No social or economic problem facing the world today is more urgent than that of hunger. While this distressing state of affairs is not new, its persistence in spite of the remarkable technological and productive advances of the twentieth century is nothing short of scandalous.
The subject of world hunger therefore has the highest priority in WIDER's research programme. Since its creation in 1985, WIDER has consistently sought to promote research on contemporary development problems with a practical orientation. The focus of this book by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen, one of the first fruits of this effort, is on action—action to banish both the threat of famine and the reality of chronic hunger affecting many parts of the world.
There is no instant remedy to the scourge of persistent world hunger. The impulse to rush ahead and do something practical to relieve suffering is laudable and necessary. But good motives do not by themselves guarantee effective action. While the task of eradicating hunger in the world is too serious to be left entirely to politicians and too immediate to be left entirely to academics, it is also too complex to be left entirely to the compassionate instincts of human‐kind. Action has to be based on clear thinking as well as on firm dedication.
This book, I believe, represents an important step towards a better understanding of the issues involved. There is, for instance, much to learn from its appraisal of the possible roles that can be respectively played by government intervention, market mechanisms and the activism of the public at large in encountering the problem of world hunger. As the authors show, the importance of these influences is well illustrated in a number of recent experiences of famine prevention. The response of the market to the demands generated by income support programmes, the involvement of the state in food distribution to prevent collusive practices on the part of private traders, and the impact of public pressure on the timing and nature of government action, can all be crucial ingredients of an effective programme of famine prevention. Similarly, in their analysis of strategies to deal with chronic hunger and deprivation, the authors stress the interlinked contributions which participative economic growth and direct public support can make to the improvement of living conditions in poor countries.
Besides clearer thinking, it is my hope that Drèze and Sen's work will lead to greater awareness and motivation, particularly by bringing out the social and political ramifications of the problem of world hunger. As the authors argue, to confront this problem involves not only being alive to opportunities for cooperative action but also addressing the multiple conflicts (e.g. of class and gender) that pervade social living.
(p.vi) The subject of hunger and poverty continues to occupy a major place in WIDER's research programme. This book will be followed shortly by three volumes of papers, written by international experts (and edited by Drèze and Sen), on ‘the political economy of hunger’.
As the Director of WIDER, I am happy to be able to present this book as one of the first results of our programme of ‘research for action’.
31 July 1989