Imperialist actors are having a feast. As the world succumbs to a global crisis that is aggravated by a pandemic, they are exploiting the situation to save themselves at the expense of acute hunger and suffering in the Global South.
Crisis-level food insecurity is at its peak in recent years, according to the 2020 Global Report on Food Crises. In 2019, 135 million people worldwide are at risk of dying from extreme hunger. With the coronavirus pandemic in view, the figures are expected to double – up to 265 million people by the end of 2020.
An estimated 80% of them are farmers, herders, fishers, and foresters, as the majority of the countries surveyed have greater rural populations. Rural women are also among the worst affected despite their considerable contribution to agriculture as food producers and their crucial role in household food security. Aside from the discrimination they face due to patriarchal norms, they also frequently eat least, last, and least well.
Because of the “hunger pandemic,” the United Nations has raised the alarm on 20 countries at the brink of famine. Yemen, one of the “four hotspots of highest concern,” was warned to be “in imminent danger of worst famine the world has seen for decades.” About 16 million people or more than half of its population are suffering from acute hunger – the most number for any country in the world. The extent of the hunger crisis, however, affects eight out of every ten or an overwhelming majority of its people.
What is starving Yemen and many countries in West Asia and North Africa region – accounting for half of the world living in crisis-level hunger – are imperialist-backed wars, occupations, and militarism. The Saudi-led coalition, for instance, has persisted in the bombing and starving Yemen’s civilian population with sustained support from many Western nations including the US, UK, and France, even amid pandemic.
The resulting conflict of these wars of aggression and occupation is recognized as the top driver of acute food insecurity in the world, with 77 million casualties or six out of every ten in 22 countries. Global superpowers have fueled these conflicts and provided military support to whichever faction will assert or preserve their hegemony.
Israel has also committed the same war crimes in the past months, inducing 1.7 million in extreme hunger out of the total five million living in Palestinian territories. The regular airstrikes launched in the Gaza strip have resulted in widespread food insecurity, affecting 70% of the territory’s inhabitants. Half of Gaza’s population lives below the poverty line. They also suffer from acute hunger.
The Trump peace plan may have been stalled indefinitely, but the Zionist government continues to enjoy the support of the US. Israel is bent on annexing a third of the West Bank by seizing portions of it over time, razing Palestinian villages and legalizing Israeli settlements especially in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, which is considered as Palestine’s “food basket.” This not only meant the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families, but they will also lose their major source of food and livelihood. Olive farming, which is a major industry and tradition for the Palestinian peoples, is also put in jeopardy.
In other countries, the offensive that has caused crisis-level hunger comes in the form of economic sanctions. The US is notorious for imposing sanctions to cripple and eventually capture politically resistant nations and their rich oil reserves.
US sanctions have resulted in a hunger crisis affecting a third of Venezuela’s population of around 9 million people, and 2.3 million of them are living in extreme hunger. While these sanctions have failed to topple down Bolivarian President Nicolás Maduro, they have made it difficult for the country to respond to the pandemic. The same is true for Cuba, Nicaragua, and also Iran.
Sanctions are also used to wield leverage over war-torn countries relying on aid for the survival of their citizens and refugees. Imperialist nations weaponize humanitarian aid, using these sanctions to restrict aid delivery. Such is the case in Syria, wherein at least 6.6 million are in dire need of food assistance. Sanctions therefore aim to destroy the national state and its owned infrastructure to drive the surrender of the people to imperialist conspiracies.
In countries with already battered economies and poor healthcare systems that struggle to cope with the pandemic, the impact of aid restrictions is severe. While the peace deals in Sudan and South Sudan have recently given their people respite from years of conflict, both remain in the top ten countries with the worst food crises. To recuperate and rebuild their countries, the transitional governments of both states have sought the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – and this, of course, comes with a price.
For Sudan to access credit, the US – the largest shareholder of the IMF – pressured its transitional government to normalize its ties with the Zionist Israel albeit at great political risk. On the other hand, the IMF has approved emergency assistance worth USD 52.3 million to South Sudan for its pandemic recovery, which will open the country to the whims of neoliberal globalization.
Likewise, many cash-strapped countries in the Global South have resorted to availing financial assistance with COVID-19 as a pretext. However, this spells a global debt crisis.
Sovereign default has hit a record high this year. After Argentina, Ecuador, and Lebanon, Zambia recently joined the roster – the first country to default during the pandemic era and the first from Africa. One out of every four Zambians is already suffering from acute hunger. But Zambia’s debt default has sparked fears of a “debt tsunami” sweeping indebted countries in the region. It has become a precedent to other African nations as it explores IMF’s bailout packagefor debt restructuring.
As government debt rises, the more developing countries are bound to neoliberal conditions that only guarantee profit for imperialist countries and transnational corporations. Much of the USD 280 billion IMF has lent out so far out of its USD 1 trillion ceiling capacity went to bail out debt holders from the private sector.
In India, the rising external debt is reflective of its shift to non-sovereign (private sector) debt, which is 82% of this year’s USD 543 billion – fourfold of the sovereign debt. In line with this is the passage of the three Farm Acts, which aim to deregulate the country’s agriculture sector and cater to corporate interests for the revival of its shrinking economy. However, the laws were met with massive uproar from the country’s rural sector; tens of thousands of farmers have poured onto the streets in protest. The country ranked 94 among 107 nations in the Global Hunger Index 2020, and 400 million are at risk of falling deeper into poverty amid pandemic.
The only debt relief extended to debt-ridden countries was G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, which only freezes government debt payments.
This is the harrowing “new normal” that neoliberal players are setting up for the Global South: the deliberate starving of the people to advance hegemonic interests and corporate profit. In effect,they are holding people’s lives hostage while taking advantage of a pandemic that has a dim end in sight. Imperialist nations and their agents should be exposed and condemned for the inhumane crimes they carry out to preserve their dominance in the remodel of the current world order.
As such, the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) is calling attention to these orchestrated famines on this year’s International Human Rights Day with the theme “End the feast on famines: Uphold people’s rights against wars, sanctions, and debts!”