.08 to 1.25 a day brought out the fact that an extra 430 million human beings are absolutely poor. The exercise with poverty line has compelled Adam W Parsons to ask the question: “Does it really matter, after all, where the line is drawn in the sand, or how the number crunchers add up their figures? Is the question of poverty measurement not merely academic?” (STWR, September 15, 2008). He commented: “The World Bank, as the near exclusive provider of global poverty figures, uses the statistics to defend its policies of deregulation, privatization, market liberalization, and increased economic growth through free trade as the overruling means to combating poverty. Despite a long history of controversy, the figures still hold an almost uncontested authority with governments, NGOs and the popular media who frequently cite the estimates as evidence that neoliberal policies and globalization have reduced global poverty. This makes it doubly surprising that the Bank's spin on the new figures have been so readily accepted and hardly questioned.” The Bank’s earlier two revisions of the base year for calculating purchasing power rates wrecked havoc to its poverty estimates each time. This is the reality, the crisis-reality of the present day world with its increasing inequality, hunger and poverty. The situation has worsened in the periphery, in poor countries, for the people living on the margin. “If you happen to be born in the wrong place,” writes David Rothkopf in his book Superclass, “like sub-Saharan Africa, … that is bad luck,” Rothkopf tells that the top 10% of the adults worldwide own 84% of the wealth and the bottom half owns barely 1%. Included in the top 10% of wealth holders are the one thousand global billionaires. On the opposite, around 25,000 people die from hunger each day whilst a new billionaire is created every second day. With this reality, a very relevant question was asked by Parenti: “The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?” (“Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World?”, STWR, February 27, 2007). The answer is known to many, but ignored, and acted in a different direction by capital and the institutions it has established. This creates a crisis, stark and acute; and also another job for capital: attempts to bury the crisis under heaps of lies and irrational statements appearing rational, coming out of powerful propaganda machine and corporate academia corrupting the uninformed and creating another crisis in the realm of knowledge and information. But the facts decline to get buried: In Haiti … workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States (ibid.).

[This is the 6th part of the introduction of The Age of Crisis by Farooque Chowdhury being serialized in Countercurrents.]

Also Read

The Age of Crises- Part I

Capital in Crisis Environment in Crisis [Part II]

Globalization of Crises [Part III]

The Age of Crises: North And South After “Globalization” [Part IV]

The Age of Crises: South: After The Great Financial Crisis [Part V]

The Age of Crises: Hunger Poverty Inequality [Part VI]

The Age of Crises: Banks And Financialization [Part VII]

The Age of Crises: Withering Unipoler Geopolitics- Part VIII