Neglecting Poverty, Development and Hunger in International Relations

Introduction

International relations among its diverse variants appear to neglect the real issues that confront mankind such as poverty, development and hunger. Theories of international relations are traditionally conceptualized in abstract concepts neglecting the fundamental issues at the center of life (Hoogvel, p. 10). Developmental issues are superficially developed within the realm of international relations discourses. Theories and practices that constitute international relations reside on the edge of substantial issues that confront mankind. As a result of challenges stemming from globalization, the “Third World,” as conceived by both theory and practice of international relations, appears invisible. Modernity and globalization have brought together multiple cultures and identities resulting in the marginalization of the concerns of minorities as insignificant. A resilient culture of competitiveness in the contemporary world has dispossessed the so-called “Third World” through all margins of international relations.

Globalization, from the viewpoint of international relations, neglects sociological perspectives and humanitarian discourses. The structure of world politics frames developmental issues as well as poverty and hunger as the responsibility of a sovereign state. Both globalization and international relations appear universal in their approach to these fundamental issues rendering the Third World invisible (Darby, p.  22). The concept of universality in international relations neglects the concerns of the poor and their remote cultures. This neglect has led to a reckless acceptance of human rights abuses and illegitimate policies in the marginalized Third World. Universality is derived from the notion that certain global processes and movements exist in the world of politics.

Consequently, it is upon different players and actors in the world of politics to interpret these universal processes within the context of a globalized world. The assumption is that a common ground exists for global actors to adequately understand and interpret the global processes in each and every political context. However, it has proven difficult to establish a common ground that can act as a reference point for a universal interpretation of the perceived global processes (Smith & Baylis, p.  15). Neglect can be defined as “concealing, under-reporting or misunderstanding of crises and their consequences”. Actors on the international stage, such as politicians, journalists, governments, donors, and analysts, could actually ignore or neglect chronic poverty and other social vulnerabilities which confront mankind. The forces and pressures that confront the Third World are unique from the challenges that the Western world experience. It is therefore evident that imbalances are manifest as regards the application of international relations in different geographical contexts.

Hunge

The world’s acute hunger occurs during the dry seasons of the year as well as under circumstances where food prices are high and when scarcity of jobs is rampant (Wouters & Kronenberger 18). Subsistence farmers in remote areas and the poor landless peasants in the Third World are vulnerable to hunger. There are also natural disasters and conflicts which cause dwindling agricultural practices resulting in hunger. Natural disasters include floods, windstorms, and drought which cause unfavorable climatic conditions for farming to take place satisfactorily. Farmers may either find it difficult to plant crops and rear livestock due to lack of rainfall and pasture or otherwise lose their harvest to environmental disasters such as floods.

The hunger season is therefore characterized by depreciating household food stocks, poor harvests, and accumulated debt (Lawson, p.  12).

Food prices appreciate considerably making food as a basic human need unaffordable to the poor. The labor market is equally flooded with peasant hungry families in a desperate search for jobs. Those who are lucky to secure employment are forced to negotiate for meager salaries to obtain food. Farmers are therefore forced to abandon their farms in exchange for cheap labor thereby compromising subsequent farm outputs. Households are therefore reduced to a peasant lifestyle characterized by rampant under-nutrition and disease. Diseases further decrease farm and labor output since financial resources have to be spent on medication in addition to the wastage of time attending to sick members of the family.

Despite such enormous repercussions caused by hunger and associated risks in society, anti-hunger efforts are not prioritized by the ruling and political class. Adequate resources are therefore not allocated to agencies and organizations that seek to alleviate hunger in the world. A broad-based program to avert hunger and its causes also lacks the substantial muscle to ensure universal alleviation of hunger among the vulnerable communities. Challenges arise from the constraints of implementing a universal action plan to fight hunger by the government, civil society, and aid organizations (Pharos, p.  25).

Existing interventions must be evaluated through the scope of the seasonal fluctuations associated with the changing weather patterns to allocate resources appropriately. Progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number one on hunger and poverty by the stipulated deadline of 2015 is slow (Wilkin & Thomas, p.  30). According to MDG (p. 1), the proportion of the world population living below the poverty line is meant to be reduced by half. Hunger is, therefore, a priority that requires urgent attention for universal poverty alleviation. The world is capable of eradicating poverty if political decisions are strategically designed to address the real problems that face human beings.

