As we enjoy our wonderful feasts over the holidays, we ought to remember those who are not so fortunate.
By the time you finish reading this, dozens of children will have died for no other fault than being too impoverished to get enough food to survive.
At least five million children around the world die of hunger each year, and more than 850 million people around the world are going to bed hungry, according to the United Nations. They don't need to be. Simple policy measures could drastically reduce this scourge.
This year's Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, tried to focus international attention on the issue in his acceptance speech on Dec. 10.
''Last year, the nations of the world spent over $1 trillion on armaments,'' ElBaradei said. He quoted the head of the World Food Programme, James Morris, who said that no one in the world would go to bed hungry if we spent just 1 percent of military expenditures on food aid.
ElBaradei mentioned in his speech what is perhaps the greatest post-World War II tragedy anywhere on earth: the deaths of 3.8 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the civil war there. Most of these people have died from starvation and disease. To combat the massive toll from such tragedies, the United Nations needs to be more active in its global conflict-resolution attempts.
Cutting military spending and focusing more money on social welfare is part of the answer. Costa Rica, a country without armed forces, stands starkly in contrast to most Latin American countries in its socio-economic achievements, including the almost complete eradication of hunger among its people.
Some of the countries that have been most successful in significantly reducing hunger -- such as South Korea and Taiwan -- have been those that paid great attention to education, health care and land reform.
Many other measures can be taken, too.
School lunch programs around the world have helped to successfully reduce hunger. Public investment in agriculture, irrigation and roads needs to be expanded. The formation of rural cooperatives needs to be encouraged to help farmers get fair prices for their produce.
What can the United States do to assist in these efforts? One important step would be to boost foreign aid.
''We are, in fact, the stingiest of all industrialized nations,'' writes former President Jimmy Carter in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis.
A June 2005 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland shows that most Americans would be willing to spend extra to combat global hunger and that much of the opposition to foreign aid comes from mistaken assumptions about how much the United States is spending on foreign aid.
Foreign aid represents less than 2 percent of the U.S. budget. But in a 2001 poll, most Americans thought that foreign aid represented 24 percent of the national budget.
The United States can also help by not forcing down the throats of developing countries policies that benefit multinational corporations instead of people. These policies, often promoted through the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, frequently require countries to stop subsidizing food. As a result, the prices of such staples as rice and bread skyrocket.
The problem of hunger is not caused by an inadequate supply of food.
Global hunger can be prevented, even largely eradicated. What is needed is the will -- both globally and nationally -- to combat it.
Amitabh Pal is the managing editor of The Progressive magazine.
© 2005 The Miami Herald