Back in 2006 I wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times titled “Let’s Feed Afghan Democracy.” The idea was that access to food for all Afghans is central to winning the peace in that country.
Yet hunger and malnutrition are so often overlooked by government officials and the media when discussing war and peace in Afghanistan. The living conditions of hunger, poverty, and poor medical care are often the greatest threats to Afghans.
Lance Cpl. Megan Sindelar reported recently on a mission by the Marines to provide aid to villagers in Naw Abad, Afghanistan. She writes about how officer Michelle Lynch witnessed a lack of nutrition for pregnant women and new mothers. Lynch brought them Carnation instant breakfast foods to supplement their diet.
The army is also running a Strong Food Project to help increase nutrition levels of young children. This is critical, as the UN World Food Programme reports in Afghanistan, “More than half of children under the age of five are malnourished, and micronutrient deficiencies (particularly iodine and iron) are widespread.”
File photo: Afghan national security forces and coalition forces medics nursed a malnourished two-year-old female infant, weighing only seven pounds, back to health over two weeks in Arghandab District, Zabul province, Afghanistan. (Combined Joint Task Force-82 PAO)
The question becomes: is there a comprehensive plan in place to address child feeding in Afghanistan, both for infants and for older children? This would take the form of universal infant feeding programs as well as a school feeding program.
The World Food Programme (WFP), for instance, runs school feeding for around one million children. In some cases students get take-home rations as well. These WFP programs need to be fully funded and expanded where necessary.
The Obama administration recently unveiled a Feed the Future initiative to tackle global hunger. For this program to be relevant, it certainly needs to focus on the terrible crisis of child hunger and malnutrition in Afghanistan as well as other nations.
This issue is of the utmost urgency from the humanitarian perspective, as well as for national security. Peace, progress, and stability cannot emerge in a society where children are malnourished and stunted in growth.
This work has to start now. No delays. For the longer a young child waits for nutrition, the greater the risk of lasting physical and mental damage.
Child feeding and increasing agricultural production are some of the most critical steps toward peace in Afghanistan.
If you care about a successful mission in Afghanistan, you may want to ask your representative about the establishment of universal child feeding in that country. Are the Army's Strong Food Projects and agricultural initiatives fully funded? Do the WFP and other aid organizations have the tools they need to tackle the hunger crisis?
Click here for a video of the Strong Food Project in Zabul, Afghanistan.