Monday, October 12, 2009

Is it in one's own self interest to fight hunger?

Why should those who are comfortable and well fed help those who are not? Well, it is really in their own self interest to do so.

It is proven that hunger and poverty start wars, terrorism, riots and emigration. So those who are well off should want all people to be fed to create a safer world.

The problem with this argument is not all in the aid community believe it, and many are not telling the developed world that message.

From the IPS, writer Paul Virgo gets into this discussion by interviewing some in the aid community who don't necessarily believe it is in ones self interest to fight hunger.

"I don't buy this argument that if we don't do the right thing they'll come over here and ruin our lives," John Hilary, executive director of the London-based anti-poverty group War on Want tells IPS. "I think that's too near to the far right and the British National Party."

Oxfam International believes the self-interest case is valid, while harbouring concerns that it could be twisted by groups in developed countries to block immigration and imports from developing countries.

"It is true that it is in the developed world's interest to eradicate hunger, but I also perceive some risks in this message," Teresa Cavero, head of research at Oxfam's Spanish section tells IPS.

"With the economic crisis and the temptation for greater protectionism, it could be a double-edged sword. For example, it could be said that by encouraging growth in developing countries, people will have more job opportunities in their homelands and there will be less migration. This may be correct in part, but it does not mean immigration is a bad thing."

It is also true, however, that decades of taking the developed world to task over the need to eradicate hunger as part of a quest for social justice has not been enormously successful.

It could be argued that the developed world will only find the necessary commitment to fighting hunger when the issue climbs to a higher position on the political agenda. And this may not come about unless voters in rich countries see food insecurity as a problem that is in their self-interest to solve.

"I'm more comfortable with the justice message, but it's right that it's in the developed world's interest to fight hunger, and any arguments you build to make the developed countries take action are positive," Cavero says.

"The first thing governments and people in rich countries need to be aware of is the reality we are confronted with. Today we have more and more people in hunger, and the WFP have announced the shameful figure of one billion hungry people has been passed."

While fear is one factor that might stir the well-fed, Dawe sees money as another: "On the economic level, there is a huge reservoir of potential demand for developed world products in developing countries if people break out of hunger and poverty."

Cavero agrees: "We at Oxfam are aware of the role trade can have in economic development if it is conducted under fair rules, which is not the case now, along with strong transparent markets. Healthy growth would lead to improvements in overall welfare, which is good for the South and good for the North.

"It is in the North's interest to have a developing world that is not suffering hunger because the whole economy suffers. If they are free from hunger, they can work on their own development. But you must be free from hunger before you can overcome poverty, and only then can you participate in the global economy. Hunger is a dead weight that's too heavy to allow welfare to be achieved."

1 comment:

Kaitlyn said...

As a representative of Opportunity International, one of the oldest, largest and fastest growing microfinance organizations, we are committed to providing a wide range of financial services and business training to the poorest of the working poor.

Perhaps it isn't one's own self interest to fight hunger, but here's what we are doing to fight poverty this month in lieu of Poverty Eradication Day, October 17.

Our Global Opportunity Quilt provides a virtual gathering place where you can honor someone special or make a statement. Patches can be purchased at

The quilt is an inspirational and interactive way to raise awareness and funds for loans for men and women across the globe who are struggling to work their way out of poverty.