Category Archives: Afghanistan

Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country

October 7th marks the 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. And as if war has not been enough, famine is descending upon Afghans.

Drought has struck 14 provinces in Afghanistan. Crops have been ruined and food supplies are almost gone. The charity Oxfam says, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

As famine conditions have strengthened, funding for UN World Food Programme (WFP) has diminished. The UN food agency relies entirely on voluntary donations.

WFP was forced to cut school meals for hundreds of thousands of Afghan children earlier this year. In a country deeply mired in poverty, school meals are a lifeline the children desperately need.

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition in the entire world. If this crisis, which is often ignored by policymakers, were given more attention many of Afghanistan’s ills could be remedied. For food is the foundation of peace, education and literacy, and maybe most of all hope. Hope and Afghanistan are two words not often associated.

There is talk of donor fatigue when it comes to Afghanistan and hunger relief in general, but this is nonsense. Food aid programs make up less than one tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget.

Congress has proposed reducing funding for the Food for Peace and other hunger fighting  programs. This is such a mistake when peace in Afghanistan and other parts of the world depend on fighting hunger.

After World War II, when a CARE package center was opened in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio people flocked there to buy food for hungry people overseas. The first one to do so was a former World War I infantryman.

The first World War saw immense human suffering from both warfare and the resulting famine, and this donor had compassion and first-hand understanding of their plight. Americans from that generation did not suffer from donor fatigue, and continued feeding the hungry during the war and afterwards. Following the Second World War millions more were saved, and Europe was rebuilt from the important foundation of food.

Today, we cannot forget about Afghanistan nor let the people suffer. On this 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, let’s work to win the peace. It can start with fighting hunger.

Article first published as Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country at Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Congress, drought, global hunger, malnutrition, Oxfam, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Afghanistan: Drought Causes Severe Food Shortages for Millions

Over 7 million people suffer from hunger in Afghanistan, with many more bordering on the edge of food insecurity. Due to this year's drought and the reduced wheat harvest more Afghans will be now be joining the ranks of the hungry and food insecure. (WFP/Patrick Andrade )

Afghanistan is on the verge of a huge humanitarian disaster. Drought has ruined food supplies, and three million Afghans will face starvation if aid agencies do not have the resources in time to respond.

The charity Oxfam says , “The situation is made all the more urgent by the fact that most of the affected areas are inaccessible during winter, and will soon be cut off from any sort of assistance. Aid is needed now to ensure that families have the support that they need to see them through winter and to the next harvest.”

The lead agency in fighting hunger in Afghanistan, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is low on funding. WFP, which relies on voluntary donations from governments and the public, is about $200 million short for this year’s Afghanistan mission. WFP will require additional funds to feed more people suffering from hunger because of the drought.

The United Nations issued a report in July warning of the coming disaster. The UN stated, “The prediction of droughts in a protracted crisis country like Afghanistan is very worrying.”

For even before the recent drought took hold, Afghanistan was a country in a severe hunger crisis, with children suffering the most. The UN report summary highlights the startling numbers which show that “68% of the Afghan population is affected by some form of food insecurity with 31% food-insecure and 37% borderline food-insecure.” This means most Afghans struggle to get basic foods. Any shock like a spike in food prices, or disaster like drought, is devastating to Afghans who have little food.

For children the situation is gravest. In Afghanistan 40% of children under five years of age are underweight with 54% stunting. Children are struggling to get nutrition when they need it most in those early years. Children suffer lasting physical and mental damage from malnutrition in the first thousand days of life. With such poor health among its children, Afghanistan’s future is virtually doomed.

There is an ongoing war against hunger and want in Afghanistan. The drought is another fierce attack on an already vulnerable population. A major humanitarian crisis will take place this fall and winter in Afghanistan without interventions now. The Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

Food prices have also been on the rise in Afghanistan, a huge blow to the drought-impacted areas. The UN says, “These additional stressors will affect these populations in addition to the 37% of the national population who are considered to be borderline food-insecure and who are currently planned to receive supplementary food support.”

