Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hunger: The "Hidden" News Event

"If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

On May 20, the U.N.'s World Food Programme held its Third Annual Walk the World campaign to call for an end to childhood hunger. Hundreds of thousands of people in 118 countries organized marches in their communities to raise funds for WFP programs that address this problem.

The list of countries that held a walk was very diverse, including Burundi, Cambodia, Guatemala, Iran, Latvia, the Netherlands, Rwanda, the United Kingdom and many others. In the US, there were
57 such events, including New York City, which is sometimes considered the media capital of the world. We did not have a march in Albuquerque, but that's something we may consider for future years.

As far as I can tell, there was little or no media coverage in the U.S. The first media account I saw was an article in the Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada, which was compiled from several accounts from international news wires: Agence France-Presse (France), Deutsche Press Agentur (Germany), Reuters (Britain), and Notimex (Mexico).

So I did a Google search under the "news" mode to see if I could find any U.S. coverge of the U.N. campaign. The
Minneapolis Star Tribune had a feature about an event at The Mall of America, but I could not find any other accounts. This is despite the fact that the U.S. had more marches than any other country in the world. My Google search did find a very good article in London's newspaper The Guardian, entitled "Walk the World to raise millions in support of poor children."

There was also coverage in the Jordanian news agency Petra, the Sofia News Agency of Bulgaria, Tamil Week of Sri Lanka, China's Xinhua news agency and many others. The Swazi Observer of Swaziland, a tiny republic near South Africa, wrote about the participation of a deputy prime minister in that country's fund-raising efforts for Walk the World.

While the main purpose of the Walk the World campaign is to raise funds for worthwhile U.N. programs to end childhood hunger, the effect of the publicity generated by the marches around the world cannot be discounted. The effort is very much tied to The ONE Campaign and the Make Poverty History campaign, which aim to gain greater commitment from people around the world to fight extreme poverty and disease.

The WFD campaign also ties in directly with the first and fourth goals of the
Millenium Development Goals, which aim to Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger and Reduce Child Mortality. The WFD efforts are also compatible with Bread for the World's One Spirit, One Will, Zero Poverty campaign, which urges Congress to meet our country's commitment to double assistance to Africa and the developing world by 2010 (which would mean allocating $5 billion in additional poverty-focused development assistance in the 2007 budget).

While the WFD got very little press in the U.S. media, the one personality most identified with The ONE Campaign, singer Bono of the rock band U2, received a lot of coverage that same week with his
trip to Africa. Accompanying Bono was NBC anchor and managing editor Brian Williams. Williams gives a personal account of his experiences in his blog. In fact, the MSNBC web site has an entire section devoted on the trip to Africa.

As one who studied communications and journalism in college, I understand the decision-making process that goes into determining whether a story is "newsworthy." Sometimes it's not the event itself, but how you portray the event that creates "news."

In our modern times when the line between news and entertainment has been blurred, it takes "star power" to get coverage about hunger and poverty, as Bono and The ONE Campaign know very well. Fortunately, many celebrities involved in The ONE Campaign like Salma Hayak, Dikembe Mutombo and Brad Pitt are also legitimate anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates.

But it shouldn't take celebrities to keep the issue on our radar screen, especially when the message is that ending hunger, poverty and disease is a legitimate and achievable goal.

[Note: The above illustration is the official logo for the Walk the World campaign]

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Bad News: Hunger in New Mexico Worsens

Postal carriers in Albuquerque were collecting non-perishable food items deposited near mail boxes today (Saturday, May 13), as part of Roadrunner Food Bank's spring-summer drive.

I suspect the collections won't be as large as those for the Thanksgiving drive, as people tend to think less about the hungry and poor in our community during the summer months.

Unfortunately, this is the time when food banks need the donations most, as stocks on their shelves begin to dwindle.

The spring-summer food drive has taken an even greater significance this year, given the study by the
New Mexico Association of Food Banks (NMAFB) released just this week.

The report, which the NMAFB called "the most comprehensive study of hunger in New Mexico ever,"
showed some troubling trends in our state:
60 percent of food pantries, 68 percent of soup kitchens and 54 percent of shelters reported an increase in the number of clients seeking help since 2001.

estimated 238,000 New Mexicans sought emergency food in 2005. This is an increase of 38 percent or 66,000 more people per year since 2001.

There are more of these dire statistics in the
executive summary and the full report

The study was compiled using data collected in the spring of 2005 by the eight member food banks of the NMAFB in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Gallup, Farmington, Roswell, Hobbs and Clovis.

