by Raj Bharat Patta.
The recent announcement of the 2020 Nobel Peace prize to the World Food Programme (WFP), is a wakeup call to the world to recognise the grave reality of the global food crisis. Millions of people today suffer from or face the threat of hunger. The Norwegian Nobel Committee (NNC) praised the WFP, “for its push for international solidarity and for multilateral cooperation, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. Especially in the face of the global pandemic this year, the WFP has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts to address hunger, starvation, violence and conflict. WFP has stated, “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.” In awarding this peace prize to WFP, the NNC has also exposed the intrinsic link between hunger and armed conflict and explained this link as “a vicious circle.” It further said, “war and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence. We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and armed conflict.”
As the world this year is taken over by the global pandemic, WFP receiving this award under the category of peace has some theological significance. Firstly, we need to recognise that hunger is the deeper translation of conflict. Secondly, it is time to acknowledge that ‘hunger triggers violence, and violence leads to hunger.’ Thirdly, it is food that has the strength to fight against the present chaos.
It is reported by the UN that 690 million people in the world are undernourished, which is about 8.9% of the world population in 2019. In the UK it is reported that 8.4 million people are struggling to afford to eat. 4.7 million of these people live in severely food insecure homes. This means that their food intake is greatly reduced and children regularly experience physical sensations of hunger, explains Fairshare, an organisation in UK fighting hunger and tackling food waste. Children from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic group communities in UK are more likely to be in poverty: about 46% compared to 26% of the rest of the communities. India is one of the world’s largest food producers, yet ironically, the country is also home to the largest population of hungry people and one-third of the world’s malnourished children. It is also reported that hunger could kill more people than the COVID pandemic in 2020, pushing another 132 million people into hunger than projected for 2020. Not to forget the number of children going hungry during holidays in UK has been rising. Covid has exposed that today we live in a world filled with inequalities, including between who can get food and who cannot.
What do all these numbers show? Hunger is a reality in our localities, and it raises an alarm to know that there are many people who are going hungry every day in our communities.
Our new context has forced churches to find new ways to celebrate harvest this year, but the new context has also highlighted the significance of hunger as we give thanks. Harvest should remind us that we are called to build bridges by sharing our fruits, harvest, gifts and care with those on the edges and address this conflict called hunger. As a faith community, we need to ensure there are sufficient local food programmes providing food for the poor, the stranger, the migrant and the refugee. Building bridges of peace is God’s activity in Jesus, and the divine invites us to join with Jesus in building peace bridges with those on the edges.
Harvest demands a preference, a provision and a practice of sharing food with the poor and hungry. Harvest calls for a just compassion. Harvest should challenge us to ensure that there should be food for all. Food serves as an important factor in community building, and harvest demands an unequivocal pledge and commitment in addressing hunger and food insecurity.
In the context of climate change, celebrating harvest invites us to pledge to care for our planet overcoming all those ‘dominion’ narratives against the creation. As churches we are called to be with our local communities in challenging poverty and in making our government accountable for ensuring the welfare of all people and not just the few. With nearly 6 million people in UK struggling to pay their household bills during this period, the call for #resetthedebt is a campaign which as a church we must join in with. In my reimagining of church, I envision churches to be hubs serving food for all, addressing poverty, tackling hunger, sharing our resources.