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Obama’s Foreign Policy Facing Toughest Foe: Hunger

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President Obama is facing a critical foreign policy test with hunger emergencies unfolding in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries. Food has quickly moved to the top of the foreign policy agenda.

In Libya, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is trying to feed victims of the conflict between rebels and the dictator Muammar Qaddafi. In the western part of the country, humanitarian needs may be immense as fighting has blocked access routes to aid agencies.

WFP plans to feed 1.5 million people impacted by the violence in Libya through August. It’s critical that pipelines of food and other supplies be maintained. The relief operation costs $100 million. As of June 5, only $27 million has been received. If we do not act, food stocks may simply run out for the war victims in Libya.

Yemen has been in the news because of the political violence between government forces and those seeking the removal of long-time President Saleh. It’s unclear whether there will be a peaceful transition of power, as Saleh remains hospitalized in Saudi Arabia after an attack on his palace.

But what is clear is that no peaceful transformation will occur in Yemen if there continue to be widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Even before this conflict unfolded, the population of Yemen was suffering from hunger. High food prices were taking their toll. Victims from prior conflicts in Northern Yemen were trying to recover livelihoods. As you can imagine, the situation has been made worse by the recent fighting and the instability of the government.

One way the international community can really help Yemen is to ensure that food and other humanitarian aid are available. The track record, though, is not good. The World Food Programme, for instance, was going to run a program to feed impoverished families in 14 governorates in Yemen. Low funding meant only four governorates could receive the rations. UNICEF also does not even have enough plumpynut to meet the child malnutrition caseload there.

A hungry, malnourished population will not make for a smooth, stable transition of power in Yemen.

Afghanistan is another example as we struggle to win a war while also winning a peace. As long as over seven million Afghans suffer in hunger and poverty, it is hard to imagine either taking place. Funding shortages for relief efforts in Afghanistan do not help the cause. In fact, rations for child feeding programs are already being reduced because of low funding for WFP’s Afghan relief mission.

The crisis by no means ends with these three countries. There is Sudan, the West Bank, Gaza, Nepal, Haiti, and many other areas in need of food.

What President Obama has to do is establish a full-time food ambassador to build international cooperation to fight the hunger. This would be a position similar to the one Herbert Hoover filled in 1946 during the post-WWII hunger crisis.

If hunger is to be defeated, there must be broadened participation among governments and the public. There must be someone constantly sounding the alarm on hunger.

President Obama now faces his most critical test when it comes to fighting hunger. He faces a threat that will derail many of his foreign policy objectives. Will he show leadership and be able to fulfill the goal he set out when he started his presidency?

Obama said, “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” It can happen, but right now it’s about leadership.

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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.
  • Baronius

    Glenn, I hope you’re right.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    I don’t think Yemen will be quite that bad. You’re quite right about all the disadvantages – no argument there. But the difference is that Yemen’s next door to Saudi Arabia…and while we all have seen that the Saudis have no problem with exporting terrorists to other nations, I’m fairly certain that they will not allow such massacres in a nation adjacent to them since such civil strife can spill over into their own borders.

    Not only that, but the more stable nations of the Middle East are being a bit more proactive than before. Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain (which action didn’t look good to our point of view, but it did stop the civil strife), and the UAE (and I think the Saudis, too) are lending logistical support to the Libyan rebels.

    So…no. For these reasons I don’t think Yemen will be that bad. It won’t be pretty, but I think the Saudis will prevent it from being as bad as it could be otherwise.

  • Baronius

    I cannot imagine a scenario that doesn’t result in at least a million dead Yemenis over the next couple of years. They have no national unity, no tradition of unified rule, no experience of non-corrupt rule, no food, no water, and nowhere to emigrate. Their population is booming. It’s the point of origin for the worst extremists in the Arab world. I literally can’t think of a single reason that Yemen won’t make Somalia look like Myrtle Beach.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    I’d love to see President Obama do exactly that…but he couldn’t even if he wanted to. Why? There is no way the Republicans would allow it.

    Think back – he tried to get a bill passed to pay for the health care costs of 9/11 first responders and he was going to pay for it by cutting tax breaks that corporations were getting for sending our jobs overseas…and what happened? The Republican party.

    It simply does not matter how good or noble or right that it is that Obama wants to do, because he is facing a party that does not want to allow him any successes at all…for any such successes, no matter how good they are for the nation or the world, would be bad for the Republicans on election day.

    The lack of honor and courage they’ve shown in trying to block everything he’s tried to do to help…is nauseating.

    My apologies for taking your topic and turning it into a partisan rant – it’s just that I felt I had to point out why even if he wanted to, Obama would never be able to do what you suggest.