The report is part of the national
study Hunger in America 2006 compiled by America's Second Harvest. As the Second Harvest report indicates, the problems are not confined to New Mexico. The growth in hunger is a part of a national trend.

"The results of Hunger in America 2006 should be discomforting," said the Second Harvest national study. "It is difficult to understand how people living in this land of plenty can have to make decisions between paying for food or other household necessities."

Other recent reports have found similar trends.
"Even with an improving economy, overall requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 14 percent over the past year with 96 percent of the cities registering an increase," the United States Conference of Mayors said in study released in December 2005.

In particular, families with children requesting food assistance and emergency shelter also increased substantially over the last year, the mayors' report said. Read press release
See full report

Faith leaders are not keeping quiet about the recent trends. In an April 24 editorial entitled Hunger USA, the Jesuit-sponsored America magazine calls into question the low priority that our country's leaders are giving to the problem.

"Hunger here in the richest nation in the world? Impossible, one might think,"
said the editorial. "But the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey makes it clear that hunger and food insecurity (not always having access to enough food to meet basic needs) not only exist, but are on the rise.

said the mood in Congress and in President George W. Bush's administration is to slash spending on food and nutrition programs, which has contributed to the problem.
"Congress should firmly resist cutting back on federal nutrition programs and focus instead on strengthening them in such a way as to eliminate hunger and guarantee food security in the United States," said the editorial.
The prospect of budget reductions prompted the leaders of five denominations (The Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church), to write a letter to House Budget Committee urging not only that adequate funding be maintained for nutrition programs, but that our government "eliminate the inequities in its federal budget and instead act to pass a budget that meets the moral test of 'serving the common good.'

The five Protestant leaders ended their letter, dated March 29, 2006, (during the Lenten Season) with a quote from
Isaiah 58:10,
If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness."

"We pray that during the budget process, light will indeed rise and that Congress will not only remember the hungry and afflicted but will respond to them with justice and fairness for all," read the last line of the letter.
Because of the strong voices by the faith leaders and many other advocates for the poor, many nutrition programs like the Commodity Supplemental Food Program that the Bush administration originally proposed for cuts for fiscal year 2007 have been saved by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Poverty in India and the Millenium Development Goals

India is a land of contrasts.

The country has experienced phenomenal annual GDP growth rates in recent years, and has become either the fourth- or twelfth largest economy, depending on which measure you use, said

India has joined China as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. "Economics experts and various studies conducted across the globe envisage India and China to rule the world in the 21st century," said in a piece entitled Indian Economy Overview. "For over a century the United States has been the largest economy in the world but major developments have taken place in the world economy since then, leading to the shift of focus from the US and the rich countries of Europe to the two Asian giants- India and China."

But poverty remains a huge concern for a country with a population of 1 billion (as measured by the 2001 census). Some experts are worried that the country's growing wealth is not reaching the poor, thereby expanding the economic gap that already existed for generations. Three out of every four persons who live below the poverty line in India reside in rural areas.

"India is growing at an unprecedented rate. But there are concerns. How much of the benefits of growth are shared with the poor?" said a study conducted by the London School of Economics (LSE) and commissioned by the World Bank and the U.K.'s International Development Department.

As the LSE study points out, "the number of people below poverty line is still a staggering 260 million."

Still, it would only be right to give credit to India for reducing its poverty rate below 26 percent. Just a few years ago, as many as 400 million people in India lived below the poverty line, according to the United Nations Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific.

Because India accounts for such a large number of the world's poor, its ability to reduce poverty will have a major bearing on whether the countries of the world are able to meet Goal Number One of the Millenium Development Goals, which is to Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger.

"Given its large population, the pattern of poverty reduction in India will have a significant bearing on whether the millennium development goal of halving global poverty by 2015 is achieved," said the LSE study.

Bread for the World meeting to look at India

The issue of poverty in India will be among the topics discussed at a program sponsored by Bread for the World New Mexico on Saturday, May 13 in the conference room of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, 720 Vassar Dr. NE (near Lomas & Girard, behind First Congregational Church), 9:00-11:00 A.M.

Our special guests are I
van and Linda Westergaard of St. Paul Lutheran Church and Cathy Pfefferle of Aquinas Newman Center, who visited India over the past year or so.

Cathy traveled to that country with the
Wings Ministry. Read accounts from Cathy and others who went on the trip. Pictured (left) is Cathy and fellow Wings member Doug at the Jesus Mercy Home Association Orphanage. Pictured at the top of the page are girls from an orphange performing a welcoming dance. (Photos taken by Ann Edenfield, Wings Ministry).