The right to food

Posted on May 6th, 2018

Since the goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 was adopted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2015, each day brings us closer to that goal. Through WFP’s work, over 80 million people in need across the globe have food each day, but tragically, 815 million people still go to bed hungry every night and even more people suffer from some form of malnutrition. The disastrous conditions in war zones make it nearly impossible to get innocent people the food they need to survive. An immense effort is needed to face the challenge of achieving a Zero Hunger world.

Sami Yusuf during his visit to Zataari Camp in Jordan. Photo: WFP/Dina El Kassaby

I am a musician. My work is creating harmony, or balance, through the medium of sound. The message of love and peace that I have tried to communicate in my music has resonated with the aspirations of millions throughout the world. Joining WFP as a Goodwill Ambassador has given me the opportunity to amplify its transformative message. I am committed to using my voice to encourage others to act to change the tragic status quo of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. Behind the concepts, and reasons, and numbers, are people — mothers, babies, grandfathers — individuals each with a story — and their need is urgent.

As I see it, we are living in a world out of balance, and this is one root cause for the problem of hunger. The balance between humans and the natural world has been disrupted. We have lost our Centre and we see the result: Hunger, poverty, injustice, the environmental crisis, war — these are all strands of a frightful tapestry that has become too familiar.

To live in balance is to recognize the beautiful, interconnected web of life that surrounds us, that sustains us, and that responds to our actions. Maintaining this balance has always been a part of the teachings of spiritual leaders and traditional wisdom. Now, on a daily basis, the world of science reveals details of how interwoven and interdependent all elements of life on earth are. To live in balance is to find our Centre, our place in this delicate weaving, and to act from there.

But we are living in a world of extremes. There are more extremes of wealth and poverty now in most countries than ever before in human history. Extreme consumerism, with all its deleterious effects, has become a kind of global religion. Those seeking to protect the environment, struggle against depleting economies that leave destruction in their wake. Fundamentalism collides with modern nihilism. The result? Vast portions of the world’s population are suffering from hunger and malnutrition; families are forced to flee from war; land-based cultures are dying due to climate change. In all of these, we are witnessing the outer manifestation of an inward destruction of the balance that characterized the lives of most people before the modern era.

We all see that much of humanity has been cut off from the balance of nature and its rhythms. The dominant worldview has shifted to an extreme that sees the natural world as a non-entity, as a never-ending source of lifeless commodities, to be used only for profit and power. It is an unspeakable tragedy that even people in vulnerable conditions are viewed as commodities or obstacles. Their lives are disregarded by those seeking exclusive control of the earth’s abundance, but their power is transient at best, because their actions threaten to destroy the very foundations of our life on earth. The Native American Cree tribe had a saying, as they watched the European settlers’ treatment of the land: ‘Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last stream poisoned, and the last fish caught, they will realize that they can’t eat money.’

The population shift from rural to urban settings in recent centuries has caused an unraveling in the fabric of society. Where societal balance is lost, young people go to extremes, becoming restless or violent. There are no elders they can learn from; the adults in their lives are bewildered. The future for them seems grim. Too many turn to destructive ideologies in a search for identity or meaning.

But I know we can change course. In fact, that change has already started. Even in the midst of the current crisis, there are signs of hope. I believe we can restore the balance we need to ensure a future that is abundant for all. I think that by learning from our past, while using all the technology available to us, we can create a new ethical value system, one that is global in scale.

We are making progress, but norms still have to change. It has become normal to see resources being hoarded for the benefit of a few. It has become normal to measure success in terms of accumulation of excessive wealth, not caring if it comes at the expense of others. And it has become normal to demonize groups of people who are seen as the ‘other’, but these destructive attitudes can be changed. I see the goodness in people across the globe and know they hope for a better world. Compassion, generosity, sharing — these can become the norm. People want these to become the norm and the World Food Programme’s work is reshaping ideas about what is normal.

And so, it’s a privilege for me to play a small part in the work of the World Food Programme. Because I know that the people of the World Food Programme, like me, are seeking harmony, and a balance where Zero Hunger can be achieved, and where generosity and love for our brothers and sisters can become the norm in our world going forward.

As the Persian poet Rumi said:

We are the strings of a harp,

As parts of it, let’s sing out high and low!

This article appeared in Newsweek Middle East on 2 May, 2018 and is available in Arabic here.