New view of world hunger
Such a conviction is the instinctive response of those who reject fatalism and accept the promise in constructive human effort as ratified by history and religion. But these italicized words are more than a hope, however profoundly based. They are the final conclusion of a two-year, 250-page study by America's Presidential Commission on World Hunger. Entitled "Overcoming World Hunger: The Challenge Ahead," the report describes many of the "decisions and actions" to be taken if the outcome is to be sufficient elimination of hunger to minimize its threat to humanity and to peace. A significant part of the challenge is to help the world understand that this threat and the removal of it are no less important than the dramatic and melodramatic events now getting the headlines.
Central to progress is the recognition that hunger is interrelated with elements of foreign and domestic policy far beyond the food and development aid that conventionally comes to mind. Almost everything done by a country as powerful as the United States has a potential impact on the ability of other nations to conquer hunger and its main cause, poverty. By giving hunger a new and urgent priority, the report and the emerging debate about it can help Americans and others to understand the larger view.
To take but one example, the United States has to consider whether its policies may actually worsen the conditions for other countries to solve their food problems. As a dominating food producer, the US can help through judicious agricultural aid and trade. But it can also hurt by injudicious use of food that may help its own farmers but undermine the efforts of other countries to become self-reliant food producers -- or sometimes, indeed, impose food products that countries may not be used to and may not need or want. The problem of unwise use of infant formulas in some developing countries is one of the publicized instances.
And, when it comes to self-reliance, the point is now being made that, for the sake of the global food situation, American farmers, too, need to become more self-reliant as changing resource and energy supplies impinge on them. Small and medium farms need encouragement. The move toward renewable energy resources needs support.
The US has made some moves already toward adjusting to the interrelatedness of hunger and other matters. The new International Development and Cooperation Agency is seeking to coordinate various elements as its name implies. The commission report reasonably calls for the agency's director to be given Cabinet rank, and we would go along with a minority suggestion, too, that he be made a permanent member of the National Security Council. It would be in line with President Carter's early sense of the importance of third-world issues to ensure that they be represented regularly at the highest levels.
There is merit, too, in a suggestion that firms obtaining assistance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation or the Export-Import Bank be required to supply a so-called hunger impact statement, showing whether their plans and purposes help or harm. Also worth exploring is a mediation board (perhaps like the one in the Commerce Department dealing with export "dumping") that could handle complaints such as those on the infant formula question.
The US ought to lend full support to United Nations moves to establish standards for multinational corporations, which can affect the economic and social conditions that in turn affect the prospects for people to obtain sufficient food. And there is much to be said for the establishment of "basic human needs agreements" by which the donor and recipient of bilateral aid would agree on uses for it and on other steps to be taken, such as improved distribution of income, that would help ensure the best fundamental purposes.
Yes, there has been some progress in meeting world hunger. We hear of improvements in Asian villages, for example. Famine and starvation are not the big looming problems; "chronic undernutrition" is. It afflicts from 450 million to one billion persons, according to various estimates. They do not have what are regarded as the minimum requirements of nutrition for productive lives.
Their plight demands that this commission report not become one more for the library shelf -- but one to prompt the strong, forward-looking legislative proposals largely omitted from the document and to spur the educational efforts it correctly identifies as essential to seeing world hunger in its true world dimensions.