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Earth Environment Information: Looking through the Eyes of WorldWatch: 1.2 Billion People in Starvation and 1.2 Billions of Obese People

記事タイトル:Looking through the Eyes of WorldWatch - 1.2 Billion People Starving and 1.2 Billion People with Obesity

Earth Environment Information

Looking through the Eyes of WorldWatch

1.2 Billion People Starving and 1.2 Billion People with Obesity

WorldWatch Institute in the US was featured on NHK TV and other Japanese mass media several times during past few years. This is not surprising because the advent of the 21st century marks the start of the Age of Environment. NHK BS1 channel devoted an hour in the evening to a series titled "Earth White Paper." (This is the same title as the Japanese version of WorldWatch's "State of the World.") This series was produced for a worldwide audience.

A major newspaper Asahi Shimbun summarized the press release on "State of the World 2000" issued from WorldWatch Institute, Washington, D.C. The headlines went as follows: "Report from a US institute / World population must be limited to 7 billions for survival of the earth / Temperature stabilization needed / Use renewable energy."

"State of the World" (title of the Japanese version translates into "Earth White Paper") has been published yearly since 1984, using a consistent format throughout its history. More than 1 million copies of this report are sold every year in the world. The number is not surprising because the book is translated into over 30 languages and published in many countries, including Brazil, where the book was made available starting from the 2000 version.

The book discussed the threat of worldwide water crisis and the concern about conflicts over water due to shortage and pollution. It reported water shortage and its consequences in major river basins in the world. International rivers flowing through two or more countries from headwaters to mouths can be the scenes of transboundary disputes, such as the Tigris and Euphrates in the Middle East, the Nile runing from Victoria Lake to north Africa, and the Indus irrigating India and Pakistan. Hwang He (Yellow River) in China has a problem that the water scarcely reaches the Yellow Sea. Situations in these areas are reported using the data from WorldWatch Institute and the comments by Lester R. Brown. The "WorldWatch" magazine is also a useful information source concerning the worldwide water crisis.

Thanks to the Asian monsoon climate, most Japanese do not have a personal experience of water shortage severer than occasional limitation of water supply in summer. We, however, should remember that water is the basis for stable food production and was the foundation for the rise of ancient civilizations. At the same time, use of water contributed to the decline of many civilizations. They used irrigation to make the best use of scarce water for agriculture, but irrigation without sufficient knowledge of water management resulted in accumulation of salts in soil, which cut down the productivity of soil drastically. In the present world, causes of armed conflicts are more often related to water resources than they are related to oil.

The blessed natural environment of Washington, D.C. does not blunt the edge of WorldWatch Institute to analyze the harsh reality of the world. Japan is importing 30 million tons of cereals while consuming nearly 90 billion tons of water domestically. Since production of a ton of cereals requires 1,000 tons of water, Japan is importing as much as 30 billion tons of water in the form of cereals.

Asahi Shimbun featured the WorldWatch's finding that there are 1.2 billion people with obesity while there are the same number of starving people in the world. This contrast of obesity and starvation exemplifies the unique point of view held by WorldWatch Instutite as a first-rate activist and analyst in the field of environmental study. The Institute keeps an eye on important issues such as ozone, CO2, deforestation, etc., which are affecting the world through complex interactions. The Institute also gives a deep insight into problems between the North and the South, always staying on the side of the weak people.

Recently, Photographer Hakuji Kubota exhibited and published a collection of photographs entitled "Asia and Food," documenting the precarious food situations and the daily life of people in Asia. WorldWatch's Chairman of the Board, Lester R. Brown highly appreciated this collection and provided a letter of recommendation. After publication of the collection in Japan, Mr. Kubota and a friend of mine met Prof. Brown in Washington. He said that it was a very good collection of photographs, and he hoped that the photographs would arouse much public concern about the harsh reality of the world. He apparently thought that the photographs by Mr. Kubota have an important role to play, as with Prof. Brown's activities in printed media.

Nowadays, food industries are at the center of the food chain. Urbanization has expanded the distance between agricultural producers and consumers. Modern life styles pursuing convenience have pushed up the demand for packed processed foods and fast foods. In this familiar situation, food industries are exerting considerable influence over what and how people eat. They provide new products and new services in order to develop new demands. For the purpose of money-making, they often sell foods that are dangerous to health.

Advertisement is the strongest weapon for developing a "food environment" favoring a company's business expansion. An estimated sum of 30 billion dollars is reportedly used in advertisement by American food industries every year, and this exceeds the figures for any other business sectors. Even in developing countries, advertisement expenses by food industries have been increasing rapidly with the growth of the income of consumers.

It is an unfortunate fact that many of the most advertised foods are nutritionally questionable. In the US, fast food restaurants represent one-third of the advertisement expenses of all food industries. Coca Cola and McDonald's are among the world's top ten companies spending much money in advertisement. One important problem is that the advertisement of food industries is targeted at children, who are not experienced enough to know what is good for them. It is natural that people like sweet food, but a survey has demonstrated that children fed on sweet and fatty foods will be caught in the habit of taking such unwholesome foods throughout their lives.

Business in processed foods provides an easier way to gain value added. Taking an example of doughnuts, selling doughnuts can be much more profitable than selling the ingredients (flour, oil, eggs, sugar, etc.) separately.

"Jumbo size" is one of the newest techniques used in marketing strategy. By paying only a little more money, consumers can get very "economical" goods. French fries, popcorn, pizza, carbonated beverage, and many other fast food products are sold in this strategy. Although this strategy seems to benefit consumers, the percentage of the cost of raw materials in the total cost of these products is so small that the company hardly suffers a loss of profit. In fact, consumers are paying considerable amounts of money for brands, containers, and advertisement.

When the market in industrialized countries becomes saturated, the interest of food industries is directed to developing countries, where the income of consumers is increasing. In Mexico, per-capita consumption of Coca Cola has exceeded that in the US. The 1998 annual report of the Coca Cola Company identifies a large business opportunity in Africa, remarking the rapid population growth and the low per-capita consumption of carbonated beverage in Africa. American fast food restaurant chains are also eager for rapid overseas expansion. While McDonald's is opening 5 new restaurants every day, 4 are located outside the US. In this way, large cities in developing countries abound in foods that are affecting adversely the health of people in industrialized countries.

Needy people lack opportunity to learn nutritional knowledge, and thus they are prone to the habit of eating junk foods, which are less costly, but rich in sugar and fat. It is possible that desirable eating habits spread over society, probably starting from the elite. It is also possible that obesity, in addition to starvation, will be a problem associated with poverty. We need to keep a close watch on the development in the first decade of the new millennium.

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Now, do we Japanese have a satisfactory food environment? A country's food policy has great influence over the future of the nation.

(Katsuya FUKUOKA)

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