by Reyhana Patel
The world produces enough food to feed its seven billion inhabitants. Yet, around 870 million people do not have enough to eat. Poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year — five million deaths.
The holy month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk for 30 days in order to reflect on the millions of people across the globe who struggle to find a sip of water or a bite to eat. It is also a time when millions of dollars are given to local and international charities to combat poverty and suffering.
This Ramadan, hundreds of people around the world have joined Islamic Relief — one of the world’s largest independent Muslim NGOs — to take the fight against poverty a step further by declaring war, not on man, but on hunger.
Too often, hunger is only portrayed as an unavoidable situation — for example, as something brought about by natural disasters such as droughts and floods.
But, in reality, a large proportion of world hunger has man-made causes such as war and economic injustice.
From the current conflict in Syria and Afghanistan to across sub Saharan Africa, Islamic Relief is urging Muslims and the wider public to look beyond the politics of war and terrorism and, instead, to look at the ordinary people who are suffering the terrible consequences of war, disease and injustice.
In Afghanistan, while media attention focusses on the war on terror, it ignores the voices of those Afghans who are bearing the brunt of the conflict. People like eight-year Nazia and her twin sister who lost both their parents to the conflict.
The fighting in the country has led them to seek shelter in a cave from where they go out to beg for food during the day and at night they huddle together to withstand the freezing cold. They have no education and find basic communication difficult.
Each day their grandmother is faced with an impossible task of whether to spend what little they have on food or fuel. She has to choose whether these children die from starvation or cold.
In Syria, more then 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict and 1.6 million are refugees. An estimated four million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country. While the world’s attention is focussed on how to end the conflict, the plight of the millions who are suffering is in danger of being ignored.
Across Africa, tribal and ethnic violence often halts any chance of long term development in some of the world’s poorest communities which already suffer the consequences of climate change. In Ethiopia, for example, cyclical drought and escalating food prices have left 50-year old Medina bankrupt and dependent upon food aid from charities like Islamic Relief to feed her children, disabled brother and elderly father.
In Mali 22-year old Ousmane is forced to choose between education and providing for his family. Only if he receives food parcels from Islamic Relief can he afford to attend school.
In Pakistan, people are forced to deal with political killings, bombings, natural disasters and a rapidly shrinking economy. As a result, 40 million people are now living below the poverty line.
This is a world that we have created through our greed and conflict. War damages homes, disrupts lives and destroys the hopes and dreams of those who have had the misfortune of living in a particular area. What is even more disturbing is the large number of children who are caught up in the cross- fire.
In the Syrian crisis, more than half of the 1.6 million refugees are under 17 years of age and 38 per cent are younger than 11, while the conflict in Mali has forced the closure of 58 per cent of schools in the north — denying millions of children the right to an education.
By declaring war on hunger, Islamic Relief is forcing world leaders to look at and deal with the consequences of their actions and address the growing hunger crisis. We want to show that the answer to hunger lies not only in providing short-term food aid but also in long-term support for agriculture, water systems, health care and the education projects needed to lift millions out of poverty.
Muslims believe that fasting forces one to feel the pain of those who are suffering from hunger — and indeed it does have this affect. Coming from Barbados and accustomed to 14 hour fasts, 19-hour fast in 30 degree heat in the UK was difficult and really made me wonder how those millions in poverty around the world really manage to cope with life.
My discomfort was only a fraction of what these millions actually go through — with no real relief at the end of the fasting month. At the end of the day when it comes to sunset, we have an abundance of water and food, shelter and
secure homes. These people have none of that and some walk for hours in sweltering conditions to fetch water.
Despite their immense suffering, every story I hear is full of immense gratefulness for what little they have and a belief that relief will come to them soon — even if only in the after-life.
This Ramadan let us remember that the world produces more than enough food for everyone.
Let us all take a stand and declare war — but this time not on man but on hunger and let us not stop until hunger is really eradicated.
• Reyhana Patel is a policy and research analyst at Islamic Relief Worldwide. She also writes for the Huffington Post UK and The Independent.