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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderAssociated event- the ethical dimensions of global hunger: a panel discussion
View the documentOpening statement
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View the documentFloor discussion
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Floor discussion

A number of participants commented from the floor; then the speakers responded

Participant's Comment

First floor participant I work for the National Wildlife Federation, which is not a church-based organization. However, we have our own version of an ethic, and it concerns what happens to land, natural resources, and people, especially future generations. In terms of sustainability it helps to think in terms of a triangle that covers economic viability, ecological viability, and social viability. Within social viability we include all the issues concerned with democracy, public participation, and help to poor people, of which the most extreme and the most painful to deal with is the question of hungry people We do not neglect the social aspect because we have the word "wildlife" in our name.

I want to mention the business as-usual way in which decisions have been made for many years that violates this triangle of what constitutes viable development. The predominant part of the triangle has been the economic viability part, making profits, making a project look like it pays in some traditional way. From out point of view, no development can be sustainable over the long run if all three parts of the triangle do not have an equal value.

So we have a way of thinking that applies to all development problems, in the most extreme corner of which is hunger Take an important actor like the Bank, which has to decide how to measure project quality and through that process ends up emphasizing one of the three corners of the triangle over the others, whether meaning to or not So for many years we have had very well-meaning people making decisions about whether projects have failed or succeeded based on whether the money was lent on time; whether the project stayed on schedule, as opposed to whether people were actually helped; whether their quality of life improved; whether hungry people had obtained immediate help, or whether the project had continued to long-range preservation of the planet.

That is the struggle that I see the Bank going through now: trying to redefine project quality, trying to understand how to equalize the three corners of this triangle However, unless that happens, appropriate development decisions can-not be made, and all the people who are trying to do good are being pushed to do something that is profoundly wrong This lopsided measure of success is a failure of long-run efficiency. You end up degrading productive resources and losing people's productive capacity Getting the three corners of the triangle back into balance is obviously a profoundly ethical question.

Speaker's Response

Ismail Serageldin: You will be happy to know that we are coreligionists In the new Finance & Development that is coming out in December, I wrote a lead article with that same equilateral triangle, which I also presented at the First International Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Development, which is followed by pieces written by leading people in the Bank. So we are making progress.

Participants' Comments

Second floor participant: one should have to go hungry because of his or her religious or political affiliations When one reduces it to the roots level, most of the people who are hungry are not the ones making the political decisions. Holding them to the decisions of those above them seems unethical.

Third floor participant: I was thinking of an article yesterday by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn on the open page of the New York Times which was an excerpt from a speech he gave recently about his observations on contemporary Russia. In the days of central planning and gulags he was one of those who brought communist society to the attention of the world and presented the moral arguments against communism. He has the same fears about what he is seeing of the new market mentality currently being introduced in Russia, and argued that the real needs of the latter part of the twentieth century were to resolve the problems of hunger and poverty, of planetary survival, and of war and peace, and that this new system was not an alternative that would bring this about It made me think of Karl Polanyi, who around 1945 wrote an essay called Our Obsolete Market Mentality, which was a moral critique of market society and of capitalism One of the issues we must seriously consider is that of the ethical nature of a market economy. Is this up for discussion?

Speaker's Response

Ismail Serageldin: I do not think that anybody today advocates the unfettered free market approach of throwing the baby out with the bath water. What we are talking about is that the ruthless efficiency of the market as an allocative mechanism has got to be tempered by a nurturing and caring state Justice that is not tempered by mercy is not justice It becomes legalism.

I think these are the kinds of things that we do not have to spend too much time on because we all pretty much agree. Where I am not so sure that we can easily make a case is in the military area. I frequently talk about the level of military expenditures around the world For the cost of a single tank we could save 7 million children from child hood disease by providing vaccinations If we are going to discuss political realities, how about a 10 percent reduction across the board in military expenditures?

Participants' Comments

Fourth floor participant I am happy to see that Ismail is introducing this ethical dimension, and I would like to suggest that next tune he writes an article with the triangle he mentioned, he puts a circle inside * with "ethics" dearly spelled out so that everybody starts talking about this issue.

