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The Number 9 (million)

by John Brian Shannon | June 03, 2015

What’s in a number?

Take the number 9 for example. It’s just a single digit. Nothing exceptional about it. Except that simple numbers can convey much information to thinking human beings.

Like the fact that 9 million people die annually from starvation and a lack of clean drinking water. If you total those annual deaths from the year 2000 until now, you get 135 million deaths from starvation/lack of clean drinking water.

There’s no rocket science in preventing starvation-related deaths. Simply give the necessary daily calories to people and they don’t die. The human body is an amazing machine, isn’t it? Nothing could be simpler.

Yet, decade after decade, millions of people continue to die from lack of food and clean water.

Therefore, let us look at the problem

  • Is there a lack of arable land on the Earth on which to grow crops? No, there is plenty of land to grow crops.
  • Is there a lack of water on the Earth? No, there is plenty of water.
  • Is there a lack of people on the Earth who could act as labourers to plant, water, and otherwise tend to crops? No, there are 7.2 billion people on the Earth and most of them don’t have gainful employment.

So it appears that the problem of 135 million people dying horribly from starvation and lack of water every 15 years, is a problem of economics more than anything else.

Fields of soybeans -- an important global food crop.

Fields of soybeans — an important global food crop. Image courtesy of chem11.proboards.com

The United States alone wastes more food every year than it would take to feed those 9 million people per year. In fact, whole fields of mature crops are often plowed underground in order to keep prices high enough for farmers to produce food at profitable levels.

It’s not just the United States. Europe is just as wealthy as North America and it wastes almost as much food and water.

See what I did there?

If the U.S. wastes enough food to feed 9 million people per year AND Europe wastes enough food to feed 9 million people per year, that means we have twice as much food as we need to solve the entire problem right there!

Yes, it would cost something to transport the food to Haiti, Africa, Asia, and perhaps some locales in South America.

To feed 9 million people per year would cost something — even if the food was ‘degrade’ food, that is, food that isn’t quite up to Western world standards. “Western consumers don’t buy lopsided tomatoes” I was once told; “Those ones go in the trash.”

If we look at the scale of the problem we can compare it to other events

Take WWII for example. Some 60 million people were killed in that war, although estimates vary widely due to the lack of accurate record-keeping. Wikipedia suggests that the range is 50 to 80 million.

On top of those statistics, other sources say that an additional 50 million Chinese deaths occurred during WWII — mostly due to starvation as transportation links were severed and food could not be delivered.

We could speculate and say that there may have been as many as 80 million WWII (non-Chinese) deaths AND 50 million Chinese deaths mostly from starvation during and in the months after WWII. Perhaps more.

There are entire libraries dedicated to WWII, which cover the death count, the tactics employed by the various military units, and how that war finally ended. Every schoolchild learns about WWII and about the postwar economic boom which has heralded much wealth in the postwar era.

The amount of information freely available on the topic of World War II is staggering mainly due to the very high death toll of that war. Above, I mentioned that the total death toll from all sources in WWII could be as high as 130 million (or higher) when starvation deaths due to war were factored in.

Yet, we have that many people dying of starvation every 15 years — and that, in a time of relative peace!

No supply lines are cut off. Bomber aircraft are not dropping bombs on rice paddies, bridges, food warehouses, or dairy farms. The ocean shipping lanes are wide open (although there are tiny regions where piracy at sea is problematic) and statistically, air travel is still the safest form of travel on the planet.

So what gives?

  • Why aren’t there libraries full of information about the 9 million people who die every year due to starvation and related problems?
  • Why aren’t entire departments of universities not devoted to studying this issue, as there are in regards to WWII?
  • Why aren’t we selling ‘War Bonds’ and declaring ‘war’ on the ‘enemy’ like we did in WWII when we faced a threat similar in size and scope?

We beat the threat posed by the Axis Powers in 5 difficult years. But the starvation threat? Nobody knows about it.

Food aid agencies frequently report that people lose interest in solving the global starvation problem. A sort of ‘donor fatigue’ sets in (yes, that’s a term those agencies use) where nobody wants to hear about it as people begin to see the problem as ‘to large to solve’ and would rather not hear about it.

But we stopped WWII which was a bigger threat to humanity and we did it in 5 years! Which meant that tens of millions people wouldn’t die in each of the following 5 year periods.

What is the problem?

  • Why can’t we stop 9 million deaths per year?
  • Why can’t we stop 135 million deaths every 15 years?
  • Why aren’t we selling ‘War Bonds’ or ‘Food Bonds’ to pay shipping lines to transport all of our weird-looking tomatoes or other lopsided-looking fruits and vegetables, etc. to places where thousands of fellow human beings are dying by the day!

The simple answer is; We could solve it if we wanted to

It costs about $1 per day to feed a person. About 9 million people die per year from starvation. Which means that it would cost $3,285,000,000 to prevent 9 million deaths per year.

Even if we doubled that number to 6 billion dollars instead of 3.2 billion dollars annually to pay for unforeseen shipping costs (like a bridge needing repair due to local flooding, for example) or additional security around food distribution centres (to prevent theft and looting) this problem is eminently solvable.

Six billion dollars per year is nothing in the grand scheme of things. It is equal to 1/3 of the annual revenue from U.S. movie theatre tickets. And we wonder why we have terrorism…

We need $6 billion dollars per year and we need the same political will as we employed to win WWII to prevent another 135 million horrific deaths over the next 15 years.

This is humanity’s defining moment. Are we caring human beings, or are we just pretending? We’ll know who we are in 15 years…

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