Look at the countries at the heart of the war against Al Qaeda: Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia. These countries share a common struggle against yet another enemy, a foe more powerful and resilient than terrorism: hunger and poverty.
Lack of food, water, and development do not bode well for a country resisting terrorism within its borders.
Recently, Col. Scott Anderson of the U.S. Army Reserves penned an op-ed in the Bismarck Tribune about the hunger and poverty he witnessed in Afghanistan. Anderson wrote that “such conditions create a weakened state that can allow extremist ideologies to take hold.”
Another report from Captain James Smith of the South Carolina Army National Guard comments on the importance of aid programs for Afghanistan. Smith writes that “a solid, unbiased development assistance plan not only improved the perception of the United States, it also helped create an environment that was less vulnerable to terrorists.”
In Afghanistan and other countries infiltrated by terror, many people struggle to obtain food each day. Children suffer the most. A simple school meal, enhancing nutrition and education, is the foundation for the future of these children and their countries.
We know from our experience following the Second World War how important school meals are for nations trying to recover from conflict. The school meal was a silent but effective part of our foreign policy at that time. President Harry Truman said in 1946, “we cannot ignore the cry of hungry children… A sound world order can never be built upon a foundation of human misery.”
Last year in Yemen, an Al Qaeda stronghold, the UN World Food Programme had to cut a school feeding program for children because of lack of funding. This program was critical because it provided rations that children could take home to help the entire family.
For this program not to be funded is a tragedy for those children, their families, and their country. It is a failure of the international community to support a food program that is a key ingredient for peace and development.
Will similar child feeding programs be funded for Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010? Will other efforts get underway to help these countries produce more food?
It must be realized that food is not just a humanitarian issue, but one of national security. Strong states are needed to fight terrorism, not states scrapping for food for their people. If we seek to decrease the ranks of terrorism, we will find humanitarian aid a great ally.