Up to 50 million people could die of starvation before the end of 1975, thinks a British MP. A Catholic journalist believes that unless decisive action is taken within the next two months many millions face death. MICHAEL DUGGAN reports on a new campaign which aims to shake us from our complacency over starvation
An air of solid, civilised respectability pervades the headquarters of the Royal Commonwealth Society in London's elegant Northumberland Avenue. But when churchmen, MPs and the leaders of voluntary organisations met there last week in a ground floor room to talk about food it was in a tense atmosphere of crisis.
This was the first public meeting of the new campaign Foodshare, whose sponsors are urging the British Government to contribute more towards alleviating the world food crisis. Speaker after speaker emphasised the appalling gravity of the problem.
Jonathan Power, journalist, film-maker and member of the Justice and Peace Commission, said the situation was due to maldistribution of power, resources and wealth. The problem was long-term. But to cope with the immediate food crisis we needed to "tinker."
Mr Power thinks we have reached the time which the novelist C. P. Snow warned about six years ago in a speech at Missouri. Millions, millions, millions of people are going to die from famine and "we will sit and watch them doing so on our TV sets."
A combination of factors in the last few years has led to the crisis. Increased food demand in the West coincided with the massive Soviet purchase in 1972. of western grain stocks, while the failure of the 1972 Peruvian anchovy harvest had posed a threat to livestock foodstuffs.
In 1974, for the first time since 1946, a bad harvest coincided with low world food stocks. Jonathan Power said it was "perhaps the most severe crisis in mankind's history."
No one at the World Food Conference, held last November in Rome, had estimated the grain deficit in famine areas to be less than 7 million tons, said Mr Power. He took the view that it was much larger than 9.5 million tons and "very little" had been done by the rich countries to make this , food available.
In the United States an important debate over future food aid is taking place between Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State, and Senator Hubert Humphrey. "It's a very significant battle" said Mr Power, adding "we've got to fight our own battle here."
In 1946 the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was so upset by the prospect of mass starvation that he introduced bread rationing. His example had made a deep impression on US President Truman, Jonathan Power said.
Mr Power believes that if the ordinary men and women of Britain are confronted with the real facts they will respond readily if asked to cut their personal food consumption. Harold Wilson could lead the way by saying on television: "My family have made the decision to at less meat."
Sir Bernard Braine, MP for South East Essex and former chairman of the Committee for Overseas Development, said that up to 50 million people could die of starvation before the end o11975, depending on this year's harvest. "I don't think there's any doubt now about the sheer gravity of the problem which faces us."
Although the British Government has increased fertiliser aid from 5,000 tons to 25,000 tons, Sir Bernard pointed out that the new figure represented only one shipload. We must remind ourselves that "the problem won't go away." Mr John Mackie, former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, looked at the problem from a farmer's point of view. He thought food subsidies could be better spent on propaganda aimed at encouraging people to eat the right kind of food and to eat less.
Wastage is an enormous problem. Each year £.600 million worth of food is bought in the United Kingdom, said Mr Mackie, and half of it comes from abroad. "Twenty-five per cent of that doesn't reach the mouths of the people of this country."
Mr Mackie said that two million people could be fed on the food given to our 5.6 million dogs and 4.5 million cats. "A hungry man is an angry man" he said, adding: "Everyone should be interested in this dreadful situation." Foodshare campaigners have issued a four-point manifesto calling on the government to pressurise the EEC into doubling its present food aid commitment from 1.3 million to 2.6 million tons of grain and to provide the necessary finance for this.
The manifesto further invited Britain to double its existing fertiliser aid from 25,000 tons lo 50,000 tons and to investigate ways of saving food at home in order to release grain for the hungry.
Signatories to the manifesto include leaders from all the main Christian denominations and representatives of voluntary organisations among which arc Christian Aid, Oxfam, the Catholic Institute for International Relations and the World Development Movement. A group of 35 peers and MPs have sent the Prime Minister a memorandum on Britain's responsibilities in the .world food crisis.
Catholic Herald readers can help the starving by reducing their personal food consump tion and donating the money saved to relief organisations, by
stirring up awareness of the crisis in their parish or school, and by keeping up political pressure on their local MP.
For full details of the Foodshare. campaign write to: Foodsbare, 4th Floor, Bedford Chambers, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8HA. Human lives depend on