1st September 2013

Moral and political responsibility : double standard for victims in Syria and victims of hunger

The media are full of it. More than 100,000 dead in Syria since the beginning of civil war just over two years ago, of which more than 1200 as a result of the use of chemical weapons a few days ago. And now our political leaders are ready to intervene in order to «punish» the Syrian government.

«Doing nothing means to accept the unacceptable... We cannot just look and do nothing.»

The media are congested with speeches by political personnel. Political leaders are ready to go for war outside of the generally accepted legal framework (the UN) on moral grounds, without any specific objective but to punish and without figuring out whether the punishment will save lives or put more lives at risk.

But why should these speeches not apply in the case of hunger?

Why not adopt the same approach for the victims of hunger?

Who is thinking to punish the dozens of governments responsible for more than 7000 deaths every day, a majority of which children, a total of 2.5 million per year or 50 Syria? Nobody!

Who envisages to do what is required to save the lives of the 2.5 million people who will certainly die in general disregard during the year to come?


It is true that famicide is not yet recognised as a crime against Humanity (the world  famicide was coined by Trueba et MacMillan in their recent book «How to End Hunger inTimes of Crises»).

Why should the thousands of Syrians victims call for a different reaction from the million victims of hunger? Is it because the Syrian government is responsible for deliberately killing its nationals and that in countries where people die from hunger this is a fact against which nothing can be done and governments have no responsibility? This is a widely held myth [read more on myths on hunger], but totally wrong, as it is well established that hunger is a result of decisions taken by governments [read more on Food crises]. This means that leaders in the concerned countries are entirely responsible for hunger and it is possible to act to resolve the hunger issue...

We cannot suspect our leaders of ignorance. Would they have other reasons? Direct or strategic interests in Syria? Are our leaders trying to be popular by flattering national pride? Is it a result of the CNN effect and an attempt to use the emotion created in public opinion by the dramatic pictures shown in the media? It is of course shocking to see pictures of the alignment of the victims of the chemical attack in Syria. But are we conscious that if the annual victims of hunger were aligned, the line would be longer than 1000km or more than the road distance between Paris and Nice?

It would be so much easier to justify a peaceful action to save millions of lives than to give good reasons for a violent action aiming simply at «punishing».

There is the issue of cost...

Governments are not very eager to give figures on the cost of the wars conducted these last decades. According to Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize recipient, the monthly cost of the second Iraq war in 2003 was around USD 16 billion (USD 500 million per day or USD 192 billion per year!). Bombing Syria for three days would certainly cost much less, as there would be no troops present on the ground, but one can reasonably estimate that it would cost at least USD 500 million. But they would have no likely effect on the number of future Syrian victims.

In their book, Trueba and MacMillan estimate that 30 million tons of cereals would be required to eradicate hunger and save the 2.5 million people who are likely to die from hunger in the next 12 months. This amount would represent only around 1% of world production. 30 million tonnes would cost around USD 12 billion (at the average price of USD 400/kg of cereals - the current price of wheat is approximately USD 305/kg and the price of rice is USD 530/kg). If distribution costs are factored in, the funding requirement would be of approximately USD 24 billion per year to eradicate hunger immediately. That means that with a cost equivalent to 6 weeks of Iraq war, all the victims of hunger could be saved!

So what are our leaders waiting for? What are our MPs waiting for? What is our civil society waiting for to launch a campaign on this theme?


Last update:    September 2013

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