The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced Friday, June 19, that a record high number of people are now going hungry every day. The world economic crisis, ushered in by an era of inattention to regulatory abuses in the financial industry during the Bush Administration, has pushed an additional 100 million people into a state of daily hunger in the past year. Part of the problem relates to persistently high food prices, which have affected people in every region of the world and have led to 1/6 of the world's population now consuming less than 1800 calories per day, according the UN agency.
The director general of the FAO described this level of hunger as a "serious risk" to world peace and security. Coupled with the loss of income for other needs like housing, director general Jacques Diouf said the situation was a "devastating combination for the world's most vulnerable."
The UN said that roughly 642 million hungry people live in the Asia-Pacific region, with another 265 million in sub-Saharan Africa--31% of the entire population of Africa. Only 15 million people are left hungry to a similar degree in the developed world.
FAO spokesman Kostas Stamoulis, director of the organization's development department, said, "It's the first time in human history that we have so many hungry people in the world...and that's a contradiction, because a lot of the world is very rich despite the economic crisis."
Effects on abortion worldwide
The number of induced abortions declined worldwide between 1995 and 2003, from nearly 46 million to approximately 42 million, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This may have been a result, in part, from the improved economic outlook during the 1990s that accompanied the growth in the world economy and the debt reduction efforts of many groups, including the Vatican.
An August 2008 study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance detailed the close relationship between financial conditions and the likelihood that women will seek abortion. What was good for the unborn in the 1990s appears to be a potential catastrophe in the making as hundreds of millions of people are being thrown out of work. No public estimates exist of the likely effect that the world financial crisis will have on the potential reversal of the progress in decreasing abortion rates worldwide that began during the Clinton Administration, but the effect could be dramatic.
Malnutrition itself represents a significant risk to the life of the fetus. Several studies have found that the risk of spontaneous abortion is inversely and significantly related to the consumption of green vegetables, fruit, milk, cheese, eggs and fish. The multivariate odds ratios in one study for lowest versus highest levels of intake was estimated conservatively at 2-3-fold increased risk for miscarriage.
World conflict also contributes to rates of abortion. Several studies documented the increased abortion rates in the Middle East following the Gulf War in 1991 (see Rajab et al "Incidence of spontaneous abortion in Bahrain before and after the Gulf War of 1991," Int J Gyn Obst 2000). This must be viewed as a significant, if unintended, consequence of decisions to launch wars that affect millions of people's lives.
Response of American abortion groups to the world economic crisis
American abortion groups like Priests for Life and National Right to Life have been silent about the effect of the world economic crisis on the wellbeing of the fetus. Their commitment to conservative political candidates has limited their ability to criticize those leaders who arguably bear responsibility for the dramatic increases in world hunger that are now being appreciated. When President Bush launched the war in Iraq, which resulted in 4 million people being displaced from their homes, these abortion groups were nowhere to be found in addressing the catastrophe that the invasion decision posed to the unborn across that region.
But these groups have been quick to attack the current administration for its adoption of measures that have no demonstrable effect on the number of abortions anywhere--including the Mexico City policy, and the last-minute Bush rules expanding conscience rights of healthcare providers beyond abortion to any healthcare procedure to which an individual provider takes exception.
As the Obama Administration completes its unprecedented Abortion Reduction Task Force effort to find common ground solutions to abortion, groups across the political spectrum would do well to look more broadly at the problem. With nearly half the world's abortions occuring in countries where abortion is illegal, it seems self-defeating for abortion foes to focus exclusively on criminal law as the answer to the plight of the unborn. Lifting up the world's poor, defeating hunger, and ending armed intervention as a means of conflict resolution will in the end prove to be much more highly effective strategies.