The costs of living and the price of death: Spare a thought for Gaza and Sudan

Apr 23, 2024
Kerem Shalom border crossing February 4, 2009:

In response to questions about starvation in Gaza and Sudan, a Federal Labor MP has explained, ‘In Australia, the cost of living is the issue. It’s voters’ major concern, and a political priority.’

As though quality of life is entirely affected by enough money to go shopping, politicians and economists’ emphasis on cost of living is used to explain almost everything and thereby limit thought about anything else. In a relatively affluent country, an all-embracing notion implies more about costs than about living, more about national concerns than about international considerations, more about hoped for benefits from the next Federal budget than about a possible increase in overseas aid.

The extent of poverty in Australia infects living and has a little in common with conflict ridden regions where whole populations are at risk. ACOSS and the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence record 3.3 million Australians living in poverty, one in eight adults and one in six children. The most vulnerable of citizens can be identified in households where the main income earner is unemployed, where tenants live in public housing, where homes are occupied by sole parents or by an individual with a disability.

In Sudan and Gaza, effects of poverty are uniform, few distinctions can be made between one group being even slightly more vulnerable than another. Eighteen million Sudanese face acute food security. In the Darfur region, Doctors Without Borders reports that hunger kills two children every hour.

The World Food Programme (WFP) shows all Sudanese people facing the worst displacement crisis in the world. Inside and outside Sudan, over eight million people have been displaced and many flee to Chad, one of the world’s poorest countries. The Chadian border town Adre of 12,000 inhabitants has welcomed 100,000 Sudanese refugees who arrived with nothing.

Women and girls make up the majority of those forcibly displaced and must concentrate on staying alive. Care International reports that gender-based violence, starvation and the decimation of health care have obliged Sudanese women to take drastic actions by engaging in survival sex or forced marriage.

Surviving inhabitants of Gaza face starvation developed by Israeli forces as a weapon of war. The UN Humanitarian Affairs Office in northern Gaza estimates that between March and mid July 2024, 70% of the population risk famine. Only 26% of food missions to high-risk areas are facilitated by Israeli authorities, the remainder are denied or postponed. As of April 17, Relief Web shows Israel continuing to obstruct the entry and distribution of supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Samantha Power, head of US Aid says famine has taken hold in Gaza where the World Food Programme shows more than 90% of children and breast-feeding mothers subsisting mainly on bread. They have no access to fruit, vegetables, milk or protein.

In Australia, Sudan and Gaza, different forms of violence affect struggles to find a way to live which includes freedom to enjoy a few basic human rights. Violence inherent in economic and social inequality persists in Australia and limits life chances. In Sudan and Gaza, the violence of war sustains a different inequality: limited availability of water, food, sanitation and medicines.

Across Sudan the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have looted aid warehouses, banks, cars and homes. Rape is a weapon of war.

Across Gaza, affluent nations, the US, UK, Germany, facilitate Israel’s determination to eradicate a whole people’s hopes for life; and denial of Palestinians’ rights to self-determination is evident in the legal chicanery arguments that due process required to recognize a Palestinian State must take time even while tens of thousands of people die.

In Australia and in parts of some Sudanese cities, food banks and soup kitchens provide short term alleviation from hunger. In Gaza, the aid truck that can be unloaded may provide temporary relief. Yet the food banks and aid trucks cannot address the long terms costs of violence inherent in poverty, starvation and military destruction.

The World Food Programme reminds that almost half of Gaza’s population is under 18 and the effects of starvation may follow those who survive for the rest of their lives. The Guardian documents the suffering of Sudanese babies who for weeks have been suffering diarrhoea, whose development may be stunted even if they survive beyond the age of five. Research in Australia shows that those who suffer poverty as children will have limited opportunities across many aspects of life, education, housing health and employment.

To widen the interpretation of costs and to imagine what is meant by living, reference to life in Gaza and Sudan is salutary. In both countries, almost all of a population has been displaced, most citizens experience violence, death, destruction, and starvation. For Sudanese and Palestinians, possible joy from living has been replaced by hopes for survival, for which the costs, in terms of cruel punishments, are paid every day.

In Australian political commentary, in mainstream media headlines, reference to the cost of living seldom goes beyond the cliché like use of that phrase. Assessing costs of living should weigh consequences spread over generations, each cost more harmful than today’s alleged price gouging by supermarkets or rises in the price of petrol next week.

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