Category Archives: Global Hunger

Changing Directions Before It’s Too Late

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

 

Buddhists marching at the People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014

Suppose I was a bus driver driving a busload of people along an unfamiliar route and at a certain point my GPS device showed me that I was heading toward a precipice. I would not assume that the device is mistaken or argue that the accuracy of such devices is a matter of debate. As I got close to the edge of the abyss, I would not jiggle the steering wheel, much less step on the gas pedal. Rather, I would turn away and head in a different direction.

Yet, expand this picture to a global scale, and it shows us exactly what we’re doing with our climate. The climate crisis is probably the gravest danger that humanity has ever faced, the precipice toward which we are heading, yet those in the driver’s seat are doing just what the reckless bus driver does. They’re insisting that the great majority of climate scientists are mistaken; they’re claiming there is still a debate about the causes of climate change; they’re attacking investigators who seek to hold offenders accountable; and they’re stepping on the gas pedal with policies that will push carbon emissions to perilous heights. If they continue to have their way, they’ll drive the bus of humankind over the edge to a fate we can hardly envisage.

As a Buddhist monk and scholar, I look at the climate crisis through the lens of the Buddha’s teaching, which shows that our leaders’ dismissive attitude toward the crisis stems from two deeply entrenched mental dispositions, ignorance and craving. Ignorance is the blatant, willful, and even spiteful rejection of reality, the denial of unpalatable truths that threaten our sense of our own invulnerability. Craving is the voracious grasping after ever more wealth, status, and power, a thirst that can never be satisfied. When the two reinforce each other, what we get is a stubborn refusal to see that wealth and power, no matter how exorbitant, will be worthless on a dying planet.

What makes climate change so insidious—and reinforces the tendency to denial—is the fact that it occurs incrementally, beneath the threshold of perception. The immediate effects strike virulently only on occasion and in limited areas—a drought here, wildfires there, floods in this country or a heat wave in that one. Spared the global picture of the effects in their totality, we can convince ourselves that the extreme events we hear about are merely disconnected vagaries of the weather. And thus we go on blithely living our ordinary lives, thinking we can do so forever.

Yet, while we drift along complacently, climate change hovers over us like an ominous cloud, posing both an existential threat and a moral reproach. It’s an existential threat because, when its full consequences are unleashed, everyone will be affected. Since the climate enfolds everyone everywhere, there is no spot on earth to which one can escape. Human existence itself is in the crosshairs, and if we don’t change course, we may well bring the entire project of human civilization crashing down to a pitiful end.

At the same time, climate change reminds us that, as we procrastinate and backtrack, we are staining our moral record, committing a travesty of justice at multiple levels. At home, fossil-fuel projects tend to strike poor communities—largely people of color—more severely than they hit the rich in their more secure enclaves. On a planetary scale, the disparities are even worse. Over the past few centuries, the industrialized countries—primarily the U.S. and Western Europe—have built up their economic empires by burning fossil fuels, yet it’s the people in the poorest countries—in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Pacific island nations—that are paying the heaviest price. And it is these people again that will face the harshest penalties in the future when whole regions turn barren, when famine and starvation leave behind millions of emaciated bodies, when social disruption erupts in political chaos and regional wars over dwindling resources.

If we’re to avoid such a fate, we must boldly reduce our carbon emissions and hasten the transition to a clean-energy economy powered by renewable sources of energy. This must be done with utmost urgency. What we need is nothing short of a full-scale climate mobilization, as complete as the war effort launched during World War II. This will require changes not only  in our practices but in our attitudes. We’ll have to proceed from the inside out, with transformations in our minds and our values. We’ll have to replace a culture of extraction and endless consumption with one that prizes reverence for the earth and gratitude for the resplendent bounties of nature. We’ll have to reject an economy that thrives on exploitation and competition and enshrine in its place one that gives priority to mutual care, collaboration, and respect for other peoples.

To deal successfully with climate change, we must draw upon wisdom and compassion, the antidotes to ignorance and selfish craving. Wisdom is the calm voice that tells us to take the blinkers off and see things as they are—in this case, to acknowledge the truth that climate change is real, that human activity is behind it, and that the chief culprit is an economic system propelled by the quest for short-term profits. Compassion is the inner force that makes us recognize that others count too, that shakes our hearts with the suffering of others and moves us to act so that billions of people around the world are spared the death and desperation that a hostile climate would inflict on them.

By a tragic twist of fate, just at this critical juncture when fresh initiatives are called for, when bold and determined action has become imperative, our country has handed the reins of power to a president whose administration is doing exactly the opposite of what is needed. We’ve installed at the command center a narcissist who thinks he can defy the laws of nature and come out ahead; we’ve let him appoint a team that denies the hard truths of science, scorns the advice of informed policy experts, and does everything it can to pump new life into the fossil fuel industries. In effect, we’ve appointed a bus driver who is driving the bus of humanity ever closer to the cliff.

