Whether in the U.S. or far away in South Sudan or Syria, hunger cannot be ignored, or placed on the back burner as an issue for others to deal with. The President needs to show powerful leadership and the State of the Union offers this opportunity.
Hunger is striking over 50 million people within the United States alone, of whom about 17 million are children. Supporting America’s system of food banks is crucial to keeping a safety net for those struggling. The food banks can then help individuals stay afloat and escape poverty through the local solutions they utilize.
Bob Aiken, president of Feeding America says, “While we understand the challenges facing President Obama and Congress as they work to address the deficit, and make decisions on spending priorities, we urge them to protect programs that help our most vulnerable citizens and neighbors put food on the table.”
Feeding America says, “With historically high unemployment and many families scraping by on reduced wages, or part-time hours, the need for food assistance in our country has never been greater.”
“We hear heartbreaking stories every day from people who come to the food pantries and soup kitchens served by the Feeding America network. Our food bank in Orlando recently told us a story about an elderly woman who walked nearly a mile to take a public bus to a food pantry and fainted while standing in line; a pantry volunteer gave the woman a ride to her home, which had little furniture and empty cupboards. It’s one of many stories our food banks hear on a daily basis,” says Aiken.
Worldwide, hunger is afflicting over 870 million people. The crisis in Syria has rapidly increased the ranks of the hungry in the Middle East. The UN World Food Programme is feeding about 2.5 million people inside Syria and is expecting to feed another 750,000 who have fled to neighboring countries.
The WFP’s biggest supporter is the U.S. Food for Peace program. Congress is not putting much support toward this initiative, though, and in fact there are some plans to reduce the funding. This would have a huge impact on the ability to respond to humanitarian emergencies such as Syria. If hunger thrives in the Middle East we can hardly expect peace and stability to emerge in that region.
In Mali, where the government is fighting off Islamic extremists, it is food aid such as the McGovern-Dole school meals program that is helping keep children healthy in a time of crisis. Catholic Relief Services is feeding tens of thousands of children there because of this McGovern-Dole grant. We should not reduce funding for these programs that fight hunger and help promote peace.
Afghanistan is another country where hunger reigns and peace remains elusive. Children are stunted from birth because of malnutrition leaving little hope for the future of the country.
South Sudan is trying to build peace with its northern neighbor Sudan. It’s also trying to build peace within, after years of tribal conflict in Jonglei and other states. At the same time South Sudan is desperately trying to save its own children from starvation.
The UN World Food Programme says that “nearly one-third of children under 5 are stunted, 23 percent are wasted, and 28 percent are underweight” in the country.
The charity Save the Children has nutrition programs in South Sudan where severely malnourished children are brought to receive a special peanut paste called Plumpy’nut. This is a special food that can rescue children from death or lifelong physical and mental damage. Save the Children has a crisis fund to help South Sudan.
These are the types of heroic food plans that save lives and form the foundation for peace. The President needs to rally the Congress and the country to end this hunger menace at home and abroad.
Article first published as Hunger Critical Issue for State of the Union on Blogcritics.