Weapons Seem to Weigh Heavily Against Hunger

Credit: shc.edu - Photo: 2011

Weapons Seem to Weigh Heavily Against Hunger

By Badriya Khan
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint*

Think of 1,630 billion dollars being spent on weapons that are designed to kill, and 1,002 million human beings who either do not eat at all or are always hungry. Shouldn’t this atrocious fact make the United States and western European countries, who account for 90 per cent of world’s arms sales, prompt to rethink? Considering that they are the freedom champions proud of imposing their models on the willing or unwilling, through means fair or foul, shouldn’t they turn their focus on ending hunger that robs human beings of their fundamental right to freedom?

BRUSSELS (IDN) – The world is over-armed; the world is over-hungry. This is not a new buzzword – but a proven fact reflecting that the world spends well over 1.6 trillion dollars a year on weapons, while more than one billion people are hungry. Record high food prices are causing more hunger and deaths. Just think that one of every six persons either does not eat at all or is always hungry.

The latest figure gives more than one billion good reasons to disarm the planet. But the chances for the current scenario to change are scanty, if any. Why? Because the arms business gets huge profits and political power – far more than governments wield and logic dictates.

Here are some facts. The prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated in its April 2011 report global military expenditure in 2010 at 1,630 billion dollars, an increase of 1.3 per cent in real terms in spite of the global financial crisis.

The region with the largest increase in military spending was South America, with a 5.8 per cent hike, reaching a total of 63.3 billion dollars.

“This continuing increase in South America is surprising given the lack of real military threats to most states and the existence of more pressing social needs,” stated Carina Solmirano, Latin America Expert of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project.

Part of the explanation for this rise is to be found in the strong economic growth the region has experienced in recent years, while in other regions the effects of the global economic recession caused military spending to fall or at least rise more slowly in 2010.

Although the rate of increase in U.S. military spending slowed in 2010 – to 2.8 per cent compared to an annual average increase of 7.4 per cent between 2001 and 2009 – the global increase in 2010 is almost entirely down to the United States, which accounted for 19.6 billion dollars of the 20.6 billion dollars global increase, according to SIPRI.

“The USA has increased its military spending by 81 per cent since 2001, and now accounts for 43 per cent of the global total, six times its nearest rival China. At 4.8 per cent of GDP, U.S. military spending in 2010 represents the largest economic burden outside the Middle East.”, stated Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, Head of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project.

In Europe, where military spending fell by 2.8 per cent, governments began to address soaring budget deficits, having previously enacted stimulus packages in 2009. Cuts were particularly substantial in the smaller, more vulnerable economies of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as those with particular budget difficulties such as Greece.

In Asia, even though most economies did not experience a recession, economic growth slowed down in 2009 while military spending continued to rise rapidly. Thus, the slower increase of 1.4 per cent in military spending in 2010 partly readjusts growth in military spending to economic growth rates.

The Chinese Government, for example, explicitly linked its smaller increase in 2010 to China’s weaker economic performance in 2009.

The Middle East spent 111 billion dollars on military expenditure in 2010, an increase of 2.5 per cent over 2009. The largest absolute rise in the region was by Saudi Arabia.

Arms spending in Africa is estimated to have increased by 5.2 per cent, led by major oil-producers such as Algeria, Angola and Nigeria.

According to SIPRI, companies headquartered in the United States again dominate the top 100 weapons sales companies, followed by West European companies, Russia, Japan, Israel, India, South Korea and Singapore.

“The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued to heavily influence sales of military equipment such as armoured vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters,” SIPRI states.


This means that over 90 per cent of world’s weapons sales proceed from self-proclaimed Western champions of democracy, freedom and human rights. These are the very same freedom champions that have been systematically imposing their model on the rest of the world, through so-called freedom wars.

“The world is over-armed, and development is under-funded,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told the 192-member Assembly in April 2010, at the start of the thematic debate on disarmament and world security, and the role of the UN and challenges for the international community.

“These priorities should be reversed. By accelerating disarmament, we can liberate the resources we need to combat climate change, address food insecurity and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” Ban said.

In spite of all calls for freeing the world from the permanent threat of weapons of mass destruction, most of them produced and sold by U.S. and western European powers, the inexorable day-to-day realities are systematically ignored.

These realities tell for instance that the over 1,6 trillion dollars the world spends on weapons every single year would be more than enough to save the planet from climate change disasters, mostly caused by major arms manufacturers.

The reality is also that one of every six persons, that’s a total of 1002 million, either do not eat at all or are permanently hungry.

Add to that the impacting fact that only one and half dollars per person and week would be enough to feed all hungry people and eradicate hunger from the face of the Planet Earth.

No more than 44 billion dollars a year are required to feed one billion people who go hungry every year. This is only a fraction of the 1.6 trillion dollars spent on weapons.


Human Wrongs Watch reported on August 10, 2011 on the new drama facing the poorest in the Horn of Africa.

“While politicians in rich countries have been rescuing powerful “market lords” – private corporations and banks that have unleashed the global financial crisis or strongly contributed to it – for the sake of receiving their ‘electoral blessing’, the prices of grain and milk in the drought-hit Horn of Africa have risen to record highs,” it wrote.

These new records are exacerbating famine and hardship for the estimated 12.4 million people in the region who are facing severe food shortages and famine in some parts of Somalia, UN says.

According to the August food price monitor of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the high prices of cereals such as sorghum and maize in the Horn of Africa have resulted from a combination of factors, including drought, reduced secondary season harvests earlier this year and high fuel prices that have driven up transport costs, the UN reported on August 10.

In Somalia, where famine has been declared in five areas in the south-central region, prices of domestically produced staples, sorghum and maize showed some signs of decline last month (July). The prices of the two commodities were, however, 150 and 200 per cent higher, compared to July 2010, according to FAO.

UN also reports that in Kenya, prices of maize, the country’s staple food, rose sharply last month, reaching new peaks. Maize prices have been on the increase since February and are currently double what they were a year ago.

Higher domestic fuel prices and a food export ban imposed by neighbouring Tanzania are exerting additional upward pressure on food prices in Kenya, the FAO report points out.

In Ethiopia, the prices of maize rose again last month in most of the monitored markets, with increases from June of 23 % in the Bahirdar main growing area and of nine per cent in the capital, Addis Ababa, it adds

“Maize prices have been on the rise since February, and the July quotations were generally well above their levels a year earlier (from 50 to 75 per cent up), although still below the peaks reached during the 2008 food price crisis.”

Prices of wheat in Ethiopia eased in July from record levels of June in Addis Ababa, but were still 76 per cent higher than at a similar period last year, FAO informs.

Despite improved prospects for the main ‘Meher’ season cereal crops, to be harvested from October, a spike in the fuel prices and transport costs has contributed to keeping food prices high. The price of diesel in Ethiopian was 69 per cent higher in June compared to a similar period last year.

FAO reports that the price of milk, a key staple in the drought-affected pastoralist areas, has surged with the deteriorating conditions of the livestock in recent months.

In Djibouti, where imported wheat is a staple, prices remained stable in June for the third consecutive month after surging earlier in the year.

“However, wheat flour prices were 67 per cent higher than a year ago and similar to the peaks of July 2008 during the global food price crisis. The sharp increase is mainly attributable to higher international wheat prices.”

*A previous version of this article by Badriya Khan, a veteran political analyst, first appeared on Human Wrongs Watch. (IDN-InDepthNews/20.08.2011)

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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