Yemen, Haiti and Afghanistan are countries very high on U.S. foreign policy priorities. The three nations face very different challenges, but share two tragic things in common — high rates of malnourished and uneducated children.
Neither of these two scenarios make it possible for these countries to rebuild their lands and maintain peace. We have a mechanism in place in our government that can help them: The McGovern-Dole school meals program. The House recently voted to cut this program in half, reducing our funding of school meals abroad.
The budget cuts, if they stand, do great damage to our foreign policy. Congressman Jim McGovern recently condemned the cuts, stating, “This isn’t a question of charity. It’s an issue of national security – of what happens when desperate people can’t find or afford food, and the anger that comes from people who see no future for their children except poverty and death.”
In Yemen, the World Food Programme (WFP) wants to provide rations to 115,000 schoolgirls and their families. This would boost class attendance and reduce the education gender gap in the country. It would provide food to over 900,000 people when you factor in the families.
Remember, Yemen is a country where 1 in 3 people suffer from hunger. This is a country where some families spend 30 percent of their monthly income on bread. The WFP Food for Education, if consistently funded, could provide some stability and most of all hope, for the poorest country in the Middle East. McGovern-Dole could be one source of funding for this program.
In Afghanistan, World Vision uses McGovern-Dole funding for its school meals program. We could expand this funding to other programs, including the UN World Food Programme’s school feeding and also rations for street children to help them integrate into the education system.
In Haiti, the World Food Programme is using a McGovern-Dole grant that will run out in 2012. What kind of funding will be available then? We want to build Haiti’s national school feeding program. If we run out of funding, we could lose gains made toward this goal.
By strengthening our commitment to McGovern-Dole, we can also encourage other donor countries to boost their support of school feeding. We are seeing some of this in Haiti where Brazil has provided support to the school milk program run by WFP.
Whether it is hunger in the U.S. or far away in Afghanistan, it can be dealt with if there is the will. Fighting hunger is also one of the most relatively inexpensive investments that can be made.
If we are looking to make sound investments in foreign policy, then school feeding is the place to go. America has a long tradition of school feeding, notably after the two world wars and through the Food for Peace years. We don’t want to extinguish this tradition now. Let’s hope the Congress realizes this as it plans the upcoming budgets.
Visit the World Food Program USA page to contact Congress about supporting food aid programs.