On April 29th, along with hundreds of thousands of environmentally concerned Americans, I will be going to Washington to join the People’s Climate Mobilization. I will be marching not only on behalf of people here in the U.S. but for people all around the world, especially the poor and dispossessed, whose own voices will not be heard in the halls of privilege and power. I will be marching to demand an ambitious climate policy, one that meets the severity of the crisis and moves us quickly toward zero emissions. I will be marching on behalf of truth, to insist that we cannot ignore the warnings of our best scientists. I will be marching on behalf of a clean-energy economy waiting to be born, one that is respectful of natural limits and can uplift people everywhere. I will be marching on behalf of the earth, hoping to usher in a new relationship between humankind and nature.

I will be marching to show our government that America must live up to its highest ideals, that we must serve the rest of the world as a model of wise, conscientious, and compassionate leadership. In short, I will be asking our leaders to to turn the bus around and lead us all into a safe and sustainable future.

This essay was originally published on Common Dreams. A shorter version appeared on the website of the Faith Contingent of the People’s Climate March.

BGR Provides Emergency Relief to Countries Facing Food Crisis

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, announced that the world is facing the most serious humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the United Nations. More than 20 million people in four countries—Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria—are suffering from extreme food shortages, with millions at risk of starvation, a large percentage of them children. Speaking to the UN Security Council last Friday (March 10), O’Brien warned that “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”

Photo: World Food Program

The gravest  crisis is in Yemen, where  17 million people are facing dangerous levels of food insecurity and will fall prey to famine without urgent humanitarian assistance. Seven million people are deemed to be in a state of emergency – one step away from famine. In South Sudan more than a million children are acutely malnourished, including 270,000 who will die if aid does not reach them in time. In Somalia close to 3 million people are struggling with severe food shortages and need immediate help to survive. Close to a million children under five in Somalia are expected to suffer from acute malnourishment this year. In northeast Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the armed group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes. Malnutrition in this region is so severe that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.

These food shortages, while due partly to drought and crop failures, are largely precipitated by regional conflicts. The conflict may be internal, as in South Sudan, where fighting between rival factions prevents food supplies from reaching those in need. Conflict may also be external, as in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been unleashing relentless aerial bombardments against Houthi rebels, attacks that claim the lives of many civilians. According to O’Brien, in Yemen “all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid.”

One of the biggest obstacles to relief aid is inadequate funding. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that this year humanitarian operations in the four countries require more than $5.6 billion, with $4.4 billion needed by the end of March to avert catastrophe. However, he added, “just $90 million has actually been received so far—around two cents for every dollar needed.”

Although the U.S. has consistently been a major supporter of the UN’s humanitarian projects, reports suggest that the Trump administration intends to slash its contributions to the organization as a whole as well as to the three agencies on the front line in responding to the crisis: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, and UNICEF. These cuts, if implemented, will increase the need for nongovernmental actors and private philanthropies to come to the rescue.

While BGR is not an emergency relief organization, when crises erupt that require immediate aid, we have often responded with special donations from a fund  maintained to meet urgent demands for food aid. In response to the present crisis, this past week BGR made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Program, to be divided equally between the four affected countries–$2,500 each to Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. This, of course, is a mere drop when measured against the amount needed, but we have to respond in a way that fits our capacity, monitoring the situation with a view to future aid.

This donation brings to $58,000 the amount that BGR has so far contributed in emergency aid over the past fiscal year, which extends from July 2016 to June 2017. Previous emergency donations went to relief organizations working for flood victims in Assam, India; for people living in famine stricken areas in Eastern and Southern Africa; for relief aid in Haiti following the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew; and to provide food aid to Syrian refugees.

Note: BGR makes emergency donations from its own special emergency fund and does not solicit contributions from the public for such purposes. Readers who wish to donate to support food relief in these four countries can do so through the website of the World Food Programme. There are separate windows for each country.

Free School Lunches as an Educational Incentive in Cameroon

BGR Staff

The article below is adapted from a report sent by BGR’s partner in Cameroon, CENCUDER. The mission of CENCUDER is “to enable rural youths and women [in Cameroon] to acquire survival skills in order to secure a better future for themselves through education and training in life and vocational skills.” Ebase village is among the most marginalized rural areas in the Kupe-Muanenguba Division in southwest Cameroon. Ebase village operates a local community primary school as the only social facility. Families are unable to send their children to towns and cities for their schooling because they cannot afford to pay house rents and buy requisites like uniforms and books. Only 58% of children complete primary school. The BGR-sponsored school feeding program aims to enhance the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children by distributing meals to them. It promotes literacy among school-age children suffering from chronic hunger and an insufficient diet. Introduced last year with support from BGR, the feeding program has helped solve many problems faced by the local community. Many more children now attend school and parents have seen improvements in their children’s academic and moral output. It is quite astounding that in this country—which is 40% Catholic, 30% Protestant, 18% Muslim, and probably 0% Buddhist—it is a Buddhist organization in far-off America that has come to the assistance of the poor children of the region.