I would like to ask a question about the water problem. Land is no good without water, and we need land and water to produce food Much of the world is not endowed with enough water. The water that evaporates elsewhere because it is hot falls upon us, and we can live well and have a lot of water and a lot of food.

Now here in the United States we have our west, which does not have water, and we feel it absolutely natural and normal that we pay taxes and subsidies so that we can all share the same quality of life What about people elsewhere in the world? We are talking about equity and ethics, but what does that mean in terms of solidarity and sharing? Should we be thinking about managing water and land globally? What kind of institutions should we envisage? We have to change our vision completely.

Fifth floor participant I am struck by the contrast between the moral imperatives imposed on individuals' consciences, and the moral imperative of political action, which has to do with moral obligations or the ethics of social, political action Eradicating global hunger is certainly a social, and therefore a political, problem. However, there is a gap between the individual and the social level. I know there is a whole literature on the topic, but I submit that we have a problem, because we have jumped too quickly from individual obligations to social action.

My concern has to do with the ethics of our obligation to future generations. There is enough food today, and as defined by the first speakers, the ethical problem is the contrast of the hungry living among plenty. But the moral obligations of past generations have led to our having plenty, yet we are not sure that there will be plenty in the future unless we take action. I submit that this is a moral imperative, taking the necessary action so that there will also be plenty in the future.

Sixth floor participant Ethiopia is much affected by hunger. I want an immediate answer; I do not care who is in power. What I want is that people get the basic necessities, but that has not occurred in my country or in most of the countries affected by drought or famine. The discussion here is at such a high level for me because I come from an area where the situation is very basic We have to come down to basics I want to see some action, such as the promotion of coping mechanism in areas where people have some resources and of staple food production.

Seventh floor participant Much of our discussion is about how we can get systems to restructure themselves so that we can eventually get at the problem of hunger, or how we can get the triangle to reshape itself, or how we can deal with the long-run problems. Because this is an ethical question, what is so wrong with the president of the Bank, and maybe the president of this country and the leaders of a lot of other countries, making a commitment that one of the first things we are going to try to do is to make sure that everybody is adequately fed?

The tragedy of 1974 is that a nucleus of important people did not make the decision to do what they said they were going to do There is plenty of evidence that had we tried to feed all the people, they would have gone to school, they would have reamed what kind of medicine they needed, and they would have sorted out their development problems.

My question is, why can we not, as an ethical point, take the position that in everything we try to do, we will try to make sure that even if we overrun some systems, everyone has enough to eat?

Speakers' Responses

Jorge Mejia: I have been asking myself what an institution like the Roman Catholic Church does against hunger We talk a lot, and this is one of the ways in which the Catholic Church communicates with people and knocks at the door of conscience, be it individual or social We are now preparing a paper on hunger, which will be distributed soon. We are also preparing a paper on the transfer of funds. When you talked about the price of tanks, I thought about this paper. The paper is not directly about where resources go, but it is a dear statement on the ethics of the bansfer of armaments and weapons, particularly of conventional weapons.

Perhaps this discussion on the ethics of hunger should have taken place after the conference Then the many problems that have emmerged here, and many others that have not emerged here but will be equally urgent, would have come out and touched our consciences Then perhaps we could meet again sometime and try to spell out exactly how deep the ethical dimension of this problem of hunger really is.

David Beckmann It seems to me that what really motivates individuals so that eventually they change institutions and structures is generally not guilt, shame, outrage, or anger These feeling are present and we are guilty. We should be ashamed. We should be outraged But I am convinced that what motivates most of us most powerfully is a sense of shalom, a sense of Islam, a love of nature, a joy in life, or a sense of conviviality. I can say that the World Bank ought to involve poor people in all its decisions But Bread for the World does not. Interaction does not The National Wildlife Federation does not. World Vision does not. It is tough to involve poor people in all our decisions.

So when we look at our own life styles, our own institutional structures, we have all got lots of things to feel discouraged about, and I think it is this sense of God letting the sun shine on the good and evil alike that gives me the capacity to wake up in the morning and say, okay, the sun is shining on me I did not do what I was supposed to do yesterday, but I will try again I just think that this sense, which motivates us to share our abundance with hungry people, is really crucial. And that is the ethos that is most likely to make us succeed in getting rid of hunfer.