There is enough wealth for all of us, so share and avert suffering

A woman with a child on a leash begging along Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi, on October 1, 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

We have begun the New Year on this wonderful, beautiful and mysterious planet with a record population of just over eight billion.

The demographic gurus inform us that we crossed that landmark figure in late November. In 1975, the world's population was a mere four billion so we have doubled in less than 50 years.

Each time another billion has been added to our number, the United Nations and First World leaders have raised alarm bells about the planet's capacity to feed and sustain itself.

However, this year it was both a relief and a surprise to hear UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declare that the eight billion milestone was 'an occasion to celebrate'.

Delving deeper into the demographics, we discover that the increased population is mainly due to the fact that we are all living longer. In fact, 2022 births were 8.5 million fewer than in 1990, when global birth figures peaked. Of course, the population will continue to rise and it is expected to reach 10 billion in 2059 and start declining from 2086, when I guess most of us will have already departed this earth.

As an aside, to further whet your appetite with statistics, it is expected that early in this New Year, India will surpass China as the country with the largest population, with a whole 1.4 billion citizens. With millions of young, educated unemployed people, the Indian government might face a lot of unrest, while the Chinese face a different challenge with the bulge in the population being in the over 65s at a time when the economy is feeling effects of its misguided zero-Covid-19 policy that reportedly has led to huge loss of life in recent weeks.

Europe on the other hand with its annual birth rate of just 7 million would be best advised to be more open to benefits of migration since it too has such an aging population.

But back to Mr Guterres' positive comments. Again, relying on the perceived wisdom of experts, the world has the capacity to feed all of us. Yet, 10 per cent of the planet still go hungry each day. This is entirely due to greed, inequality and waste. It is estimated that 930 million tons of food is wasted each year, which is not only scandalous but sinful.

This week the world is mourning the passing of Pope Benedict XIV, the shy, reserved Pontiff who was both an intellectual giant and reformer. He visited the headquarters of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome in 2009 and had strong words on subject of food and hunger.

"Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty and opulence and waste are no longer acceptable. Sufficient food is available to meet current and future demands," he said.

He emphasised that there is no cause-and-effect link between population growth and hunger. Pope Benedict frequently was also furious at the evil that is inequality.

It is outrageous that the eight richest men in the world own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity. Yes, the gap between those who have and the rest is widening all the time as shown by the fact that the net worth of the world's billionaires increased from $1trillion in 2000 to $12.7 in 2021.

Nearer home, according to Oxfam, 8,300 individuals in Kenya own more than 99.9 per cent of the rest of the population. These are frightening figures but we remain unmoved.

According to the Kenyan National Bureau of Standards (KNBS) in 2020, 17 per cent of Kenyans live in extreme poverty. That figure is reducing, thankfully, but it still means 9 million citizens live a life of desperation and misery, to paraphrase David Thoreau.

Meanwhile, elected representatives build lavish and frequently ugly palatial homes for themselves and don't feel in any way embarrassed that many of their constituents live in tenements unfit for human occupation.

Moreover, there are four million Kenyans in urgent need of food assistance. We are told this is a cost-of-living crisis, but it is greed as we live in a world and country that has enough for all of our needs but not enough for one man's greed, as Gandhi said.