This week it was reported that in Romania, Adriana Iliescu has given birth at the age of 66. In Sri Lanka, Baby 81 is in the news. He was brought to Kalmunai Base Hospital in Amparar District, the 81st admission on the day of the tsumani. No relatives were with the 3-4 month old baby. Now nine desperate, heartbroken women are all claiming him as theirs. They are just some of the parents of the 4,000 children who died in the area round the base. The parents are now waiting to see if the courts will order a DNA test.
The desire to have and to nourish children is a powerful one for many people. In the developing world, 6 million under five die each year because of poverty. Elsewhere expensive medical science can work wonders. Not being able to have children but wanting to, or experiencing the death of one, cause almost indescribable pain. A birth after many years of trying and the return of a child thought dead will, both alike, bring great joy.
Perhaps today some readers will want to be grateful that their children are alive and well. Others will be reminded of their ‘indescribable pain’. The nurses in the Kalmunai Base Hospital have put a "mottu" on Baby 81’s forehead — a black stain to ward off evil. Whatever our personal situation, and even though a "mottu" is not our way of doing it, we long, like the Sri Lankan nurses, for all children to be kept free from harm, to grow up getting the best care parents and others can provide, and in a world where the chances of reaching maturity become quickly much more equal.
There’s a tragic irony in Dasani water being pulled off the shelves in the UK the weekend before today’s World Water Day. 5,000 children die daily from diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid because the water they drink is polluted and Coke transform perfectly good tap water into water which carries a cancer-inducing ingredient. The symbolism is interesting too. A multi-national company lays claim to a product which is every human being’s birthright and tries to sell it back to us. What cost 0.03p from the tap in Kent where they got it was going for 95p in the supermarkets.
This is a western example of what's happening with much more serious effects in some developing countries. Privatising the water supply is putting its price beyond the reach of the poor. It's taking it out of the control of governments who're working towards the UN aim to halve the number of people without access to safe water by 2015. Yet there is a suggestion that the GATS rules which govern international trade could be changed to encourage the practice. As one of the companies likely to make most out of the proposed new arrangement, Suez Lyonnais, has said: [water] is a product which would normally be free and our job is to sell it.
Today, if we’re not one of the billion people who have no safe water, let’s enjoy drinking it and if we live where it is plenteous, let’s enjoy a shower or a bath, and using dish and clothes washing equipment. Feeling guilty about having it will help no one. What might is to take action to persuade western governments not to proceed with proposals that will, perhaps permanently, undermine the attempts of poor governments to get clean water for all their people.
The San people of South Africa have discovered a bush plant that looks like a spiky cucumber. Called Hoodia, it contains molecules which, when eaten, tell human nerve cells to stop eating. It is an appetite depressant which they use when caught in the bush with no food. It has now been passed to a British pharmaceutical company which is hoping to create from it an anti-obesity drug.
Wealthy governments sometimes behave as though they would like to create a drug to depress the appetite of the poorer nations. The demands of developing nations for a fair share of the world’s resources are in irritant, a potential depressant to their increasing wealth. Today, World Food Day, we think of the signs of a different approach that have emerged from international gatherings over the last year or so. To turn their rhetoric into reality will require a willingness to share and to put short term national advantage on the back burner. But if initial hopes become the news for which we long, we'll be a small step nearer realising the biblical image
of a world in which all share the banquet its rich resources are capable of providing.
The Croation Government celebrated World Food Day a year or two ago by hosting a mass breakfast at 200 locations around the country. The aim was to feed 25,000 people. It involved complicated organisation and the willing help of many people. Decisions made by the world's financial institutions won’t bring easy solutions and will require the cooperation of many, the majority of whom are not represented there. But for all of us, our inspiration could be a vision of the day when all governments are able to provide an environment in which all their people can have a really good breakfast.