A time of hunger

There is no place or people on this planet that hasn’t experienced the scourge of hunger at one time or another.

There is no place or people on this planet that hasn’t experienced the scourge of hunger at one time or another.

This is as true for the Yukon as anywhere else.

Robert Campbell’s records from Fort Selkirk in the late 1840s and early 1850s tell of times of terrible suffering and starvation afflicting the First Nations people living near the confluence of the Pelly and Yukon Rivers.

Hunger periodically swept through the mining camps prior to the 1898. L.A. Coolidge in his 1897 Klondike and the Yukon Country reported that “for every man who has returned with a sack of dust there are now one hundred poor devils stranded and starving in that country. When I say starving I mean it literally.”

This reality forced the NWMP to inspect the kit of all stampeders at the top of the Chilkoot Pass for adequate provisions.

The 1909 story of Bishop Stringer boiling his boots to ward off starvation or the tale of the sad fate of the Lost Patrol in 1910/1911 are both part of our lore. They remind us how close the spectre of hunger really can be. These accounts also serve as object lessons in preparedness for all backcountry travelers.

Hunger again has surged into our global consciousness. Recent food riots from Haiti to Egypt to Uzbekistan are dramatic manifestations of increasing food insecurity.

Climate change, rising energy and commodity prices, diversion of food crops into the production of ethanol and agricultural subsidies in wealthy countries that serve to block increased production in poorer areas are among the factors contributing to a “perfect storm” of hunger and malnutrition globally.

“Current food price trends are likely to increase sharply both the incidence and depth of food insecurity,” John Holmes, United Nation’s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator stated in an Associated Press article by Barbara Surk last week.

In the same article John Powell, the deputy executive director of The United Nation’s World Food Program also noted that, “The rise of fuel and food prices is unlikely to stop soon and it affects everyone.

“In the past, natural disasters, wars and ethnic conflict made the rural areas most vulnerable to poverty and hunger,” Powell reflected. “Now, the most vulnerable live in the cities.”

He called urban poverty “the new face of hunger.”

The price of a ton of Canada No.1 grade wheat tripling since the last crop year may bring temporary prosperity to some Prairie farmers.

The global instability that these price increases contribute towards may exact a much heavier, longer lasting toll arising from crowded urban slums around the world. This unrest will affect us all.

“Foods riots in Haiti and elsewhere are a wake-up call for the world to fight harder against poverty,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a Reuter’s article by Raymond Colitt earlier this week.

On Wednesday during a conference of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, Lula pointed to an unjust global trading system at the heart of the growing crisis.

“Rich countries need to reduce farm subsidies and trade barriers to allow poor countries to generate income with food exports,” he said.

A hunger-free world is indeed possible. We can and do produce enough food. Do we have the political will, though, to assure that this basic human right is satisfied?

The churches of Whitehorse are conducting their Annual Spring Food Drive in support of the food programs at Maryhouse and the Salvation Army. They will be going house to house next Wednesday evening, April 23. Help fight hunger locally. Give generously. 

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.