Hunger – Past and Present: a political problem, and one that CAN be solved

23/09/2010 at 9:34 am 2 comments

I went for a long walk through Manhattan today, at the end of the last day of the UN MDG Summit.

I hadn’t had any time for sight-seeing, and there really was only one place that I had wanted to visit while in New York –  Ground Zero.  I wanted to see with my own eyes the site of such utter destruction, such violence and such suffering by innocent people.

As I should have known, nine years after “9/11”, Ground Zero is a building site, like so many others in Manhattan. Just a good deal bigger. The observation platforms have gone, and life around the former World Trade Centre area is going on like always. But on the hoarding around the building site, there are advertisements for the memorial they are building, and there is a big memorial museum.

A few hundred metres to the West, stand the Irish Famine Memorial. Another memorial to the suffering of innocent people. A little piece of mock rural Ireland, beautifully situated in modern Manhattan, poignant and understated, and enormously powerful as a result.

In the tunnel that gets you into the landscape, the dry facts of the numbers of families served with eviction notices, and the people who died and emigrated. The Irish famine, an Gorta Mór,  which had such an enormous impact not just on Irish society, but also on the United States and other countries that provide a refuge for the millions who escaped famine, brutality, and neglect.

From the memorial, you have a clear view of the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. Standing there, in what would have been the shadow of the World Trade Centre, and with The Pogues’ “Thousands Are Sailing playing over and over in my mind, “I suppose I must have cried”. (see the video here)

And 20 metres to the North of it, stands a poignant reminder that Hunger is not a thing of the past. Mercy Corps’s Action Center to End World Hunger. Much like the Irish Aid Centre on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, it aims to inform people of the problem of world hunger and poverty, and of the many ways in which ordinary citizens can make a difference.

And in a happy reminder that we can, and must, take action today, the Irish and US Governments launched a new initiative to galvanise political will to fight maternal and infant malnutrition.

150 years ago, when millions of Irish people starved to death, the world did not respond. I’m sure the “realists” of the day had many arguments about how a) you cannot help all the poor, b) that really it was the Irish people’s own fault, or c) that we can’t help poor people abroad before we have solved poverty at home. Either way, the truth is that the world did not stop the Irish famine.

The Millennium Development Goals, and the “1,000 Days” initiative are aimed at ensuring that the 21st century world does not make the same mistake. We have the knowledge, the resources and the power to rid the world of Hunger. We have promised time and again that we will not accept that 1 in 6 human beings on this planet does not have enough to eat.

I’m glad to see that after many years of talk, we now are really getting stuck in. And I’m glad I was here in New York to be part of it.

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Blogs from the MDG Summit in New York Influencing global politics

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