Sent to the Shields Gazette, 14/12/04
Dear Sir,

More than one billion children, that's half of the world's population of children, suffer from poverty, violent conflict and the scourge of AIDS, the United Nations Children's Fund has just reported (the report can be downloaded in PDF format at: http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2005_(English).pdf)

Eight years after the promise to halve the number of the world's starving the figure is not budging. One child is dying from hunger according to the UN every 5 seconds. Its a startling figure. It means 17,280 child deaths every day from hunger. Where the two minute silence for this daily massacre? Indeed those two minutes, two minutes of inactivity, would see an extra 24 deaths added to the figure.

It is possible to read the figures on the world's hungry and to regard them in a very dispassionate way. There are many such lists of dead. Most of us cannot fail to be shocked at the number of 50 million who died in the Second World War. That number is horrendous but the numbers who die from lack of food are relentless - a holocaust that kills its victims every day of every year with no end in sight!

Unlike the casualties of the violence in New York back in 2001, the deaths from hunger are not the material of media drama. This is a silent outrage which is mostly ignored. It is of course impossible to take in the suffering of the millions of families who go into mourning every year over the death of a child because of starvation – over 800 million children since the FAO was set up in 1945, so I am informed. The total number is incalculable, but must approach 2 billion. Those who are better off are not uncaring but pre-occupied, pursuing their own daily struggles. We are driven by an economic individualism that provides us with little freedom to act effectively as a community.

The reason there are so many hungry is that under capitalism they do not constitute a market. The system Bair, Bush and their ilk defend says: "can't pay, can't have". Neither is it sound business sense giving millions of tons of food away free. It is far more logical to destroy tens of millions of tons of food each year and to pay farmers to take land out of production to keep prices high. It makes more sense for the West to have poor countries producing cash crops such as coffee and cocoa to pay off their debts than to produce food for their own people.

It is not so many years ago that The Gazette ran a lead story (I still have the clipping) about the cost to the EU of destroying their fruit and vegetable surplus of 3 million tons. It was £56 million. Of course it had to be destroyed. Were it allowed on to the market then the price of food would have come down and profits would have been hammered and that just would not do.

Were a child on South Tyneside to die of hunger, The Gazette would run the story on the front page. Parents, school teachers and social workers would be called to account. 17,000 die and the story is buried away on the inside page of the tabloids and, furthermore, totally devoid of any analysis.

Pop bands might well get together and re-release "Do they know it's Christmas?" in the hope that charitable donations will address the problem of hunger in Africa. But clearly it does not as the figures for global hunger have increased about 40 million since the record was first released in the 80s. I can only ask of those buying the record: "Do they know it's Capitalism?"

John B

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