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Mastering the Famine in East Africa

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President Obama says the famine in East Africa is not receiving enough attention and a global response is required. He is right.

Mary Bruce of ABC news reported on Obama’s exchange with reporters on the famine threatening over 11 million people. Obama stated, “I think it hasn’t gotten as much attention here in the United States as it deserves.”

If history is any indicator, America will respond and lead a global effort to save lives in East Africa. I just wrote an op-ed in the Bakersfield Californian about our humanitarian tradition, which has roots in our response to the Great Russian Famine of 1921.

Even during difficult times at home during the early 1920s, we responded to the cries of the hungry in Russia. This carried over after the Second World War as well. And what really defines America any better than our great humanitarian tradition? We saw it again in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

Herbert Hoover said after World War II when 800 million people were at risk of starvation that we had to “master this famine.”

That is what we need to do now. It will take U.S. leadership. It will require a global response as Obama stated. But President Obama must also appoint a full-time food ambassador, as called for by aid agencies. Congress has failed to pass legislation to do so. This hampers relief agencies’ ability to rally global support for meeting the hunger crisis. Too many relief operations are short on resources.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which depends on voluntary contributions, reported being about $250 million short on funding for its relief operation in East Africa.

This hunger crisis is at its gravest in East Africa, but it goes beyond that area. Just look at Afghanistan, where drought and low funding for food aid are swelling the ranks of the hungry. Yemen, Haiti, and others have tremendous food needs.

Food has risen to the top of the list of American foreign policy priorities. For as long as there are hungry and malnourished children, there can be no peace. It’s time to recognize this.

But the public can also set the tempo for our leaders. In response to WFP director Josette Sheeran’s call for transformational leadership in fighting hunger, I wrote a piece about the Friendship Train of 1947. People filled boxcars with food as the train traveled the country, and sent the donations on to hungry people in Europe.

Citizens were a step ahead of the Congress, as it crafted the Marshall Plan which helped rebuild the war-torn continent. Americans could have just dealt with the domestic problems they had, but they chose to reach out overseas to those in need.

So let’s begin this type of two-pronged approach today. Let’s start moving our own Friendship Train to help those in need overseas, and master the current famine.

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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.