Working Paper
Hunger and Entitlements

Hunger is not a recent phenomenon. Nor is famine. Life has beenshort and hard in much of the world, most of the time. Bothchronic undernourishment and recurrent famines have been amongthe causal antecedents of the brutishness and brevity of human lifein history.Hunger in the modern world is more intolerable than past hungernot because it is typically more intense, but because it is now sounnecessary. The enormous expansion of productive power that hastaken place over the last few centuries has made it possible, for thefirst time in history, to guarantee adequate food for all. It is in thiscontext that the persistence of chronic hunger and the recurrence ofvirulent famines must be seen as being morally outrageous andpolitically unacceptable. If politics is "the art of the possible", thenconquering world hunger has become a political issue in a way itcould not have been in the past.This is the main background to the research on hunger and pov-erty that is being undertaken at WIDER. The research is policy-oriented in the sense that diagnostic analysis and critical assessmentare ultimately geared to the choice of action. The action in questionis not necessarily confined to the sort that can be undertaken bygovernments alone. The effective removal of hunger in the modernworld calls for combative action not only from governments, butalso from many other institutions and groups of individuals. Forexample, the news media may have a major role to play in acting asan early warning system against threatening famines, and also inforcing the hands of those in authority to act quickly and adequ-ately. More generally, public understanding and participation in thebattle to end hunger can alter institutions and behavioural modes,and can be a decisive influence on the success or failure of thatobjective.The research undertaken at WIDER on the subject of hungerand poverty is, thus, geared not merely to advising governmentsand those in public office, but also to raising the general under-standing of the different problems involved. Informed action com-ing from different sections of society, from different groups of persons and from national and international institutions can be crucial for winning the battle against hunger and famine.