The Inequality of Food Distribution Leads to Conflict

Kristin Phillips conducted research focusing on the relationship “between citizens and the state, between the powerful and powerless”, with an emphasis on food shortage and how food aid is distributed. The article states that “when politicians refuse to frame food aid as an entitlement, they affirm their own right to private property, and to become rich and powerful individual. They deny claims of the masses to the resources at their disposal, even when it is not their own property” (Phillips, 39). The public continually witnesses politicians ‘filling their bellies’, but it is morally wrong to take advantage of the power bestowed upon them and use it for their own benefit and financial gain, especially when it is at the expense of people carrying the “burden of ‘sickness’, ‘poverty’, and ‘hunger’” (Phillips, 34). Essentially, when a region encounters a shortage of food supply, food aid converts into political power.

I encountered an article that provides readers with world hunger and poverty facts/statistics. A pie chart (shown below) is provided showing the percentage of individuals globally who are living in poverty and hunger, with Asia and Africa being the top two areas encountering the harsh suffering of starvation. It should not come as a surprise that developed countries experience less shortages of food, but the statistics should be of a concern. The site also answers questions that are worthwhile to read. Readers of the article learn that although the world does produce enough food to feed everyone, many people in the world are left with an insufficient amount of environmental resources and financial assets. Therefore, as people become more desperate for their basic essentials, like food, conflict arises and violent tensions become prominent, in hope for a positive change. With violence come many unbearable consequences. This ongoing cycle needs to come to an end. With the surplus of food available in the world, it’s possible, yet politicians must begin to invest concern for the welfare of the poor, and not only their own. Many regions continue to experience states of emergency, and the rates of malnutrition shall decrease with the help of concerned political figures.

Number of Hungry People Worldwide


Return to Darfur Offers Hope

[Extra credit post]

Our group podcast looks at the trauma and violence experienced by Darfuri refugees living in camps along the Chad/Sudan border. The future has looked bleak for many of these refugees, many of whom have lost any hope of returning to their homes in Darfur. So I was very encouraged when I recently read this New York Times Article, explaining the return of over 100,000 refugees to Darfur. As Gettleman articulates, “people who have been victimized and traumatized are sensing a change in the air and acting on it, risking their lives and the lives of their children to leave the relative safety of the camps to venture back to where loved ones were killed.”


Sven Torfinn for The New York Times

The violence experienced by the Darfuri refugees in the beginning of the conflict was, and continues to be devastating. The janjaweed raided villages, killing tens of thousands of civilians, entire villages were burnt down with a single match, and families were forced to flee in hopes of preserving their lives. While conducting our podcast interviews, it was saddening listening to recounted stories of these refugees, many of whom were raped by militia groups or experienced the killing of a loved one. The trauma of these experiences have left many scars, but this return to Darfur and a decline in major violence brings hope. United Nations officials state that the voluntary return of the refugees offers “one of the most concrete signs of hope this war-weary region has seen in years.”

Violence via Desperation

In Phillip’s article titled, “Hunger, Healing, and Citizenship in Central Tanzania,” she explores the negative consequences of food scarcity during the East African Food Crisis of 2006. Because food aid was so scarce, tribe leaders of Langilanga were forced to distribute food according to the village’s three-tiered grouping of households. Households who could buy grain were given no aid, the poorest households were given a limited amount of grain, and everybody else could buy a small amount of grain. This distribution of aid led to much public protest, as the people demanded their right to food.

As demonstrated in past case studies that we have looked at, scarcity of any kind can lead to political turmoil. For example, the water crisis in Baja led to public protest as well. In Langilanga, guards were forced to watch over the food storage over night because the situation had become so grave. One chairman stated, “But right now a person can be killed for just one bucket of grain. In Nyaturu we say ‘The year of the lions does not loan doors.’ You cannot trust anyone with food when it is the time of hunger” (Phillips 28). It appears that conflict is nearly unavoidable during times of resource scarcity. And as Phillips points out, it seems that people are beginning to classify famines of this sort as less of a natural disaster, and more of a political and economic issue. Clearly underlying structures need to be addressed in situations similar to this.

I thought this videoclip clearly demonstrates the turmoil that can result from food scarcity, especially during the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.



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The Hand that Feeds

In this article, we can see that trauma and violence can result from the desperation of not having adequate resources and knowingly see the government take advantage of the situation for the purpose of profit. It is interesting to also see how there is no long term push for justice but rather short term fix in order to keep the people at peace. The community fails to realize the probability of this hunger problem returning to infect the lives of these people. Additionally, we see the dynamics of power play a huge roll in how the citizens accept aid. While the citizens wish that changes were to occur in long term, the control of food for these people is of a greater problem especially when they seek to obtain it.

