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Interview: Ambassador Michael Klosson of Save the Children

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It was the summer of 1946 and although the guns of World War II were silent, there was not peace. European countries were struggling to rebuild from the destruction caused by the war. Food shortages gripped the continent. Who suffered the most? Children.

A charity called Save the Children was one of many groups that came to the rescue. This organization actually had its start after the First World War as the Save the Children Fund. Established by Eglantyne Jebb in England, this charity helped the children of war-devastated Central Europe following that conflict.

After the Second World War, Save the Children again was pressed into service. By this time, the organization had expanded around the globe and included a United States headquarters. In post-World War II Austria, the Swedish Save the Children Fund helped to fight hunger.

In the summer of 1946, Save the Children was providing daily hot lunches to over 26,000 children in Vienna. Another 37,000 children were provided powdered whole milk. A combined effort by the Danish Red Cross and Save the Children Fund also provided meals to more children that summer.

Child feeding programs were critical to the recovery of Austria and other war-torn countries. Save the Children did its part to complement efforts by the U.S. Army, UNRRA and others in Europe. As Eglantyne Jebb stated, "We cannot leave defenseless children anywhere exposed to ruin – moral or physical… We cannot run the risk that they should weep, starve, despair and die, with never a hand stretched out to help them. It is essential that we should put the world in order…"

Save the Children was among those who responded to the great hunger crises which followed World War I and World War II. Today, Save the Children is one of the leaders in confronting the global hunger menace afflicting over a billion people, a crisis so massive that nearly 400 million children, more than the whole population of the United States, are suffering from hunger worldwide.

Save the Children recently teamed up with other charities on a groundbreaking report called the Roadmap to End Global Hunger. The report formed the basis for a piece of legislation now introduced in the U.S. Congress. The Roadmap to End Global Hunger (H.R. 2817) calls for a specific strategy for the United States to follow in fighting global hunger. In the following Q and A, Ambassador Michael Klosson of Save the Children we are going to find out about the Roadmap legislation from one of its key advocates, Michael Klosson, a former U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus and to The Netherlands. Serving as Chief Policy officer for Save the Children, Ambassador Klosson gives us insight into a piece of legislation which, if enacted by Congress, could change the world.

What motivated Save the Children and other charities to propose the Roadmap to End Global Hunger (H.R. 2817) legislation?

Last year's global food price crisis – compounded now by the global economic crisis – pushed the number of chronically hungry to nearly one billion people, most of them women and children. That double whammy threatens to undermine the significant gains in hunger reduction, child survival and education we have seen in recent decades. So, the need for dramatic action is clear. The 40 NGOs in our coalition marshal broad and deep experience in addressing hunger around the world.

We know that ending hunger requires new urgency and a comprehensive strategy backed by enormous political will. We came together to call on the new administration and Congress – indeed the world – to embrace this challenge at a time of unprecedented and growing need. The United States is the world's wealthiest and most influential nation. If we don't lead the way in ending global hunger, who will?

Rep. Jim McGovern said, "We are trying to put global hunger on the top of the administration's agenda." How would H.R. 2817 accomplish this?

Fortunately, announcements by President Obama, most recently at the G8 summit last month in Italy, and by Secretary Clinton make clear that this Administration is serious about tackling food security in developing countries. Strong Congressional backing for H.R. 2817 would send an equally powerful message of Congressional commitment to alleviating global hunger.

The bill itself aims to establish clear leadership and coordination within the Executive Branch by creating a Global Hunger Coordinator appointed by the president. That person would be dedicated to keeping food security on the agenda and in the public consciousness. As Congressman McGovern has recognized, you really need someone with the President's backing to hold people's feet to the fire, ensure accountability, and make sure agencies across the administration work well together in pursuing an ambitious food security agenda.

Could the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation also improve the international response in feeding the hungry?

Absolutely. As we saw at the recent G8 meeting in Italy, U.S. leadership can move the international agenda on fighting hunger. At President Obama's urging, world leaders signed on to a $20 billion global food security initiative. That's phenomenal, but now we need to make the most of those resources for the world's 1 billion hungry people. That's what the Roadmap is all about – laying out a comprehensive strategy that recognizes it takes more than growing more food to ensure the most vulnerable people have access to a healthy diet.

More food does not translate into reduced hunger if poor people can't access that food. Additionally, even if children get the recommended number of calories a day, they might not be getting the nutrients they need to survive. Every year, 9 million children die of preventable and treatable diseases, and malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than one third of these deaths. If the U.S. adopts a food security strategy that includes not only agricultural development but things like attention to nutrition and mechanisms to protect the poorest communities when crops fail or emergencies hit, it can lead other nations to do the same.

When Herbert Hoover served as a food ambassador after World War II, he kept the media informed about the global hunger struggle. He also addressed a national and global audience through various broadcast speeches. Would a global hunger advisor for President Obama perform some of the same tasks?

President Obama and Secretary Clinton both are compelling spokespeople for this key challenge. A global hunger coordinator would help them promote public awareness of the importance of addressing global hunger and food security.

Hunger is such a major factor in conflict areas like Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan. Would a global hunger advisor for President Obama sit in on National Security Council meetings about these crisis spots?

Given the importance of dealing with hunger, including in conflict and emergency situations, it is essential that such considerations are factored into policy recommendations and deliberations at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. That's the type of coordination that can really make a difference in people's lives, and in a way that directly improves their wellbeing and serves our national security interests. We know from last year's global food price crisis that higher prices led to political unrest and instability in over thirty countries. So, tackling hunger can contribute to a safer world. In emergencies or conflict, food assistance or programs that improve access to food are often critical to whether people live or die. We need a concerted focus within the U.S. Government to ensure our emergency response programs reach those in need when they most need it.

Is President Obama encouraging passage of the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation?

We would welcome that. President Obama made it clear from the first moments of his presidency that food security holds a prominent place in his vision for the world. In his inauguration speech he pledged to work with the people of poor nations to make their farms flourish and to nourish the hungry. This legislation would help advance that commitment in a comprehensive way.

What can someone reading this article do right now to help get the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation passed? Is there an advocacy department at Save the Children they can contact?

You can help stop global hunger by urging your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor the Roadmap to End Global Hunger and Promote Food Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2817) at the Save the Children take-action page.

See also an interview with Bruce White of Catholic Relief Services about the Roadmap to End Global Hunger.

Photo credit: Susan Warner/Save the Children

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.