What is the best way to prevent terrorism? Is it to decrease immigration, to have stricter airline regulations, or to go to war?
According to Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, the answer is none of those.
It is to feed the world’s hungry.
Thursday night Dr. Pinstrup-Andersen spoke to a crowd in the Volstorff Ballroom as part of the Harding Distinguished Lecture Series. In his speech, he explained his stance.
“I’m going to argue tonight that widespread hunger, poverty, malnutrition and related hopelessness are underlying causes of terrorism,” he said.
“If we do not deal with those underlying factors, no amount of military action will make the world safe for us or for anybody else. The military itself would not be enough.”
Hunger, poverty, and malnutrition are the most important problems our world faces for three reasons, Pinstrup-Andersen said. The first is that it is “morally and ethically unacceptable that so many people suffer from hunger,
poverty, and malnutrition in a world as rich as ours.” The second reason, he said, is that it’s an economic waste, since poor people do not have the chance to be productive members of society. Finally, he said, “The existence
of these things creates instability at a local level, at a national level, and at an international level.”
Many statistics are available showing the number of people suffering from these problems. Pinstrup-Andersen cited the facts that “one in five people worldwide is extremely poor. One in six people worldwide is hungry. One
in three preschool children is malnourished.”
Because of numbers like these, Pinstrup-Andersen said, “You would think governments would make it their top priority to deal with those, but they don’t.”
Instead, he said, conferences set goals to beat these problems and then forget them.
“We have had 23 international conferences [on these topics] during the last 25 years,” he said. Each of these conferences has set targets for beating hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, but none have been met on time.
Rather than action being taken to solve the problem, he said the issues are worsening.
“In the last ten years, the number of malnourished people has increased rather than decreased, except for China.”
The losses are many for countries with impoverished, hungry, malnourished populations. For example: “If [poor people] cannot survive without doing damage to natural resources, that is what they will do. Not because they want to but because they don’t have another option,” Pinstrup-Andersen said.
The extreme rich-poor gap is another problem, he said. He referred to a statistic stating that 1999 to 2000 per capita incomes increased $5,000 in rich countries, increased by $40 in poor countries, and actually decreased by $20 in some African countries.
“Anyone who thinks we can continue those trends and have a stable world needs to think again,” he said.
In addition, poverty is now becoming urbanized.
“In 20 years, the poverty of urban areas will have doubled” he said. “Imagine what additional instability that will cause.”
Another effect of these basic problems is within-country wars. “Armed conflict within countries has killed about 3.6 million people since 1990,” he said, which is less than the number killed in wars between countries in the same time frame.
Pinstrup-Andersen said he believes action taken so far is not getting to the root of the problem.
“Instead of dealing with the underlying cause, we are dealing with the symptoms,” he said.
But Pinstrup-Andersen is not here to whine and complain. He does have a plan for solving the problem.
“There are seven areas where action is needed,” he said.
The first is investment in human resources?by this he means primary education and health care in developing countries. Second, Pinstrup-Andersen said we need to improve access these people have to land, resources, and employment. The third step involves improving market’s infrastructure and institutions, such as roads.
“If you have to carry what you produce on your back for 20 miles you’re not going to produce very much and not going to get out of poverty easily,” he said.
His fourth idea is expanding research and technology within poor nations.
“Science is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution,” Pinstrup-Andersen said. “We need to put science to work for poverty.”
Fifth, national resource management must be improved.
The sixth step is getting “good government?corruption is rampant in developing countries,” he said.
And finally, we need pro-poor national and international trade and macroeconomic policies. “The way to do that,” Pinstrup-Andersen said, “is to refocus the support away from the link to the quantity produced.”
Trading with poverty-stricken countries is key, he said. “If we want developing countries to get out of poverty, the best way is to trade
with them. For every additional dollar a farmer earns, the economy grows by two and a half dollars. It is a win-win situation to help countries get out of poverty,” Pinstrup-Andersen said.
He made other suggestions — such as having farming technology developed in a public rather than private sector, and using genetically engineered crops.
His closing thoughts were on the responsibility of the United States toward this problem.
“The US provides the lowest amount of assistance [for these problems] in terms of a percentage,” he said. “Our nation gives $36 per American, per year,” he said. If money is to be given to the cause, he said, “It has to be targeted for poverty eradication, eradication of hunger.”
He ended his speech much the way he began it, with a simple statement of the problem.
“Let me conclude by reiterating that military might won’t solve the instability matter,” he said. “I believe that unless we deal with the underlying causes we won’t be able to create a stable world for ourselves and we will end up as a country of walls?physical, virtual, or electronic.”