Asia Scope

Accidental Irony: Refugees Stop Eating on World ‘Hunger’ Day

On Saturday, 250 or so Sri Lankan refugees ended their 2-day hunger strike at an Indonesian port. And while they continue to appeal to Kevin Rudd for permission to seek asylum in the land down under, the Australian PM is standing firm in his resolve to uphold current national anti-smuggling policies.

It’s ironic that this show of resistance coincided with World Food Day on Friday, Oct 16. The day was created 64 years ago to mark the founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This year’s World Food Day theme is: ‘Achieving food security in times of crisis.’ The day is now often dubbed ‘World Hunger Day’ to reflect current reality–the FAO estimates that the number of people going hungry could increase by 100 million this year and therefore pass the 1 billion mark for the first time in history.

The seriousness of the situation is underscored in the 50-plus page 2009 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report released this month by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Congo tops the list of hungry nations this year while Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Pakistan stand out in the Asia-Pacific region as being in the ‘alarming’ level category. An overall tool for calculating hunger and malnutrition around the world, this year’s report focuses heavily on the idea that a key part of the solution is increasing gender equality. The evidence presented shows that higher levels of hunger are associated with lower literacy rates and access to education for women.

The World Summit on Food Security will take place in Rome, Italy, between November 16 and 18 this year.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to see a huge increase in asylum seekers as of late–the Sri Lankans assert that the recent defeat of the Tamil Tigers has put them in danger of becoming victims of genocide. Harry Purwanto, an immigration chief in West Java attests to this, saying, ‘You got to ask yourself why these women and children…men risk their lives coming over this ocean, stay in the jungle for one month…It is out of desperateness to run away from genocide.’