When men eat grass

A while ago a pastor in South Africa caused a stir when he coerced his congregants to eat grass in the name of God. I found it particularly hard to be sympathetic to the faithful probably because I thought they should know better. However, when news of Syrians trapped in Damascus, with no food to eat or water to drink, resorted to gnawing grass, my heart ached. This was a cruel reminder as to why Amartya Sen regarded dignity as a pivotal component of hunger alleviation. It was also a reminder of the nexus between conflict and hunger. The jury is still out as to whether a cause-effect relationship exists between the two. Nonetheless, it does not require statistical rigour to note the diabolical vicious association between conflict and hunger.

In 1999, Africa was the continent in which major armed conflicts took place. It still is I presume. Most of these conflicts were protracted accompanied by complex humanitarian emergencies.

Continent Major Conflict Minor Conflict
Europe Russia(Chechnya)

Yugoslavia

Russia (Dagestan)
Middle East West Bank and Gaza

Turkey

 
Asia Burma

India(Kashmir)

India-Pakistan

Philippines(New people’s army)

Sri Lanka

India()

Nepal

Philippines (Mindanao)

Africa Algeria

Angola

Congo, republic of

Congo, Democratic Republic of

Uganda

Sudan

Burundi

Guinea-Bissau

Rwanda

Senegal

Sierra Leone

Eritrea-Ethiopia

Chad

Ethiopia (Ogaden; Oromiya; Somali )

South America Colombia

Peru

 

Source: Wallensteen & Sollenberg (2000)

Fifteen years later little has changed. The Central African Republic has recently been in the spotlight because of religious militias taking on each other. Some of the stories that emanated from C.A.R shocked even the stoniest amongst us. A few countries away, South Sudan was at it again. Therein, the conflict took an ethnic turn into what a leading media house in Kenya referred to as a silent massacre. Currently, close to 2.5 million people are in need of food assistance as markets have failed and the supply channels used to deliver food to the villages have been disrupted. The UN agency, WFP, has resorted to airdrops to deliver food. The conflicts are also felt in North-East Nigeria where Boko-Haram has been engaging the government in Guerrilla warfare. The most vulnerable group are school going children. The last time I checked 190 school girls had been abducted by the extremists.

I can go on and on but somewhere in Syria, men are eating grass because a regime which many perceive has overstayed its welcome, feels it has the right to determine who eats and who does not-literally. Now, I can furnish you with figures that show discrepancy between food production during times of peace and times of war; I can tell you that prior to 1994, a drastic fall in global prices of coffee reduced the purchasing power of rural Rwandese and consequently their living conditions, they, living in quiet desperation, found it easy to turn against each other when appealed to do so; I can remind you that it was the failure of Emperor Haile Selassie to respond to food shortages in Ethiopia that led to his overthrow. However, I feel we should end on a moral note.

In hunger and conflict, what once was abominable becomes the norm. Eyebrows are no longer raised when a woman and a man wielding a gun go behind a bush and later, the woman is spotted with a bag of flour. Jaws no longer drop when a man rips off flesh from a fresh human corpse using his teeth. Mothers do not utter a sound when their children are recruited into the army. Girls no longer have the strength to resist the soldiers’ forceful advances. These and other unutterable horrors of war are not new to us. Every day, we are fed with news of such from across the world. Some are so near us geographically, yet, far, emotionally. We have become so accustomed to the sounds of drones, blasts, screams, corpses on our TV screens that we forget that they too are human. We have become deaf to the tolling of the bell. We have forgotten that the death of another diminishes us. We have forgotten that it is a thin line between war and peace and while few strive to see that this line is not crossed, the indifference of most will inevitably lead to its crossing time and time again.

 

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