President Obama, speaking at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit, said helping impoverished nations is essential for national security. Obama emphasized that "progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders...When millions of fathers cannot provide for their families, it feeds the despair that can fuel instability and violent extremism."
His words will be thoroughly tested in Yemen, where hunger and poverty afflict millions of people. At the very moment of Obama's speech, thousands of Yemenis have just been displaced by their government's offensive against Al Qaeda. In Northern Yemen, another 300,000 Yemenis have been displaced for months because of a conflict between the government and rebels. These are hundreds of thousands of people, many already impoverished, who have to start over.
Low funding for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has caused ration cuts for war victims, as well as cuts to infant feeding and Food for Education programs throughout Yemen. The Food for Education program has only had one distribution since June, 2009. None are on the horizon either, because of the WFP funding shortfall.
For Yemen, there is talk of pumping in about a billion dollars of military aid to counter Al Qaeda. What about talk on helping to support food programs that are key for Yemen to develop as a nation? It starts with infant feeding, and meals and take-home rations for school children. These programs build up nutrition and education, the heart of development.
Yet, because of the low funding for WFP, these programs have faced cuts and in some cases complete suspension. The White House admitted earlier this summer that the humanitarian relief operation for Yemen is "woefully underfunded."
That can easily be fixed. A small fraction of the $1 billion proposed for military aid could breathe life into the feeding programs and restore hope. Most importantly, it has to establish consistency in funding.