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September 23, 2012


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I come from Africa, and I know this to be true. I count my blessings daily!

In a conversation on a missions trip, a local was asking the visitor about their daily life. He didn't get past the gym membership: "You PAY to walk???"

A friend was telling us yesterday about her recent missions trip to Tanzania. She and a friend took an extra bottle of nail polish. They spent a morning at an orphanage and as part of the end-of-day fun time, they painted the girls' nails for them. Such a simple thing for them, yet is all the girls talked about for days.

Truth like this makes me think hard about what I need to do. It also makes me grieve to think that someone might dismiss or ridicule those who have less and need a handout to make it today. And to think that someone like that might want to be our President is horrifying to me. Sorry for the political comment but I do think that we really do need to be led by the Bible in our daily lives. And we know that it is 'by the fruits we will know them'.

See the web site for a comparison of how your income stacks up with everyone else in the world. Very humbling!!! We are so, so rich and don't have a clue....

Great message by Bill Hybels. We were fortunate to live in the Chicago area for a number of years and Willow Creek was our home church. Bill gave some of the best messages I have ever head on giving and serving which, in turn, had a significant impact on me and my family.

America as a whole IS rich.
But don't lose sight of the fact that we do still have some very needy people right here in America that do NOT have cars, or phones, or homes of their own. The only clean running water they'll get is what they can scrounge from a fast-food bathroom.

And even some of the people that read your blog aren't well off on their own. We don't own cars or homes, and if it wasn't for the charity of friends or family, we'd be living on the streets too.

A poignant reminder, thank you!

Most of us are truly rich in that we are not hungry and have a roof over our heads. We should certainly be more humble and complain less.

If world hunger can be solved for $30 billion a year, it is certainly feasible.

That works out to $100 per person in the US. If you consider the entire developed world, it has to be under $50 per person.

Can't we do this?

Yes many are rich, but I am sorry many of the poor in this country are actually worse off.

Yes, we often take so much for granted. I think to truly appreciate how much you've been blessed with, you have to get out there and see as much of the world as possible. It will not only make you appreciate what you have, it will change your perspective on what it means to be happy in life.

Sorry, but world hunger cannot be solved by $30 billion a year. Just using his numbers ($30 billion and 862 million starving people), that would only be $35 per person. You could not buy enough grain even at spot market prices to feed someone for $35/year. And grain alone will not keep someone alive.

But the biggest issue is not production, it's distribution. We produce enough food to feed he world, but we can't get it to the people that need it. Specifically, it's politics/government that get in the way of distribution. Because to control distribution of food is to have the ultimate power over a people. These politics cannot be solved for $30 billion a year. Look at North Korea -- there is no reason that those people are starving other than politics.

While I am all for ending starvation, it is not going to be accomplished by trying to make Americans feel guilty about what they have.

Don --

I think you are misinformed. The UN gives the number as $30 billion a year:

Half of the world's people live on less than $2 a day and a billion people on less than $1 a day (ref. Time magazine 10/1/2012, page 38, Clinton's Global Initiative).

It isn't technically possible for the half of the world that is dirt poor to have what we consider to be a minimal lifestyle. There just isn't enough food, water, energy, and all the other commodities that the wealthy half of the world consumes to go around even if sufficient money was given to them.

Old Limey --

The discussion isn't around "the half of the world that is dirt poor" having "what we consider to be a minimal lifestyle." It's about feeding the hungry. That's it. Feeding them. Not healthcare, not facilities, not lifestyle of any kind -- just feeding them. And according to the UN/LA Times (link above) feeding them will take $30 billion a year.

@FMF From my previous remarks, and my reader profile, you know I agree that human suffering in the third world is a major priority. Hunger is a major cause of suffering, no question.

However, I think the $30bn figure has serious credibility problems. Yes, it originates from the UN. Specifically, it appears in a speech the Food and Agriculture Organization director gave in 2008, seeking more funding for his agency's programs:

I've read that speech. Diouf devotes a few sentences to how he would spend the money: seeds, fertilizer, animal feed, irrigation, storage, roads, education. These are superficially reasonable investments to improve ag stability and boost yields. For this reason, Don's observations about the spot price of grain are irrelevant. Diouf is not proposing mass food aid dumping, a practice which is well known to benefit American farmers and victimize the third-world "beneficiaries".

