The World Debates While Children Die

By Drinan, Robert F. | National Catholic Reporter, November 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

The World Debates While Children Die


Drinan, Robert F., National Catholic Reporter


I recently spoke at the funeral service of a child. There are no words or ideas to make sense of such an occasion. There are no explanations, no justifications, not even any prayers that quiet the mind.

I have lately been haunted by the realization that every day 31,000 families gather for the burial of their young children.

Despite some recent improvement, UNICEF statistics continue to say that many children die needlessly every day from preventable causes.

The past 50 years have witnessed the most productive period in global agricultural history. The green revolution has seen the greatest reduction in hunger that the world has ever experienced. Since the United Nations was created and the Food and Agriculture Organization was born, the world's global acreage under irrigation has doubled and new high-yielding seeds and better agricultural machinery have vastly improved the techniques that were used by farmers for the past 10,000 years.

Farmers now globally produce 6 billion gross tons of food for the 6.4 billion people on the Earth. That yield will have to increase to 9 billion tons in the next 50 years. Those advancements will in all likelihood be assisted by genetic modification of crops, though the debate over biotechnology in highly developed countries may impede its acceptance in the poor, food-insecure nations.

But there are still 800 million hungry people. Africa is suffering more than any other continent. The 50 nations of Africa are facing a pandemic scourge of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Africa has had a 30-year period of continuous degradation in soil fertility, frequent droughts and a rapidly increasing population.

In an Oct. 14 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Norman Borlaug and former President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Laureate in 1970, predicted that Africa is facing a "human catastrophe ... on a scale the world has never seen."

These conclusions are in line with those of a presidential commission established by President Carter in 1979. Chaired by Sol Linowitz, the former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, the commission, made up of eminent experts, concluded in 1980 that the No. 1 objective of U.S. foreign policy should be the elimination of hunger--especially among children.

Imagine the prestige that the United States would have around the globe if 25 years ago America had followed that policy!

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