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The hunger conundrum

Jan 12 2014, 04:06 IST
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Summary40 Chances will give you ample opportunities to understand how hunger treats humans, or makes demons of them

Philanthropy is a term associated with Warren Buffett, and when one reads a book by his son, Howard G Buffett, one knows what to expect. The title, 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, refers to different stories that have inspired and been dealt with by Howard G Buffett, as he travels across lesser developed countries, primarily in Africa and central America, to understand how hunger treats humans and, more importantly, makes demons of them. Underdevelopment, poverty, political strife, and indifferent and corrupt governments are perfect settings for acts of degradation, which lead to people becoming inhuman. The result is hunger and death.

The author starts from his home ground, agriculture, where he talks of how he, as a farmer, took up the occupation. Quite prophetically, he says, a farmer gets 40 chances to deal with the earth in his lifetime in order to make a difference. This is the entire time period in which a boy takes up farming, becomes a grown-up and then hands over the reins to his children. These 40 chances are analogous to stories he narrates of his own experiences across the world, which could provide lessons—if we are willing to learn.

Getting funds from his father for charity was one part of the story, but more difficult was to make use of the funds effectively to ensure that these reach people who need them, and creating delivery channels for this. The stories bring to the forefront the sharp reality of life: what we call progress is very peripheral in nature and there are countries, if not continents, which suffer from acute starvation.

Meeting such people, taking their photographs and narrating their stories form the core of this book. Some stories may disturb the reader, as these talk about inhuman incidents, which are commonplace. Buffett talks about young girls in African regimes, who are raped continuously by insurgents or the military. Their life is over even before it can begin. Boys are forced to take drugs when they are less than 10 years old, so that they may lose their sense of feeling. So when they grow up, they can kill without batting an eyelid. Countries like Angola, Somalia, Sudan, Congo, etc, have many such examples of innocence being lost at an early age, with, virtually, no solution in sight. The reason behind this is invariably high levels of poverty.

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