Nonetheless, $35/person-year is a too-good-to-be-true bargain. If there is really a program that can build up the infrastructure for food security in Africa at that price, it is the charitable opportunity of the century, and I want to donate to it. So, I wondered, what are the details of that program?

I'm still wondering, because I can't find an actual UN whitepaper explaining how Diouf's figure was computed. That's odd: the UN is pretty transparent about its research. (I highly recommend "World Population to 2300" if you have a rainy Saturday to kill.)

So, I turned to the best smart-giving researchers I know of, hoping to learn more about the evidence for Diouf's agriculture interventions. The short answer is that we have no idea whether any of them are effective at boosting farm productivity. You can find the long answer here, with extensive citations from real research:

In sum, I'd recommend against believing something just because a UN bureaucrat says it and the LA Times editorial page repeats it. If actual research backing up Diouf's number exists, I'd love to read it over.

08graduate --

What I get from your response is this: you believe that no one knows how much it will cost to end world hunger. Correct?

So, given that, could it be $30 billion? Maybe. Could it be $40 billion? Maybe. That's your point, I believe, no one knows.

Whether ending world hunger costs $30 billion or $300 billion a year isn't really the point of the piece. The point is that Americans are wealthy by world standards -- and even the poor among us are rich compared to most others in the world.

@FMF Sure. I 100% agree with that message. Moreover, because Americans are so rich and the third world is so poor, it's much easier and cheaper for philanthropy to reduce suffering in the third world than in America.

I just don't like seeing such an important point supported with numbers that aren't credible. It's not merely that "no one knows" how much it will cost to end world hunger. It's that no one even knows of a plan of action that is demonstrably effective at reducing world hunger! [1]

Given that, telling people that ending hunger is as simple as cutting back on soda is bad messaging. For the people who believe it uncritically, it sets unreasonable expectations. If first-worlders want to help make serious, lasting resolutions to any of the developing world's problems, the contribution needs to be much bigger. (I don't subscribe to Old Limey's apathy and defeatism, but he's right about the general shape of the numbers.) For people like Don who can do the division and see that $30bn is absurd, it leaves the impression that people who argue for international aid are some sort of scammers.

[1] I know, that seems odd, but it's true. In agriculture especially, charitable intervention rearranges the economies of the recipient communities, and the effects are hard to predict. (One example: subsistence farmers will often convert excess acreage to cash crops. Thus, boosting food yields can have a lot less effect on food production than you might think, and may even be deleterious to the soil!) This is why I think basic preventative medicine (vaccines and insecticide nets) is a better cause at the current time. It's just as devastating when a child dies from measles or diphtheria as from hunger, but it's much easier to do something about.

08graduate --

I understand your point of view. Here's mine: I don't want to lose the main point -- which is something that often happens when people don't like the message. They pick one small part of a post, say it's wrong, and then conclude (overtly) or imply that the overall message is wrong. In this case, the main message is spot on.

There have been attempts in the past where organizations in the wealthy nations moved to alleviate serious food shortages in very poor areas caused by military conflict or natural disasters and the problems that occurred were that in many cases the food never got to where it was intended. The reasons were many, lack of distribution resources such as ports, roads, trucks etc., and graft, where local chiefs used the free food to sell on the black market and enrich themselves.

I'm one that believes that very high population growth in most of the poorest countries is the cause of many human and environmental problems, particularly premature death of infants, pollution of water resources and deforestation. A vivid example is the aerial comparison between Haiti (deforested) and the Dominican Republic (green and fertile) that share the same island. The classic case of a small country that has done everything right is Costa Rica. It's worth learning about their wonderful story of being able to exist without a military, having a higher percentage of land in national parks than anywhere else in the world, and the development of a very successful tourism industry.

@FMF Totally fair. Usually, when I'm thinking about global differences in wealth, it's because they're such an important factor in effective giving. Re-reading the post, I see that you were just making the point that Americans are wealthy, without any particular context or agenda. That would explain why I found the $30bn claim really dramatic, but you considered it a minor detail.

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