Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism

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Department of Anthropology, SUNY at Plattsburgh Anthropology 451 Capitalist Legacies ROBBINRH@s

The Issue of Hunger and Poverty

Thesis Statement

Poverty is the main reason why babies are not vaccinated, why clean water and sanitation are not provided, why curative drugs and other treatments are unavailable and why mothers die in childbirth. It is the underlying cause of reduced life expectancy, handicap, disability and starvation. Poverty is a major contributor to mental il lness, stress, suicide, family disintegration and substance abuse. Every year in the developing world 12.2 million children under 5 years die, most of them from causes which could be prevented for just a few US cents per child. They die largely because of world indifference, but most of all they die because they are poor.


At the end of World War II public officials and scientists from all over the world predicted that, with advances in modern technology, it would be possible by the end of the century to end poverty, famine, and endemic hunger in the world. Freed from colonial domination, and assisted by new global institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, the impoverished co untries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, people assumed, would follow the paths to economic development blazed by Core countries. Today these optimistic projections have been replaced by hopelessness and resignation as perhaps one-fifth of the world's peoples live in absolute poverty with incomes of less than $700 a year. Estimates of the number of people with insufficient food range from 600 million to over a billion, virtually one-fifth of the world's population. Children are particularly vulnerable; food aid organizations estimate that 250,000 children a week, almost 1500 an hour, die from inadequate diets and starvation, and the illnesses and diseases that thrive on malnourished bodies.. Moreover, hunger is not simply a problem of the poor countrie s of the world. From 1985 to 1992 the estimates of the number of Americans living in hunger rose from 20 million to 30 million.

The above statement from the World Health Organization's 1995 World Health Report, provides the basis for our d iscussion about pverty and hunger. Based on your research in your country, to what extent does poverty contribute to the problems mentioned above in the Report.

Common misunderstandings about world hunger should be dispelled quickly. First, world hunger is not the result of insufficient food production. There is enough food in the world to feed 120% of the world's population on a vegetarian diet, although probably not enough to feed the world on the diet of Core countries. Even in countries where people are starving, there is either more than enough food for everyone, or the capacity to produce it, as we shall see. Second, famine is not the most common reason for hunger. While famines, such as those in the past two decades in Ethiopia, Sudan, Soma lia, and Chad received, by far, the most press coverage, endemic hunger, that is simple daily insufficiencies in food, is far more common than the more widely publicized famine. Third, famine today is rarely caused by food insufficiency. When hundreds of thousands starved to death in Bangladesh in 1974, it was not because of lack of food; there was, in fact, more food than there had been in the years leading up to the disaster, and more food than was produced in the years following. The starvation resulte d from massive unemployment brought on by flooded farmland and high food prices brought on by a fear of food shortages. People starved to death because they couldn't afford to buy food and had no land to grow their own. Finally, hunger is not caused by ov erpopulation. While growing populations may require more food, there is no evidence that the food could not be produced and delivered if people had the means to pay for it. This does not mean that population and food availability plays no role in world hu nger, only that the relationship is far more complex than it appears.

The questions then that we need to ask are why are people continuing to starve to death in the midst of plenty? More importantly, is it any longer possible to believe that pover ty and hunger can be eliminated, and, if so, how?

To answer these questions we need to know, first, about the nature and history of food production; how might the way we produce food either prohibit or promotes hunger? Second, we need to understan d the reasons why people are hungy. As we'll see, the image that we get from the media can be very misleading. Finally, there is a prevailing view that hunger is inevitable. As we'll see, that need not be the case; we'll examine some solutions to world hu nger, and how specific countries, some rich and some poor, have ensured that people have adequate food and quality of life.


Hunger Poverty, and Economic Development

Book chapters

The Enigma of Kerela kerala.html

The Globalization of Famine







Drze, Jean and Amartya Sen, (1989 ) Hunger and Public Action. Ox ford: Clarendon Press

Kennedy, Paul, (1993 )Preparing for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Random House

Newman, Lucile F. , Edited (1990 ) Hunger in History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Rich, Bruce, (1994) Mortgaging The Earth. New York: Beacon

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, (1992) Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press

Schusky, Ernest L., (1989) Culture and Agriculture: An Ecological Introduction to Traditio nal and Modern Farming Systems. New York: Bergin & Garvey Publishers


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