Forget the Cold War's Other Victims
Audrey Hepburn, USA TODAY, April 8, 1992
A few short months ago, all of us watched in awe as the hammer and sickle
were lowered from their perch over the Kremlin for the last time.
Since then, however, we have been shaken by the
reports of hunger and despair in what was once known as the Eastern bloc. I
am reminded of that difficult time in my own childhood, when UNICEF - the
United Nations Children's Fund - came to our town after the war to deliver
the food and medical supplies we so desperately needed to survive.
It was this experience that later led me to become a
spokesperson for UNICEF and to travel around the world to try to help
children in need. I never imagined that UNICEF, which changed its mandate to
focus on developing countries in 1950, would again be needed in Europe.
Moved as I am by the plight of the children who are
caught in the recent wave of political change, I can't help but also think
of the 27 million Africans who are suffering from prolonged drought, famine
and war. I ask myself: What will become of them?
The people of the Communist bloc were not the only
victims of the Cold War. For more than 40 years, the developing world was
used as a battleground for the East-West conflict, and too many governments
spend money on arms instead of feeding hungry mouths. Development in many
countries ground to a halt or even reversed. The legacy of this postwar era
was poverty - and poverty is the real underlying cause of all hunger and
I've spent time with poverty-stricken people in
developing countries like Ethiopia, the Sudan, Vietnam, El Salvador and
Bangladesh. Unlike suffering families in Europe and the former Soviet Union,
they do not occupy the international spotlight. They have no cultural ties
to wealthy countries. They have few highways or hospitals. They are without
basic health care, clean water, schools - all of the things that add up to a
better life and food on the table.
To make matters worse, unrealistic foreign debts
continue to stunt the growth of developing countries and that of their
children. Many developing countries borrowed money in hopes that it would
speed development, only to find their efforts undermined by setbacks like
drought, falling commodities prices and a drastic increase in the price of
The African countries alone owe $150 billion in
foreign debts, and they are sending more overseas in interest payments than
they are receiving in aid from governments and relief organizations. If we
are to weaken the hold of poverty on much of the developing world, we must
recognize the inhumanity of this burden.
The world's poor children are not without hope. Like
UNICEF, there are many individuals and groups that remain committed to
fighting the effects of poverty in developing countries, even if their work
is not necessarily making headlines. But these efforts are only a beginning;
we cannot let the children in developing countries blend into the
background. There is no question that we must come to the aid of families in
the now-liberated Eastern bloc. That does not mean, however, abandoning the
families whose plight is not so new or dramatic, but equally catastrophic.
Mikhail Gorbachev, writing in the Italian newspaper
La Stampa, said: ''The long years we spent plunged in the Cold War made
losers of us all.'' He's right. Let's not forget the Cold War's other