This past weekend at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati, I talked to a number of people about the Roadmap to End Global Hunger, a bill in Congress that would create a White House office on global hunger. A special advisor to President Obama would be appointed to coordinate the U.S. response to the hunger crisis now impacting over 1 billion people. As Rep. Jim McGovern says, “we are trying to put global hunger on the top of the administration’s agenda.”
The reaction to the Roadmap at the festival was very positive. A number of people planned to use a flyer that I provided to contact their Representative about supporting the bill (H.R. 2817). People want to see the President and the Congress pay more attention to global hunger. I also heard from people who are wary of the focus on military solutions to conflicts in different areas. More emphasis needs to be placed on ending hunger and promoting development. Afghanistan was mentioned in this regard a number of times.
One comment I heard, more than once, was that the Roadmap bill would create another czar for President Obama. He has been criticized for having so many "czars" in the White House. But people I spoke with on Saturday agreed that a "hunger czar" is one he would need. One theme that was persistent throughout the day was that fighting global hunger has to be a priority among world leaders.
Josette Sheeran, head of the UN World Food Programme, said earlier this year that fighting hunger has to be the business of world leaders. If President Obama and other leaders are not focused on hunger, the problem is not going to be solved, despite the valiant efforts of so many people. That is why the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation is so important. It would put hunger at the top of the administration's agenda and create the kind of coordination needed to improve national response.
It would also help improve the global response. When Herbert Hoover served as a "food ambassador" in 1946, he gained the cooperation of governments to build the food supply so desperately needed at that time in war-torn Europe and Asia. President Truman’s Cabinet Committee on World Food Programs carried out the same role during the critical period of 1947-1948. Without food, the famous Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe could never have succeeded.
It was refreshing to hear people talk about outreach efforts in their communities to tackle global hunger and poverty. I heard of a couple of churches that had campaigns to stop world hunger. Hopefully every church has at least some program in place that deals with global hunger. A grade school student who stopped by my table was very knowledgeable about hunger issues. She and her school had apparently taken part in a program with World Vision. Her parents were very proud.
Other people were eager to get started. A teacher in training talked about getting her class involved. I think people want to work to end hunger, but do not always know how. When a crisis such as hunger is far away and out of sight, it’s difficult to focus on the issue. Also, there is not much media coverage to remind people what is happening in distant lands.
I mentioned to one person how a cable TV news channel placed a statistic in one of its crawlers that over one billion people worldwide are hungry, while on the main screen ran excessive coverage of the boy in the balloon story, even though at that moment the story was thought to be resolved. Of course, later we learned it was a hoax. Even the highest number of hungry people in history could not make it to the cable news main screen.
One lawyer mentioned to me not having enough time to do anything substantive to help fight world hunger. I replied that even a quick call or e-mail to a representative supporting the Roadmap to End Global Hunger can make a big difference. It was interesting that when I brought up this issue, which involves politics, the President, and Congress, there was not one instance of people making partisan remarks. I don't think the words Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative were even mentioned during six hours of the event.