We can see such situations in the welfare system here in the United States how poverty results in the people’s need for government assistance.  Much of this poverty is due to structural violence, many families have no upward mobility and are always counting on the power to provide them food because the community is not able to provide the opportunities to move away from the strong hold of the power. The article states that, “to accept without giving in return or without giving more back, is to become client and servant, to become small to fall lower.” Such situation is seen in the article however can easily be seen in the United States. The lower you are in society the more control this power has over you, whether you need food or housing, and of course, it will be of poor quality. Thus said, this system does not provide people work, or resources to get out of the problems, thus, once someone is hungry they seek this support without the notions of considering a future. Thus these programs such consider the bigger picture realize that in order to provide one must teach or enhance the living situation not for a brief period but long term.  

Ethical Concerns Must Be Met with Success, not Failures

The subject of human rights should be a central concern for many. These days, it’s hard to decipher whether all human beings are even considered “human” and if “human rights” are given to all humans. The concept of selective attention in terms of social inequality should make the public ashamed for allowing some people go unnoticed, even during a time of globalization and increasing intercommunication with one another. The question of ethics comes to light often, yet it continues to fail. For instance, major treatable diseases are prominent in population denied proper access to modern medical care. As the statistics of the innocent deaths of many, especially due to preventable diseases like AIDS, continue to increase, structural violence becomes more evident.

As I read about Uganda and the AIDS research that was conducted similar to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study decades earlier, it mentioned how circumcision may guard against the spread of the HIV virus. All over the internet and media, there are mixed reviews on whether this should be accepted and implemented into at-risk populations. On one end, there has been a documented statement that clearly claims how circumcision does not prevent HIV infection by arguing its cultural biases, effectiveness, and politics. On the other hand, there also seems to be an overwhelming amount of research that has been conducted with evidence of circumcision’s protective effect. It remains true that circumcision practices are usually a result of cultural views, but when it comes to the issue of public health, tensions rise. Regardless of the positive and negatives aspects of circumcision, I believe that if the government was to enforce this throughout poor countries, it will be hoping to prevent and steer the spread of disease at the expense of causing violence towards the bodies of many that have no say.

Interestingly, a short video was posted regarding an article that stated that the Obama administration had presented an initiative on the circumcision of millions of African men. Are human rights going to be respected or denied? Will this be medically ethical? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Euthanasia? What is Right?

Paul Farmer, brings up very interesting points in this analysis of what human rights are in the medical field and if all people have the actual right to receive the same treatment as others, specifically focusing on the socioeconomic positioning of people. I also find it interesting that Paul Farmer specifically focuses on how when we are protecting human rights, we are protecting those who are most likely to have them violated, thus showing that the fight is for the constant need for equality. Such a continued fight indicates, at least to me, that as much as we can have a document professing, “all men are created equal,” we as social beings are not on the same page as documents.  Thomas Hobbes’s ideas of man, in terms of this greed driven human are in sense aspects of why ethnical dilemmas in areas such as medicine are so profound; mankind seeks the greed the glory and along the way dehumanizes groups in order to achieve those goals.

Access to human health care is a right, who is considered to have that right? Is one of the questions Paul Farmer has throughout this passage. To move away from human health care and more into the individual, can humans have control over their own bodies? One of the major bioethical problems causing up a storm in the world are the push for euthanasia for hospital patients in their quest to find peace within in their illness.  Euthanasia is the notion of ending life in order to relieve pain and suffering. Much of the controversy with this debate comes from physicians and scholars, some who state that Euthanasia allows a patient to be in control of ones life, while some state that such a freedom will distort the image of a physician as a healer. We can see trauma in both sides, while the patient is enduring their last days in death the family watches and endures the pain of watching the loved one slowly die. Meanwhile it is also traumatic to go about in saying goodbye and the factor of who control such a thing when the person is a vegetable? Ethics allows us to see both perspectives, and disallows us to make full judgment to the medical situation especially if it involves deaths. In such a case, decisions for Euthanasia, will eventually hurt one person whether it is the family because of the death of the patient, or the patient and their constant suffering.

Resocializing Ethics

We, as a collective humanity, have a moral obligation to ensure that all humans are ensured their basic human rights, particularly adequate health care. Yet we are often ignorant and forget about our duty. In Paul Farmer’s chapter titled, “New Malaise,” he asks, “how often have we challenged the chicanery that leads us to forget that we are part of the same world?” (211). Farmer talks about the need to “resocialize the way we see ethical dilemmas in medicine” (210). Ethics are an essential part of Western medicine; yet here lies the issue: medical ethics are often limited to industrialized nations. Care is greatly individualized in the U.S, and there is nothing wrong with this. Yet the opposite is true in many developing countries, where effective technology and treatment is withheld from the sick because it is not “cost-effective” or “feasible.” I found one of Farmer’s anecdotes very ironic, and it illustrates this issue well:

“In Haiti I am called to explain, to those who come begging for assistance, that effective treatments for HIV are not ‘cost-effective,’ whereas in Boston I spend much of my time begging patients with AIDS—some of them originally from Haiti—to take these same medications” (204).

Why are the poor left with such inferior care? While conducting the interview for our group podcast, my teammates and I had the opportunity to learn about the trauma experienced by Darfuri refugees living in Chad. I asked about the availability of mental health care for victims of sexual violence, children who have witnessed their parents killed, etc. Gabriel Stauring, the founder of an NGO that works with refugees in Chad, stated that mental health care isn’t a priority. Many children are not able to be kids, they rarely smile, and have been greatly affected by the Darfuri conflict. I find this disappointing, as it would be considered critical to provide mental health treatment to American children who have experienced such trauma.


