We see the unrest taking place in Egypt, fueled by poverty and high food prices. But these ills go beyond Egypt. A recent UN report stated that “the cost of basic food staples remains high in many developing countries, making life difficult for the world’s poorest people who already spend between 60 and 80 percent of their meager income on food.”
Even without a big increase in food prices, hunger impacts nearly one billion people. Any spike in food prices sends more people into the abyss of despair.
Food now must become a top foreign policy priority on the plate of the new Congress. If not, we put vulnerable populations at risk and jeopardize international peace and stability. As George Marshall said when leading the effort to rebuild Europe after World War II, “hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace.“
The first step is to fund programs that can stabilize current hunger gaps in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kenya, Haiti, Pakistan, and other countries. In fact, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) needs about $3.75 billion to fill its existing budget shortfall for 2011. If the United States and international partners work to meet this shortage, we could bring some stability to the world food situation.
The World Food Programme is assisting Pakistan’s recovery from massive floods which displaced millions and destroyed infrastructure. WFP’s $596 million flood relief operation is currently 63 percent resourced and faces a shortfall of $225 million. (WFP/Martin Penner)
Three billion dollars is a relatively inexpensive foreign policy investment. In fact, that cost pales in comparison to the well over a trillion dollars spent yearly on military weapons by the world. In 2008, the U.S. spent $52 billion alone on nuclear weapons. So $3 billion, especially spread out over multiple donor nations, is not that large a figure in overall international relations. But it is a significant figure when it comes to the pursuit of peace of which food is the catalyst.
WFP programs, along with those of its partners, are also aimed at increasing food production in developing countries. First, you need the stability of interim food aid, and then you can move forward with agricultural development initiatives.
For too long, hunger and malnutrition have not been given the emphasis they deserve in foreign policy planning. As a result, food programs are constantly underfunded, offering the suffering no relief. How can you expect a country to get ahead if its population is so malnourished?
President Obama and the new Congress certainly have many issues to tackle in this new year. Food has now risen to foreign policy priority #1.