Coronavirus, Hunger And The Crisis With A Janus Face – OpEd


Almost all of us watch the striking dimensions of global waste published in the news. The levels of waste are thought-provoking. What is even more tragic is that we are still not conscious about wasting; despite it being a bleeding wound.

“Janus” is known to be the two-faced god in mythology. I would like to point out two important problems, in today’s world making reference to the “two-faced god Janus”, on one side facing right and the other side facing the left. One of these problems is hunger and the other is waste. For this reason, the hypocrisy in today’s world can only be defined as the “Janus-faced crisis”.

One side of the world keeps on wasting resources. Tons of food are wasted annually. There is a serious waste of electricity and water. And in another part of the world, people are starving, and even their clean water needs cannot be met. This is why the crisis of our age is “Janus-faced”. One side of the world faces fatal misery and hunger  and the other side is wasting.

Hunger is a term which has three meanings (Oxford English Dictionary 1971):

  • the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food
  • the want or scarcity of food in a country
  • a strong desire or craving

Poverty is the main cause of hunger. “World hunger refers to hunger aggregated to the global level. Related terms include food insecurity and malnutrition. Food insecurity refers to limited or unreliable access to foods that are safe and nutritionally adequate” (National Research Council, 2006). Malnutrition can be seen as a condition resulting from insufficient intake of biologically necessary nutrients (National Research Council, 2006). While 10 million people die of starvation per year, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted. Striking figures on waste should be covered more in global media. The share of unconsciousness and lack of awareness is undoubtedly huge. The annual economic value of the waste corresponds to approximately 1 trillion dollars. 

According to research, 38 million tons of food is wasted in the USA every year and 19 million tons of food in Japan. In Canada, the monetary amount of wasted food is about 31 billion dollars. In poor countries located in Africa, people die as a result of hunger; In other words, they are waiting for death longing for a sip of clean water.

Thousands of people are dying even while you are reading these lines in countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Somalia (300 children per hour according to the reports of the British Save the Children). According to “Save the Children” data, 450 million children will be affected by starvation by 2025 if no action is taken. According to Save the Children, Turkey and Malaysia are among the countries that make a great leap against hunger together with countries such as Mexico. On the other hand, waste in luxury restaurants and luxurious hotels have unbelievably major dimensions. 

According to 2019 world global hunger index India ranks 102nd out of 117 countries.  With a score of 30.3, Indian society suffers from a serious level of hunger. In India, between 2005 and 2010, 53 million people were lifted out of poverty conditions. However in 2010, 69% still lived on less than US $2 a day, and 33% on less than US $1.25 a day, says Hunger Project data.  Apart from that, amid Coronavirus crisis, India faces hunger to a serious degree. India’s poorest population is terrified that hunger may kill them before coronavirus. As stated in a BBC news story, millions of daily-wage earners are in a bad situation: “The lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday evening means they are now facing no prospect of income for the next three weeks. The likelihood is, some will run out of food in the coming days.”

The Coronavirus pandemic which first began in Wuhan city of China in December 2019 and which has spread all over the world in a few months has caused the death of over two million people. The pandemic has created a global economic recession globally thus having a big impact on hunger ratios in the world.

In terms of Coronavirus and hunger, it can be said that even in the richest countries, coronavirus has left families in hunger; for the poorest sectors of society, it could mean starvation. The head of the World Food Programme warns that the humanity is now on the brink of a hunger pandemic (Guardian Editorial)

Based on the figures of the World Food Programme,  before the Coronavirus pandemic, the amount of food that goes to the trash constitutes one third of the amount produced globally. According to United Nations data, about 6 million children die annually as a result of starvation. The amount of food wasted only in the USA is approximately equal to all food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UN data, the number of people who die from starvation in the world is more than the number of people who die from AIDS. In the post-COVID-19 era, it is guessed that massive social inequality and injustice will continue increasingly.

Both governments and non-governmental organizations hold a big responsibility to combat hunger globally and prevent waste. Media, especially social media, has a great role in raising awareness in the society. Without an effort made by all of us as the people living in the same world, it is not possible to avoid waste. 

*Dr. Begüm Burak is an Istanbul-based researcher in French Institute of Anatolian Studies. In 2015, Ms. Burak got her PhD degree. During her occupation as a teaching assistant, she got engaged in short-term academic activities in Italy, the United Kingdom, Bosnia and Spain. In 2018, she became one of the founding members of Ilkmade.

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