By Frances Lamberts
During the height of last century’s great depression, German artist Käthe Kollwitz sketched many poor people who were suffering its deep deprivation: homeless people under bridges and in municipal shelters, out-of-work breadwinners and, especially, the children going hungry.
Her 1924 lithograph, a poster for a food appeal, is titled “Germany’s children are starving!”
Many children are starving or food insecure, still. Even in our region, as the Johnson City Press reported in June last year, more than 20 percent of local children lack regular access to food, with increased risk of illness and other consequences that stem from childhood hunger. A Census Bureau survey found poverty severe enough to lack the means for food adequacy, enduring hunger sometimes or often, in 25 million American families, even before the coronavirus pandemic. With more than 40 percent of adults having lost employment income during it, the level of hunger in US households reportedly has tripled.
The world over, while the number of chronically hungry people had been shrinking under United Nations efforts, almost 700 million were undernourished in 2019, still, and one in five children under age five were stunted from hunger. Wars and international conflicts, and the pandemic are adding many more.
At the start of the pandemic, the United Nations Secretary-General had urged a ceasefire on the world’s belligerents, and countries supporting these with weapons. The war in Yemen, for example, should be stopped for the pandemic’s duration at least, he had pleaded; humanitarian aid, such as from the World Food Programme, often cannot reach ports or other landing sites being bombed or blockaded in the wars, even as millions of their inhabitants may be at the brink of starvation.
How appropriate and gratifying that this UN agency, which specifically works to address hunger in the world, was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Peace last week.
In a book titled “Full Planet, Empty Plates,” published by the Earth Policy Institute in 2012, Lester Brown discussed many of the causes threatening or directly leading to food insecurity. Relentless population growth is the oldest contributory problem. The diversion – some 30 percent at time of Brown’s writing – of grain to fueling cars is another. With heat waves and droughts, floods and advancing deserts, climate change now is the most serious, growing threat to future food sufficiency and reducing the fossil-fuel emissions cause of it our most urgent task.
Empty plates and stunted minds for children shouldn’t and needn’t be.