Monday, April 14, 2008

Déja vu all over again

The news is not good on the world's food supply, especially in impoverished countries, where prices for rice and other basic food supplies have risen so high that families are spending 80% or more of their income just to survive. "This is the world's big story," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

As far as I can remember, this issue has always been the world's big story. A photojournalist knows there are many themes and recurring stories. Poverty, homelessness, hunger, disease, war, health, the disparity between the haves and the have nots. It appears all the photos and stories have not made any damn difference, at least on a global scale.

I began photographing in my college years and then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia in 1969 and the image of the sleeping boy with the empty rice bowl was one of those photographs that gave me a push and also opened my mind to the problem of hunger, a topic I revisited many times in my career. In 1986 I spent the better part of a year photographing people for a major project "Hunger in California." From soup kitchens to homeless camps and transient hotels in San Francisco, the story was the same. Not enough to eat, no jobs, no place to call home, bureaucracy to battle.

Perhaps all the stories and photos have some redeeming value. Awareness was raised, some action or assistance became available. Maybe a few people had life improve just a bit. On a global level though, the pictures don't feed people, money from major countries might. The world economic picture is not pretty either. I am no expert on world economics or hunger or the intricate political issues that prevent solutions to complex problems. I do wonder though how the United States might have been more of a problem solver without the financial burden of a protracted war in Iraq.

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