On April 1st, 1947 President Harry Truman's Cabinet Committee on Food assembled for a meeting. Their task? To tackle the global food crisis that threatened to plunge the world into utter chaos after World War II.
Guess what the committee was doing at this particular meeting? They were watching an Academy Award winning movie. But it was not of the Hollywood action or mystery variety. Instead, it was a film called the Seeds of Destiny. This film showed the despair of children suffering in Europe in the ruins of the war.
Fighting child hunger was a centerpiece of American foreign policy after World War II. It must be today as well. Look at how urgent the situation is in Afghanistan. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports that "54 percent of children under 5 are stunted, and 6.7 percent are wasted due to malnutrition" in the conflict-torn country.
WFP, which is requesting $1 billion for a new Afghan relief operation, plans to provide fortified supplementary food to small children and pregnant mothers. Without food early in life, a child may never be able to recover physically and mentally. The cruelty of child hunger is unrelenting. It's vital that the international community not let young children succumb to the menace of hunger.
For school-age children in Afghanistan, the goal is simple. Every child should be able to receive school meals and an education. WFP reports that currently "One third of the school-age population are not in school and only 30 percent of girls attend school." These figures demonstrate that Food for Education programs need to be a top priority.
Ensuring a meal at school fights hunger and boosts attendance and performance. Providing take-home rations for the student is a further incentive for parents to send their children to school. WFP wants to expand take-home rations to girls in grades 10-12, where the drop-out rate is higher than in primary grades. More school construction and teacher training also need to accompany these initiatives.
None of these goals is out of reach. It's up to the international community to step forward to help Afghanistan achieve universal school feeding and education.
The same holds true in Iraq, where WFP is expected to expand its school feeding to 900,000 children starting in April. What a great step toward peace and reconstruction in the war-torn country. Soon WFP expects to start obtaining the food from Iraqi factories, thereby boosting the local economy.
School feeding in Iraq and Afghanistan will depend on funding from international donors. Compared to other foreign policy costs, it is quite inexpensive. For a fraction of the cost of the world's armaments, it would be simple to provide the resources for universal school feeding in every country.
Yet here we are, every year, wondering if it will be possible to get enough funding to run even a limited school meal program in a developing country. In some cases no funding comes at all. In Yemen, for instance, children have gone without a UN school feeding distribution since last June.
We know from our experience in the World War II era how vital child feeding programs are to reconstruction and stability. We know that U.S. leadership, with a coalition of countries, can bring about an end to child hunger. It's time to act.