Will We Learn this Time?

By Chuck Woolery - 10 February 2016

Chuck Woolery argues that the recent events occurred in Syria urge the international community to tackle hunger and starvation once and for all.

Hunger and starvation are in the news again, this time in Syria. They shouldn’t be. For decades, the world has produced more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child. Yet today, 16 years past the due date for ending hunger, we still have to read about it on the front page.

Even on a day when hunger is not on the front page, or any page, 17,000 children will die from easily preventable malnutrition and related infectious diseases. And for each child that dies, 10 more will live on with permanent mental and/or physical disabilities.

While some in the world suffer from threats posed by groups like ISIS, experts argue about the definition of “terrorism” and politicians debate how to defeat it. But there should be no debate about the ultimate terror--a parent’s loss of a child or fear of losing a child from a lack of food, one of the most basic of human needs. Nutritious food is one of the most basic of all inalienable human rights.

Sadder still is our failure to learn--after decades of presidential commissions, scientific studies, intelligence reports, and righteous scriptures--that when people are hungry and their children die, all humanity pays a monstrous price in the form of war, disease, revolution, terrorism, and economic instability fueled by hunger. This cost in lives and dollars is always preventable. Given the unbelievably low cost in preventing it, this policy failure should be criminal.

President Jimmy Carter has been chastised for his perceived ineptness at foreign policy, but in hindsight, his administration was the wisest and most insightful. Congress just didn’t listen.

In 1980, Carter’s Presidential Commission on World Hunger concluded that unless we ended the worst aspects of hunger by the Year 2000, we would not be able to avoid its lethal, debilitating, humiliating, and destabilizing forces. The reports and recommendations of the Commission noted the phrase “national security” 17 times, with all but three in the context of our need to expand the definition of the term to include the links to hunger, poverty, and the insecurity and instability that inevitably follows.

Everyone on that bipartisan Commission was “firmly convinced that a major worldwide effort to conquer hunger and poverty, far from being a gesture of charity to be offered or withheld according to temporary political whims, holds the key to both global and national security,” and that “military force is ultimately useless in the absence of the global security that only coordinated international progress toward social justice can bring.”

The Commission went on to state,

"The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair and often hatred that result represent real and persistent threats to international order…environmental hazards, pollution of the seas, and international terrorism. Calculable or not, however, this combination of problems now threatens the national security of all countries just as surely as advancing armies or nuclear arsenals."

Carter’s Commission offered the foundation for a more peaceful, healthy, and prosperous future, and Congress ignored it. Welcome to the world we have today! Later commissions on national security offered similar wisdom. But the most recent is also the most insightful and specific.

In June 2015, the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance released a report titled Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance. The Commission, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, offered a two-word conclusion: “just security.” From the Commission’s perspective, without global justice we will have no security. It should be obvious to all that the systems and structures should have been strengthened decades ago. Instead, they remain incapable of managing the growing array of the threats we see today.

No winner of this year’s U.S. presidential election will be able to change things, even with a House and Senate on her or his side, without urgent and substantial transformation of existing global systems and structures. If this new Commission’s recommendations are not taken seriously by the next U.S. president, by Congress, and by other leaders around the world, the craziness we see in the world today will only get worse.

“Urgency” is too lax a word in calling for action given the three simple but profoundly related factors:

  • the exponential growth of technology with unprecedented power;
  • the tendency of U.S. voters and candidates to think only of short-term national interests; and
  • the absence of any global police force, enforceable human rights, or adequate living standards.

Imagine what Syria would look like today if its leadership had been held accountable for the hunger of those farmers who migrated to the capital because of the destabilizing impact of a three-year drought.

Wars, terrorism, climate change, and pandemics are all related to hunger, as both cause and consequence. We are immune to none of these threats, regardless of income level, race, nationality, or political party. Until we understand this basic reality as did those who drafted and unanimously approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the horrors of World War II, we will never achieve peace, security, or prosperity for ourselves or our children.


Chuck Woolery was the first Director of the Alliance for Child Survivaland cofounded "The Global Connections Foundation. He worked with the Global Health Council, the Action Board of the American Public Health Association and as Chair of the United Nations Association Council of Organizations. In 1998, the World Federalist Association hired Chuck as Issues Director. A year after 9-11, he left WFA and became active on the editorial board of the World Hunger Education Service and a school construction project in Haiti. He now speaks frequently regarding global threats and solutions to large groups of students and teachers, visiting Washington DC through the Close Up Foundation. He lives with his wife, children and assorted pets, in Rockville, Maryland and is working on his book, The Trilemma: Maximizing freedom and security in an interdependent world. This article was originally published on Citizens for Global Solutions.

Photo credit: Emre Ç. via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Disqus comments