Development

Millennium Development Goals of Poverty Reduction in relation to Trade Distorting Policies of the Rich Countries

Poverty is a complex term that incorporates social exclusion, gender disparities, poor health, and illiteracy among other elements that reduce the quality of life (Poku, Nana & McGrew, p.  14). International relations under the framework of the United Nations designed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through international rules of engagement. The world member states successfully agreed on time-bound defined objectives. The objectives can be divided into eight components with the eradication of poverty being the most salient feature of the MDGs. Other objectives include “a 2015-deadline for achieving universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of child and maternal mortality, environmental sustainability and a universal partnership for development”.

Human beings have experienced problems of hunger and poverty for generations. The problems continue to persist despite great technological advances and political freedom. Widespread hunger and an ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor are ever-present international phenomena confronting mankind (Dasgupta, p. 7). The rich North leads an affluent lifestyle at the expense of the poor south perishing in hunger, malnourishment and disease. The number of people living below the poverty line (that is below one dollar a day) constitutes the majority of the world population.

Trade is regarded as the vehicle through which development and growth can be realized in the world (Rust & Zajda, p. 17). A country’s domestic product (GDP) is bound to increase dramatically if the benefits of an expanded international and domestic trade can be harnessed. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in order to reduce trade barriers that barred poor nations from benefitting from the fruits of globalization. One of the factors capable of achieving this objective is lowering domestic agricultural and export subsidies. However, rich countries extend agricultural subsidies to the tune of one billion to their farmers. Farmers in Europe, the United States, and Japan receive these huge subsidies at the expense of poor and desperate farmers in developing countries. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have therefore been constrained from eliminating poverty among their people courtesy of the selective policies of the rich nations of the world.

On the other hand, rich nations insist on their commitment to universal poverty eradication. The irony of the situation is that much of the foreign aid advanced by developed rich countries to poor nations translates into a huge financial burden due to the attached conditions and interests. It is actually estimated that Bangladesh loses $7 and five times more from every one dollar it receives from the USA and Canada respectively courtesy of trade restrictions (Schuurman, p. 15). Trade restrictions are estimated to cost poor countries about $3 billion through unbalanced foreign exchange earnings (Schuurman, p. 19). The trade barriers are systematically designed to impose high tariffs on important sectors of the economy in developing nations. High tariffs are particularly imposed on agricultural exports from developing countries into European and American markets. This inequality is further reinforced by the huge agricultural subsidies to the tune of one billion dollars which actually represents the entire GDP of the LDC’s combined (Schuurman, p. 23).

Peasant farmers in poor countries are thus rendered at the mercy of the rich nations at the unsustainable debt position. Governments of the Least Developed Countries spend about 10% of their overall revenue on debt. Poor nations continue to drag behind the rich nations because of the selfish western trade barriers and restrictions on lucrative world markets. The internationally agreed goal of reducing the population of poor people by half by 2015 is only attainable if the rich countries can confirm their commitment to the reduction of trade barriers and an increase in foreign aid. Universal economic development and poverty reduction can therefore be achieved if both poor and rich countries work together on mutual goals.

Poor nations must invest more resources in the health and education sectors. Political actors representing their states on matters of free trade have never made substantial progress even within the context of the WTO. Inequitable distribution of wealth is a scary reality among poor countries under the yoke of poverty imposed by the rich nations, some of which are their former colonial masters. After gaining political independence, it dawned on the poor countries that their economies were dependent on exporting very few products to the rich western nations. These developing economies were therefore rendered captive of fluctuations in the prices of their treasured products and the subsequent deterioration of conditions of trade in favor of the wealthy nations (Siebers, Pansters, Kalbn 28). The scheme of things is such that the majority of the people living in poor countries reside in rural settings depending on agriculture. The irony of the matter is that about two-thirds of the world’s agricultural trade is dominated by rich countries. The net result is that there is a resultant flow of resources from poor to rich nations.

