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Only the poor go hungry

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Every year World Food Day comes around and every year the statistics of hunger become uglier. The stock response is that it is inevitable because people in the populous poor countries are excessively and irresponsibly fecund so that food production cannot catch up with increasing numbers. Malthusianism in its oldest and rawest form dies hard.

The truth is that most people across the globe have reduced their family size and birth rates have fallen - in some areas impressively, almost everywhere noticeably. (There are one or two aberrations in this trend.)

And on the supply side, more food is being produced than ever before and the technology for producing enough for all is available. What is not available is access to that food for millions who need it and a resolute determination by people in power that hunger will be stamped out of this planet as certain diseases have been.

Is it possible to concentrate that will? The prospect is dismal. The problem is that there is no ''reason'' for people who have not experienced what it is to suffer from unappeasable hunger to be concerned with the pangs of others. They are only a huge faceless, nameless mass of statistics. Simone Weil, that luminous French lady who could empathize with the hungry because she deliberately set out to experience hunger herself, told us (in ''The Need for Roots'') that there is no reason to feel responsible for another human being's hunger other than that you yourself are human.

But there are ''reasons'' galore to dodge that responsibility.

A few years ago, I was present when Moraji Desai, then prime minister of India, addressed the parliamentarians of Sri Lanka. With his white cloth cap and his cadaverous face, he was the very embodiment of the ''Gandhian.'' ''My friends,'' he said, ''you will be glad to hear that India has a surplus of 20 million tons of grain.''


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