With hunger fast engulfing the globe, the U.S. cannot withdraw from its role as the leader in facing this crisis which afflicts nearly 1 billion people, but that is just what is happening.
Right now the Congress is proposing significant budget cuts to the Food for Peace and other hunger-fighting programs. Why? Is it to cut the federal deficit? Hunger-fighting programs are relatively inexpensive and even ending them would not make a dent in the debt.
What cutting food aid will do is threaten millions of lives and devastate our own foreign policy goals of peace and stability. It will prevent any chance of maintaining a sustained attack on global hunger when it’s needed more than ever. Here is what is at stake.
A severe drought has descended upon the Horn of Africa ruining food supplies. There are at least 9 million people who need food in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Matt Croucher of Save the Children says, “Thousands of children could starve if we don’t get life-saving help to them fast. Parents no longer have any way to feed their children; they’ve lost their animals, their wells have dried up and food is too expensive to afford.” Save the Children has issued an emergency appeal for funds.
Food is needed to save lives and stop the powerful domino effect of hunger. Josette Sheeran, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) director said last week, “It is essential that we move quickly to break the destructive cycle of drought and hunger that forces farmers to sell their means of production as part of their survival strategy.”
A growing number of people in the Horn of Africa are in need of food assistance in the wake of a hard drought and ongoing conflict in Somalia. Photo: WFP/Caroline Bird
Low funding for WFP, the world’s largest food aid agency, has forced the reductions of programs in the drought-affected countries. WFP depends entirely on voluntary contributions.
The war in Libya is not only a fight between the regime and rebels- but also one against hunger. Western Libya in particular is a crisis point because aid agencies have struggled to reach the hungry due to the fighting. The World Food Programme says, “food security is vital for many in the devastated region, with markets not functioning due to limited fuel and cash, and basic services such as electricity and water also lacking in some areas.” Funding is again an issue with the mission in Libya.
In Yemen, high food prices are pushing the population there to the brink. Low funding for the World Food Programme means response to fighting hunger is limited. If Yemenis cannot access basic foods, how can we expect stability in a country that is home to Al Qaeda?
In the West Bank and Gaza, aid programs like school feeding and food vouchers are used to fight hunger in these areas with such high poverty. They also have a goal of creating opportunities for local stores and production factories to benefit from food purchases. These initiatives need support and expansion.
Afghanistan has been in the news for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Few people realize that food aid has been reduced to children in the conflict-torn country. WFP, facing low funding, had to reduce its school meal program, all this at a time when high food prices and poor harvests are hitting Afghans. Peace cannot be won in Afghanistan in the face of child hunger and poverty.
Conflict has also plagued the Ivory Coast in Western Africa. Violence following a disputed presidential election last fall has devastated the country and caused widespread hunger and displacement. As of the end of June, the World Food Programme still needed about 17 million to provide aid inside the country, as well as to those who fled into neighboring Liberia.
In addition, there is the longer-term response of providing school feeding to children. WFP will be resuming school feeding in the Ivory Coast this month, but lacks the funding to sustain the operation. WFP needs about 10 million to provide these meals which not only boost nutrition levels, but get children back in school.
Benin is another nation in Western Africa facing great reconstruction challenges. In their case, it is the massive flooding last year, compounded by the low funding, that is facing the relief mission.
In Sudan, recent fighting between the North and South has caused displacement and hunger. A lasting peace between North and South Sudan, and also in the Darfur region, will be much more likely if food aid programs are supported. Food reinforces any peace process.
in Haiti, will there be support for vital programs like school feeding and agriculture? Reconstruction in Haiti depends on ending hunger and malnutrition.
The U.S. and the international community cannot ignore the storm of hunger now ongoing in the world. So many countries need food as the basis of building peace, reconstruction and overcoming poverty.
Hunger is a recipe for chaos. High food prices, drought, conflict or other disasters can break a population within weeks. It can topple whole governments. A sustained effort is needed to fight hunger, not piecemeal efforts every so often.
The Congress should not be cutting the Food for Peace and other hunger- fighting programs. In collaboration with the international community, the fight against hunger needs to be escalated, not withdrawn.