Yesterday, on a sunny day in Cincinnati, a barge moved along the Ohio River transporting coal. If you had a time machine, you might have seen the same thing on a winter or spring day in 1947 or early 1948.
For back then, the Ohio River was one of the transport routes for coal that was ultimately shipped to Europe. This was part of the 1947-48 interim aid program where the U.S. sent food, medicine and coal to help war-devastated Austria, Italy and France. These supplies were desperately needed by the three countries so they could survive the winter before the Marshall Plan recovery program kicked in.
The Ohio River today….In 1947-1948 coal was transported along the Ohio – a start on a journey to Europe to help countries recover from World War II.
In the summer of 1948, President Harry Truman said of interim aid,
"The supplies provided by the United States have freed the peoples of these three countries temporarily from the fear of starvation and want and enabled them to hold their economy intact until a long-range program could help them and other countries to a general European reconstruction. To the peoples of these countries, however, the gift of these supplies by the people of the United States meant something more—this aid represented also a symbol of hope for their future."
This was a case in American history where aid served humanitarian and national security interests. A strong Europe with a revitalized economy was good for the United States as the Cold War escalated. Today, aid to nations like Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen also is vital from both humanitarian and national security perspectives.
Look at the havoc food shortages are currently producing in Yemen, particularly for those displaced (IDPs) by the conflict in the northern part of the country. The UN World Food Programme, with such low funding, is struggling to provide food for Yemenis.
The lack of international support for the food situation there is startling, especially when you consider the high priority the United States government has placed on securing a stable Yemen. The Senate even passed a resolution to that effect last year, a resolution that will be completely meaningless unless there is action to stop the hunger in Yemen.
Maria Santamarina of WFP writes, "beginning in June we will have to reduce the planned nutrition support to IDP children, meaning that only 66% of the planned 50,000 children will receive supplementary nutrition support. By July, all activities for IDPs will be entirely suspended."
Already, other child feeding programs like school feeding are struggling because of low funding.
Yemen is one of those critical forks in the road for U.S. foreign policy. Do we take the lead in meeting the humanitarian crisis in that country?
The hourglass is beginning to run empty.