The New York Times ran an editorial last week about the global hunger crisis. Food prices are high and the numbers of hungry people, already at nearly one billion, will skyrocket. If you have been an avid reader of the Times going back many, many years, your reaction might be deja vu. In fact, in September of 1947 the paper ran an editorial titled, “Problem Number One: Food.”
At that time President Harry Truman was confronted with high food prices on the home front, and war-torn countries abroad were feeling the crushing weight of hunger. The Greatest Generation did not buckle under this crisis.
Food was vital for Europe’s recovery. Truman knew this. His Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, certainly knew this. It was Marshall who stated, “Food is the very basis of all reconstruction. Hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace.”
Truman had a Cabinet Committee on World Food Programs that gave the hunger crisis top level attention, something we are going to need to do today.
For what was true in 1947 is also true in 2011. Hunger threatens peace and without food, you run the risk of utter chaos. The recent protests in Egypt were fueled in part by high food prices and malnutrition pressing their weight on the population. We are seeing unrest in Yemen where there are many hardships, including high food prices, and rampant hunger and malnutrition.
On the Tunisian border, WFP’s Josette Sheeran talks to people who have fled civil unrest in Libya. (WFP photo)
In Afghanistan, another conflict-torn country where we seek to build peace, hunger stands in the way. How can Afghanistan thrive with so much hunger and malnutrition within its borders? Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world. Without proper nutrition, infants will suffer lasting physical and mental damage.
This is also tragically the case in Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, and so many other impoverished countries. In Haiti, how does that country become strong without a foundation of food and agricultural production?
The recent House budget basically ignored these crises and dramatically cut food aid programs. If the cuts stand, it will go down as one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our country’s history. Hunger relief programs in many countries are already facing huge funding shortages. If the U.S. withdraws from its leadership role in fighting hunger, the consequences will be devastating.
Food aid programs are a relatively small part of the overall budget and cutting them is not going to solve the debt crisis. But it will take a heavy toll on our foreign policy.
So in addition to the Times article, let’s have another deja vu. Let’s have the United States, like we did in 1947, show leadership in fighting hunger and building peace. The message to Congress is clear: Stop the Cuts to Food Aid.