The concept of free trade has equally been grossly violated by the same rich countries that claim to champion it. Agricultural protection by the United States and the European Community has effectively locked out agricultural exports from poor countries from the crucial world markets. Western subsidized farm exports dominate the world market blocking out poorer competitors. The export of manufactured commodities from poor countries is equally undermined by rich countries through a well-orchestrated system of tariffs, quotas, and stringent restrictions on products from developing nations (Hoogvelt, p. 15). Bilateral trade between the rich and poor countries on either primary or secondary commodities further aggravates the existing inequalities. The benefits of this trade accrue to local industrialists working in partnership with multinational companies in wealthy nations.

Global inequality is also accentuated through the modern international labor market. In essence, there is no free movement of people across nations in the current capitalist society. Increased globalization and social inequalities in the world are constantly leading to massive displacements and dislocations of people. Economies are equally becoming interdependent and the notion of a universal immigration policy appears farfetched. Rich countries are at the forefront of imposing tight restrictions on their immigration policies in order to gain more than poor nations from the processes of the globalized economy (Darby, p. 31). Immigration controls are currently the trend even in countries considered traditional migrant destinations such as the United States, Canada and Australia. This is attributed to the rise in the number of immigrants seeking asylum and refugee status from countries experiencing political turmoil. Most of these immigrants are unskilled and less educated. Consequently, it is difficult for them to secure lucrative job opportunities let alone a decent living in an extremely capitalist society in Western Europe and North America.

The Western world is also still reeling from the negative consequences of the global financial and economic crisis characterized by massive unemployment and diminished trade. Rich countries are therefore selective on admitting foreign labor with a bias towards migrants with special skills on demand. Generally, rich countries prefer migrants with useful skills such as doctors, engineers, and professionals in information technology. Labor migration is therefore replacing the notion of admitting refugees and asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds. Poor countries are therefore losing qualified professionals at a time when they are in dire need of them for research and technological advancement. Underdevelopment in poor countries is, therefore, a constant reality. Negotiations through international institutions meant to resolve these gross inequalities between rich and poor countries are merely in theory and not in practice. It is apparent that rich states are not committed enough to deliver on their promises of free trade, increased foreign aid, and development support towards the poor nations (Smith & Baylis, p. 20). Even the esteemed WTO round of talks appears futile in reaching substantial deals on the concept of free trade. Poverty and hunger are therefore the portions of the poor nations in the modern globalized society.

Conclusion

International relations are a product of mutual and competitive interests between countries. Globalization is characterized by the notion of a “global village” with greater interaction between nations on matters of trade, health, research, and education among others. Development is at the center of transnational cooperation. The Millennium Development Goals illustrate one of the major agreements that actors on the international mutually achieved. One of the objectives of the MDGs is to eradicate poverty and hunger at least by half among the world’s poorest nations. In essence, the MDGs seek to facilitate poor countries to gain more from the benefits accruing from globalization. However, cosmetic commitments by the rich nations on international agreements are not helping solve the situation at all (Wouters & Kronenberger, p. 22).

Selfish and competitive policies strategically designed by rich countries to benefit their citizens are grossly undermining attempts by the world’s poor to earn a decent living. One of the areas in which rich countries have flouted international agreement is on the issue of eradicating farm subsidies for the sake of free trade. The majority of the populations in poor countries depend on agriculture particularly, farming for survival. As a matter of fact, poor economies rely almost entirely on agriculture. As such, subsidized farm products from rich countries such as the USA, Japan, and Western Europe in the world market are effectively blocking farm exports from poor countries. The marginalized peasant farmers are therefore rendered impoverished. The few skilled workers in poor countries are also getting trapped by lucrative job opportunities in the western world. Unfortunately, skilled workers employed in rich countries are restricted from family reunification while monetary remittances to their home countries are also regulated (Lawson, p. 17).

This selective approach on matters of international labor and free trade is attributed to capitalist interests cherished by the rich nations. The neglect of development, hunger, and poverty in international relations has resulted in untold human suffering of the poor especially in regions where civil wars and political instability are rampant such as Africa. International institutions, such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization and the European Union are therefore theoretically conceptualized but lack the teeth to bite. Social and economic inequalities shall continue to torment poor countries for as long as the rich dictate the terms of trade and conditions through which foreign aid is loaned.

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