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Martín Caparrós: “Between 800 and 900 million people are starving in the world; this is not an error of the system, but the way in which the system is organised”

Martín Caparrós participated in the Season of Talks for the Master's Degree in International Studies of the UB, a lecture series that commemorates its 25th anniversary this year.

Martín Caparrós participated in the Season of Talks for the Master's Degree in International Studies of the UB, a lecture series that commemorates its 25th anniversary this year.

The historian, writer and journalist Martín Caparrós has developed a project that led him to travel around India, Bangladesh, Niger, Kenya, Sudan, Madagascar, Argentina, the United States and Spain.

The historian, writer and journalist Martín Caparrós has developed a project that led him to travel around India, Bangladesh, Niger, Kenya, Sudan, Madagascar, Argentina, the United States and Spain.

04/06/2015

Entrevistes

The historian, writer and journalist Martín Caparrós (Buenos Aires, 1957) has developed a project that led him to travel around India, Bangladesh, Niger, Kenya, Sudan, Madagascar, Argentina, the United States and Spain. He tells his experience and describes his research activity in El Hambre, an essay that seeks to understand one of the worst human problems, world hunger, and the mechanisms causing it in each country as well as the people suffering from it. Caparrós participated in the Season of Talks for the Master's Degree in International Studies of the UB, a lecture series that commemorates its 25th anniversary this year.

Have you fulfilled the aims you had when you began to write the book?

It will be vain to think that a person can fulfil his/her aims by writing a book that analyses the most serious and shameful problem people are suffering nowadays: hundreds of people do not eat as much as they need. I tried and I am trying to make everything possible to not look the other way and ignore the most serious problem we face.

How did you meet the challenge of writing this essay?

I have been working on social and political journalism for thirty years. Throughout my career, I have had to face this type of questions. I have analysed many events related to starvation and malnutrition, but not in a direct way. In this case, I had to find the manner to focus my research on world hunger. Finally, I considered that it would be useful to explain the different mechanisms of hunger. We name ‘hunger’ a phenomenon that works in a different way in each country, context and situation. I thought of centring the story on eight or ten countries where there are different mechanisms and explain why they are produced and what happens to people who suffer from hunger.

It is surprising that one of the countries analysed in the book are the United States…

I went to the Unites States because I wanted to observe how the Chicago Stock Exchange works. Global prices of food raw materials are set there. I got a surprise when I saw that, only in the city of Chicago, 500,000 people are suffering, as they say there, from “food insecurity”. In other words, they do not know whether they are going to eat today or not. So, they ask for help to the State or to private associations that provide them with food at community dining-rooms. I was absolutely surprised. The fact that forty-five million people receive food assistance in the richest world’s country proves the extreme inequality that characterises the basis of societies’ organization.

The book also criticizes Spain’s policies during prosperous times...

The book was finished in Barcelona, so I needed to look around to observe what was happening in the country where I was working. In Spain, hunger had been considered something not connected to Spanish people. Spanish organizations helped poor African, Asian or Latin American people who do not have enough food. With the crisis, assistance was reduced by 60-70%; it is the first thing to be cut when there is not so much money. Anyone cares about providing assistance as it is not an issue that matters at elections or influence the brand image of political parties. Little by little, I observed that Spanish people were gaining awareness that hunger is not a problem only affecting foreigners, on the contrary a significant number of people do not eat as much as they need. Surprisingly, it was difficult to know how many people were suffering from hunger as there are not data about that. It was thought that malnutrition could not happen here, so the Government did not care about researching on that, which is the first measure to take in order to address the question. It is curious that if you search the words España (Spain) and hambre (hunger) on the Internet, results show sites to donate money to other countries, but they do not provide information about the high number of children who have breakfast and lunch at the school because they do not have food at their homes.

Did this process enable you to find solutions?

Solutions are to say so much. The process has allowed me understanding the phenomenon. I am not the person who must find solutions. However, I am sure about one disheartening question: between 800 and 900 million people are starving in the world and this is not an error of the system, but the way in which the system is organised. It is a feature of a global system in which food production, which actually surpasses needs, does not aims at providing food to everyone, but at allowing rich people to eat more than they need and waste. Hunger will continue taking place as long as the international economic order will continue favouring this type of production. The solution is not to send some bags of food from time to time like a little gesture of charity. It is a structural problem, so the solution must be also structural.

Do you think that there is a will to not solve world hunger?

Solutions are not being search, but rather the problem is ignored. When a man at the Chicago Stock Exchange speculates about the future price of corn and increases it by 8%, he is not seeking to get farmers in Guatemala to eat thanks to this price rise. He only wants to earn millions of dollars. If that means that a farmer is starving, he doesn’t care. The system is organised in such a way that makes it licit. It enables to earn money easily, even if your actions produce starvation to thousands and thousands of people.

Are there people to blame for this terrible situation?

Yes, the people who rule the world, leading politicians, businessmen, etc. Logically, this way of structuring the world benefits those who control it. They are the people to blame. And, obviously, we are their millions of accomplices. Every person living in a developed country is more or less giving his/her tacit support to world hunger. However, there is a big difference between being an accomplice and a beneficiary of all that.

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