After World War II, General Mark Clark said the U.S. military’s role in Austria was to be “constructive, not destructive.” Child feeding programs were one vital way the U.S. military went about helping Austria recover from the war.
Today, child feeding is also a part of the U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan through the Strong Food project. It is this food initiative which combats severe malnutrition in small Afghan children. In a country with a high infant mortality rate, Strong Food can make a world of difference.
Children who do not receive proper nutrients early in life can face severe physical and mental damage. In Afghanistan, many children lose their lives because they do not get the foods they need to thrive. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), “Afghanistan has some of the poorest health statistics globally” with “infant mortality (165 per 1,000 live births) and under-5 mortality (257 per 1,000 live births).” In addition, WFP reports that child malnutrition has been on the rise. A study found that in 22 provinces in Afghanistan, “child global acute malnutrition (GAM) increased from 7 percent in 2004 to 16.7 percent in 2008, above the emergency threshold of 15 percent. GAM among children under 2 is significantly higher than among older children. “
The need for child feeding is great. This is where Strong Food comes in. It’s basically a simple mixture of ingredients combined with liquid vitamins into a tasty food for children. The U.S. military is helping Afghans spread the Strong Food project through training and funding.
The Strong Foods Coordinator from the U.S. Army examines a child in Afghanistan (Defense Department photo)
As inexpensive as the project is, there would be no reason why it could not spread far and wide across Afghanistan. Connie Smith, a U.S. officer who works in the Strong Foods Project, says, “The programs we provide are helping them to self-sustain themselves.” In Afghanistan, child feeding from infants to school children needs to be a priority of the Obama administration and Congress. Support for Strong Food and other initiatives is imperative. Other countries need help as well.
In Yemen, the U.S. policy of sending military aid but ignoring child feeding is a disaster in a country where one in three people suffer from chronic hunger. The United States and the international community need to come to the aid of Yemen. Child feeding programs have been cut there because of low funding for the World Food Programme. WFP has not been able to hold a distribution of a school feeding program since last June. This program helped over 100,000 girls with take-home rations that fought hunger and boosted attendance.
WFP hopes to achieve a very limited school feeding distribution in April and after that the food stocks will be gone. Maria Santamarina of WFP explains, “We have not received any additional support in 2010 for this operation.”
In addition to school feeding, a food for health program has also been stopped because of lack of funding. This monthly program gave support to 24,130 malnourished mothers, children, TB/leprosy, and HIV/AIDS patients.
Santamarina also says, “Overall, nearly 1 million rural, poor, food insecure, and malnourished Yemenis will be denied a vital safety net in 2010 (900,000 in 2009).”
If the U.S. and its allies want to be constructive in building a peaceful, stable Yemen, there needs to be an investment in child feeding programs. Whether it is Yemen, or Afghanistan, it is child nutrition that is a critical ingredient to peace.
YouTube video of Dwight Eisenhower in 1948 talking about the importance of fighting child hunger in post-war Europe and Asia: