Bomblets and hunger

Posted on May 19, 2008 by ELCA World Hunger

That war is a cause of hunger is not news. War displaces people from their homes, livelihoods, and usual food sources. It recruits and kills working-age men who would otherwise support their families. It disrupts agricultural cycles and destroys fields. It maims economies, infrastructure, and people.

But one aspect of how war causes hunger did recently surprise me. It shouldn’t have. Even a moment of thought makes it blatantly obvious. But I hadn’t before considered how the ammunition of war causes hunger, sometimes for decades after the fighting has ended.

Here’s an example I read about from the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines. The US dropped 90 million cluster bomblets on Laos during the Vietnam War. Today, they estimate that about 10 million of those bomblets remain unexploded, and that the bomblets cover one-third to one-half of Laos. They further explain that 80% of the country’s labor force is involved in subsistence agriculture.

The choices are both obvious and bad. Either Laotians don’t use a lot of land that they could to grow food because it’s too dangerous, or they farm it anyway, understanding that people will be severely injured or killed when then accidentally hoe an old bomblet.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ web site lists, in bullet form (munitions irony, there), the many problems land mines and cluster bombs cause. In addition to later land use, some of the key hunger-related problems include slowing the return of displaced people, slowing rebuilding efforts, environmental damage each time a mine or bomblet explodes, the resource strain to poor communities and governments trying to assist landmine survivors, and the ongoing danger to both people and livestock. Of course, some of these issues are common to any war. The difference is the length of time unexploded munitions extend the problems.

The good news is that the issue is getting some serious attention. Beginning today in Dublin, some 100 countries are meeting to discuss banning cluster bombs. You can read an overview in yesterday’s Boston Globe. And if you’ve been looking for an advocacy project, this may be an opportunity to explore. The United States is not attending the talks.