Bredjing, a refugee camp in eastern Chad (The New Yorker)

The mental health care system in Africa as a whole is disheartening. This article about the need for community-based health care in Africa is very interesting. I found this statistic shocking: “In Ethiopia, for example, there are only 18 psychiatrists for 77 million people, and there is no clinical psychologist, no trained social worker and only one 360-bedded mental hospital located in the capital, Addis Ababa.” In contrast, there were approximately 22,690 psychiatrists in the US in 2010, and this doesn’t even take into account the other various mental health care professionals providing care in the US. Clearly we find it a priority to address mental health in the US, and to not fight for equal care in developing countries is unethical.

Sources: Continue reading

An Oath Betrayed?

Chapter 8 in Paul Farmer’s Book Pathologies of Power examines the role that medical ethics plays in the global health care situation as well as the responsibilities that the medical community has to provide the basic human right of health care amidst the fundamental challenges of inequity. Farmer poses what are, in his opinion, the most important questions for the future of medical ethics in global health care. One of these questions includes the role and responsibility of physicians in living up to and fulfilling “the sacred contract between physician and patient”. He presents the disturbing concept of physician facilitation of harmful practices in the name of research or the betterment of society. One of these examples is the “participation of U.S. physicians in state-sponsored executions” despite the contradictory nature of being actively involved in ending someone’s life and the moral code and ethical model inherent in being a doctor.

The death penalty example brings to mind the participation of medical professionals in torture. This article from The New England Journal of Medicine offers a disturbing look at abuse and torture in a military context in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. It brings up an interesting point about the “potential moral conflict between between commitment to the healing of individual people, on the one hand, and responsibility to the military hierarchy and the command structure, on the other”. I think this seemingly incompatible relationship between medical ethics and the military connects to this chapter from Farmer’s book. He points out the opposition of motives, goals, and intentions of the medical community when it comes to prevention, treatment, and access to health care around the globe. Medical ethics is a multifaceted and complicated issue that seems to pose a lot of problems when it comes to the state of health care today. However, as Farmer alludes to, there is hope in the application of ethical principles in order to confront the important issues we face today.


If you click on the picture above, it will take you to an article that describes how doctors hid evidence of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

The Worst Form of Violence

Klienenberg’s description of the Chicago heat wave of 1995 as “a structurally determined catastrophe” is an important one because it offers a deeper explanation of the correlation between inequality and poverty as well as the “institutional and social mechanisms” that contribute to suffering. Much like other natural disasters and epidemics, the heat wave did not affect all people equally. Some were more susceptible to death not simply because of demographic factors such as age (although those did contribute), but also because their social position led to a lack of access to adequate care.

A similar correlation between poverty and violence exists and has been demonstrated in various studies across a variety of situations. This article from The Economist is an enlightening look at the relationship between conflict and poverty and how these forces contribute to the cyclical nature of this association. Not only is poverty itself a form of violence, but violence is exacerbated by the circumstances of poverty. This relationship has been demonstrated in many environments across different nations, and it has been recently been brought to the spotlight regarding Nigeria. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said that the income gap and overwhelming poverty of the country has contributed to the violence and despair. Poverty is the fuel to the fire that creates a breeding ground for violence.

Without Poverty, There Would Be No Violence

While deaths during heat waves seem understandable, a red flag should have been set when high mortality rates were evident in Chicago’s 1995 summer heat wave. It is a shame that deaths through preventable causes are only made aware after the lost of hundreds of innocent lives. Scientific studies during the aftermath of the heat wave showed that the weather was not sole attributing factor to the deaths of many. The causes include the climate as well as the living conditions many individuals had to deal with. Klinenberg argues that “in 1995, the city’s climatic, sociospatial, and political conditions were all extreme: not only was the weather unprecedentedly severe, in addition the advancing state of poverty and the inadequacy of the state’s response created an unusually deadly crisis” (242). The geography of urban vulnerability goes to show how social organization is controlled by economic and political powers. In this particular case, the community that was affected more severely than others revolved around African Americans populations whom lived in close proximity to dangerous environments, unsanitary conditions, and unsafe water sources.

The deprived community were not given adequate amounts of water access and suffered through violent struggles. The link between poverty and violence is continually seen throughout history. In the case of the Chicago residents during the 1995 heat wave, poverty-stricken civilians rebelled by leaning towards violence, but the results ended without any positive gain. The United Nations website provides a document that highlights the issues upper developing countries face. One of its passages mentions the following:

“Low income leads to low savings; low savings lead to low investment; low investment leads to low productivity and low incomes. Poverty leads to environmental degradation, which in turn undermines the assets of the poor and exacerbates poverty. Poverty can lead to violence and conflict, and the associated destruction of physical, human, social and organizational capital in turn causes poverty to intensify”.

Also, for more information as to how the media covered news on the 1995 Chicagoheat wave, see below.