CENCUDER

A BGR project in the Bangem subdivision of Cameroon, in West Africa, is making big news. The project, which started last academic year, aims at enhancing the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children attending the Ebase-Bajoh primary school. The core of the project is the distribution of a hot school lunch to the pupils, many of whom are girls and orphans. The feeding program, which is intended to promote literacy among school-age children suffering from chronic hunger and an insufficient diet, is the first of its kind to be undertaken by an NGO in the Bangem subdivision.

CENCUDER 4

The program is having a strong positive impact on the lives of these children, many of whom might have had to forgo their primary education without the meal program. In the 2016–17 academic year, which just began, the Ebase-Bajoh primary school has witnessed a rise of 15% in school enrollment. Many pupils have left neighboring primary schools to join the pupils of Ebase just because of the delicious meals their peers in Ebase shared with them when they met during youth week and the national day’s activities. The pupils of Ebase-Bajoh often regret vacations or holidays in the course of the academic year since they know they would have to miss their balanced meals at this time. Each time the director of CENCUDER arrives at Ebase, the children always rush and scramble around him just to find out the next type of meal to be served to them.

So far, many parents have testified to the improvement of their children’s health, academic performance, and behavior at home. Absenteeism on account of ill health, which affected the students’ academic performance, has been significantly reduced. Through this feeding program, pupils whose parents can’t even afford a meal are ensured of a balanced meal each day. The pupils and parents are deeply grateful to BGR for this program. They thank BGR for the joy and smiles its generosity has brought in the lives of these needy kids and parents in Ebase village and for boosting CENCUDER’s image in the Southwest Region of Cameroon.

Through this program, the government of Cameroon and other stakeholders will understand that fighting illiteracy requires more than just making primary education free. It also requires promoting initiatives that will serve as an incentive for children to attend school and remain healthy throughout the school year.

CENCUDER 3

Sign reads: “Thank you CENCUDER & Buddhist Global Relief for the wonderful meals you are providing to us.”

Connecticut Walk to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

On November 8th, BGR held its fourth Walk to Feed the Hungry in Willington, Connecticut. This walk differs from other walks in that it is not held in a place with public exposure but on the property of the Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple, set on a quiet road in the woodlands of rural Connecticut. Our host was the abbot of the temple, Ven. Bounlieng Sychoumphonh. Monks from Nepal and Sri Lanka also participated, as did the nuns from Chuang Yen Monastery. About 50 laypeople from different parts of Connecticut and vicinity turned up for the walk.

Group Photo

This walk is conducted differently from other walks: not as a procession through the streets or park, but as a slow and silent walking meditation, in single file, winding around the extensive property of the temple.
Continue reading

Climate Change and Food System Shocks: Threats of Cascading Catastrophe

Charles W. Elliott

Food System Shocks
A global pre-eminent insurance market is waving red flags about the risk of climate-change shocks to our world food system that could quadruple the price of basic food commodities, cause widespread famine and social instability, and  bring down governments. Are world capitals paying attention?

Adding to the chorus of voices warning of threats to the global food system caused by climate change is global insurer Lloyds, which recently issued its report, “Food System Shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply“.  Food System Shock is one in a series of Lloyd “emerging risk” reports that address risks that are “perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood or allowed for in insurance terms and conditions, pricing, reserving or capital setting.”  This is not the first risk report on climate change issued by Lloyds (see, Lloyds’ Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change (2014)), nor the first to address global food security (see, Lloyds’ Feast or Famine (2013)).  But it is the first by Lloyds to connect these two, explicitly addressing the impacts of climate change on food production and follow-on effects to society in a globalized economy.
Continue reading

Food, Dignity, and the Commons: Frances Moore Lappé

Charles W. Elliott

Common Dreams has published an insightful interview with activist and author Frances Moore Lappé that illuminates the foundations of the struggle for a just global food economy: democracy and human dignity. Ms. Lappé is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking work on global hunger, recognizing that world hunger is not the result of insufficient food supplies but rather our industrial model of food production and the inability of the poor to access the available abundance of food or its means of production. In short, the problem of global hunger is the problem of poverty, the mal-distribution of political and economic power, and inequality. Acting upon this recognition, rather than a myth of scarcity, undermines multinational corporate attempts to more deeply entrench industrialized control over the global food supply.

Lappé argues that a solution to this inequality-driven hunger is the expansion of “living democracy”, exercised individually and collectively by each person’s daily choices of how we live, thus “infusing the power of citizens’ voices and values throughout our public lives.”  Continue reading

Asia’s Quiet Land Transfers

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

January 2015: Indian farmers protest against displacement. Photo: National Alliance of Peoples Movements

The April 2015 issue of Against the Grain, the online bulletin of GRAIN, an international organization that supports small farmers in their struggle for social justice, features a report titled “Reform in Reverse: Laws taking Land Out of Small Farmers’ Hands.” The report details the changes in laws and land policies that in recent years have been gaining momentum in Asia, to the detriment of small-scale agriculture. Traditionally, Asia’s agricultural base has consisted of small farmers, who are among the most efficient and productive in the world, able to produce 44 % of the world’s cereals. This agricultural system, however, is being undermined from within by an agenda that puts the profit of large agribusiness corporations above the well-being of millions of small farmers and the populations they feed.
Continue reading