I happened to have the news on yesterday as I was fixing lunch, and they were talking about the pirates off the coast of Somalia who attacked a U.S.-flagged ship, the Maersk Alabama. My young daughter caught the word “pirates” and asked, “Are there really pirates?” I said yes, and she, being a typical child, asked why. The question gave me pause.

In thinking about how to respond, it occurred to me that piracy is an excellent example of the causes and results of hunger. Why are there pirates? Why were 122 ships attacked near Somalia last year? Because there’s been no functioning government in Somalia in something like 18 years. With no government, there’s been no rule of law and pretty much no economy. There has been plenty of civil war, weapons, and corruption. With no means or incentive for things like infrastructure maintenance, business development, foreign investment, or large-scale food production, poverty is rampant. DallasNews.com reports that some 25% of children die before age 5 and life expectancy is 46. And a generation has now grown up knowing nothing else.

Enter piracy. Lots of ships float by every day, and they present a huge opportunity. Some entrepreneurial folks have determined that ransom is more profitable than the treasure-stealing, “yo-ho-ho” pirate image my daughter has in mind. Apparently kidnapping one good ship can be worth up to $1.5 million. According to the BBC, piracy also creates a local economy. You need pirates to make the initial attacks, more pirates to guard the captured hostages, and even back-up pirates on land in case anything goes wrong on captured ships or at sea. Even local restaurants have joined the industry, making food for the hostages. Plus, once the pirates get paid, they build houses, buy cars and laptops, go out to eat, and otherwise create a market for goods and services that wasn’t there before. An average Somalian citizen considering his options might well see the advantage of an entry-level job in piracy. It’s wrong, but it beats living on a dollar a day with no prospects.

War, corruption, ineffective government, lack of jobs/opportunity, poverty. All related and all causes of hunger and piracy. Now how to sum that up for my daughter…

-Nancy Michaelis