MILLIONS IN WANT
By Fr. ARTHUR McCORMACK
THE Symposium on food and population problems at the British Association Meeting at Cardiff dealt a death blow to the Malthusian pessimism which until recently has been so rife in discussion of these subjects because its propagandists have had far more publicity in the popular media than the experts.
Not only did the scientists at Cardiff show that the world could feed its increasing population for many, many years to come. But even protagonists of birth control had to admit that this much vaunted panacea was far from being the easy and immediately effective cure for so-called over-population and that it was likely to lag behind economic and agricultural remedies which the scientists deemed it their duty to provide for the hungry millions: in fact, to have little practical value until the end of this century.
One does not need to be very politically-minded to realise that the under-privileged half of the world is not prepared to wait that long for a remedy which they do not particularly desire.
As a delegate at UNESCO said a few months ago: "Why offer us contraceptives, when we want food?"
HE change in the climate of opinion is very opportune. On July 1, this year, the Freedom from Hunger Campaign of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (F.A.O.) of the United Nations was inaugurated.
This five year campaign will consist of two years devoted to education and preparation leading up to the World Food Congress of 1963, with two years follow-up.
I believe that this venture of F.A.O. may mark the turning point in the history of man's fight against hunger and poverty. I believe that we are poised for a great leap forward, which has been prepared for by the hard work, successes and even disillusionments of the great but inadequate efforts to cope with the problems of underdevelopment throughout the world since theWar.
The "crash programme" that Professor Blackett called for is possible. This campaign could trigger off a food explosion which would dwarf the population explosion, formidable as that may seem.
Justice, charity and prudence combine to urge us to see to it that an all-out effort is made to break through the vicious circle of poverty breeding poverty and turn it into a constructive spiral of self-sustained economics sufficiency for the needy countries.
SINCE World War H, great upheavals have swept the world, in the political, economic, social and technological spheres. Politically awakened peoples have come to realise, through mass communication methods, that their poverty is no heaven-sent condition to be accepted stoically and without hope.
Seeing the tremendous increases in production in more favoured countries, resulting even in huge food surpluses, they know that these countries could help them to climb out of primary poverty and they believe passionately that they should do so.
In the past fifteen years, as Dr. B. R. Sen, the Indian Director General of F.A.O., has pointed out, 800 million people in various parts of the world have won their freedom. Many more millions will achieve their independence this year and next year.
This is a major revolution of our time, because nearly one third of the human race, within this period, have become masters of their destiny, not, as one cynic has said. in order to starve, but to secure a life of dignity and freedom from the misery and degradation of poverty.
The same aspiration motivates the efforts of another one third of humanity, who despite political sovereignty, have not succeeded so far in solving the problem of want.
THE exact extent of this want is sometimes the subject of controversy, experts pointing out the exaggerations of other experts until ordinary people are confused. But the fact of the grinding poverty of very many millions of the world's inhabitants is not open to dispute.
When the population of the world is nearly 3,000 millions, it is surely unrealistic to haggle about whether the exact number of those in want is two thirds or a half or even very much less.
A recent book by Donald Faris, a United Nations Technical Administration expert, with firsthand knowledge of conditions in under-developed countries, "To Plough with Hope", exposes the plight of the hungry millions in under-developed areas and shows what has been done, what still remains to be done, what can be done.
The average per head income of the countries of Asia, Africa and South America is 120 dollars (Apx. £43) per year as against 800 dollars (Apx. 1286) in more advanced countries and 2,000 dollars (Apx. 1716) in America.
Statistical averages, of course, greatly oversimplify the problem, but these figures cannot be ignored.
MUCH has been done in the last decade to help. There have been failures and disillusionment which have been seized on by pessimists (The Groundnut Scheme comes readily to one's mind).
The solid successes have not received so much notice, for example, the achievements of the two Five Year Plans in India, the transformation of Iraq under Nuri as Said, the astonishing success of land reforms in the Kikuyu country of Kenya, the triumph of the American Point Four Programme Mission in Iran, the Kariba Dam, the projected Volta River Dam in Ghana. The work of F.A.O. with its technical experts has also had many inspiring achievements to its credit
These positive results offset the fact that aid has sometimes been given unwisely, that it has been used to bolster up the economic prestige of countries who want to flaunt the end products of industrial strength before they have any industries worth talking about, and SO on.
Dr. Sen is therefore justified in saying that "The area of knowledge of many facets of this problem has expanded as the result of the activities of F.A.O. (and of other agencies) during the last fifteen years. We know more about the technical, economic and social aspects of the problem of hunger than at any time in the past".
THIS solid work of F.A.O. combined with its opportunities as an international organisation to insist that only tested and worthwhile schemes should be helped, which will bring benefit to those who need it most, give great hope that a realistic campaign by this Body, profiting by the experience of the past. will face the task ahead realistically as well as optimistically.
When Dr. Sen introdliced the Campaign, he pointed out that nothing short of an agricultural revolution in the under-developed countries is necessary and asked how this agricultural revolution is
to be organised and financed.
His answer was that Our best hope lies in a concerted effort on a world-wide basis in which not only the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies, but also national governments, non-governmental organisations, religious bodies, foundations. groups of men and women of goodwill everywhere would participate and to which they would contribute their moral and material support.
The Freedom from Hunger Campaign is meant to serve as the focal point of this endeavour.
IN five years, such a campaign could not hope to solve all the immense problems, many of which have grown through centuries of neglect, greed, ignorance, lack of human solidarity, bad systems of farming, inequitable social conditions. But it will provide a base from which future national and international, efforts could be soundly directed.
Catholics should be in the forefront of this movement to rid the world of hunger and poverty. They have been accused in the past of condemning millions to misery by their insistence on the moral evil of birth control when this was regarded by many as the cure-all for overpopulation and underdevelopment.
They should be all the more energetic in supporting constructive schemes on that account. Though, of course not on that account alone.
The words of Our Lord in the parable of the Good Samaritan are a powerful incentive, more powerful even than the principles of social justice which Pius XII never tired of expounding.*
*See "Pius XII and Overpopulation" (C.S.G. Liverpool) by the present writer.