It’s important to keep in mind that with WFP facing such low funding, school feeding and food for work projects have already been reduced. There are almost 500,000 children who lost their school meal ration because of this shortage. So these safety nets are currently not available to many Afghans at a time when they need them more than ever.

What Afghanistan needs now is a prompt intervention to save people from starvation in the coming months. What they also need are more long-term investments toward building the resiliency of communities facing drought.

Afghanistan cannot build a peace while its population suffers from hunger and want. No society can. The U.S. Congress right now is debating how much to fund its Food for Peace and other global hunger fighting programs. They need look no further than Afghanistan to understand how critical food assistance is to nations in crisis.

Article first published as Acting Now Can Save Afghans from Starvation on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Congress, drought, global hunger, malnutrition, Oxfam, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Famine in Somalia. Is the Wolf at the Door in Afghanistan?

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the mini-summit on the Horn of Africa in New York on September 24. (Copyright: WFP/Dena Gudaitis)

Aid agencies are racing to save people from starvation in Somalia. UNICEF says that a child dies every 6 minutes in the famine-ravaged country. Severe drought in East Africa, coupled with the conflict in Somalia, has produced one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in decades.

Is Afghanistan next to be attacked by famine? Drought has struck the north and western part of Afghanistan. An Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan, says “Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope. The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this becoming a disaster, but only if we act now.”

The United Nations World Food Programme has been facing low funding for its Afghan relief operation this year, so there was already a hunger crisis firmly in place before this drought took hold.

WFP, at last report, was about $200 million short on funding for its 2011 operation. Earlier this year WFP had to cut school meals for about 500,000 Afghan children because of the low funding. For children in developing countries school meals are often the only meal they receive the entire day. Afghanistan is a country that needs a nationwide school meals program, not a reduction in child feeding. WFP programs to help small farmers are also impacted by low funding.

It is expected that almost 3 million people will need food aid this fall in Afghanistan, on top of a population of 7 million already suffering from hunger. In a country seeking to build peace, will it now be confronted with famine? Afghanistan needs an emergency response now as well as plans to prevent future tragedies.

This past week in New York Josette Sheeran, the UN World Food Programme’s director, urged actions to prevent famine from striking again. Where there are investments in food security, as well as open access, a powerful line of defense can be built against famine. The drought In East Africa is proof of this.

Sheeran says, “The fact is while droughts may not be preventable, famines are. In areas where the humanitarian community has access, millions of hungry are being reached with life-saving action and lasting hunger solutions.”

These actions range “from supporting small holder farmers to deploying anti-hunger safety net programmes like school feeding.” Sheeran adds, “In my own agency, through a community adaptation program called MERET, the Ethiopian government, with support by WFP has been has build a sustainable land management and rain catchment program that has vastly increased food production and mitigated the impact of the drought.”

These programs require enough funding from the international community. However, WFP has faced funding shortages for its operations all year, including in Somalia.

The international community needs to act fast in Somalia and Afghanistan. In addition to meeting emergency needs, long-term solutions have to be put in place. We cannot afford another humanitarian disaster.

Article first published as Famine in Somalia. Is the Wolf at the Door in Afghanistan? on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Africa, Congress, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Ethiopia, famine, global hunger, Josette Sheeran, malnutrition, Middle East, Oxfam, plumpy'nut, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Obama, Congress Should Copy JFK’s First Days in Office and Protect the Hungry

President Kennedy supported food aid programs at home and abroad

Hunger is on the offensive, even in the United States. The Department of Agriculture reports that 49 million Americans struggle to get food. Worldwide, nearly one billion people suffer from hunger, and child malnutrition is rampant in East Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen and many other areas.

President Obama and the Congress, as they grapple with the federal budget, also need to protect the hungry. They can take a page from President John F. Kennedy’s playbook for his first days in office, back in 1961.

Kennedy’s first act as president was to order food aid to hungry people in the U.S., particularly in West Virginia. Unemployment was high, and it was critical that food support be given during a time of great strain on the people there. Kennedy’s plan involved distribution of food stamps to the needy. And it worked.

Kennedy reported on this aid in 1962, stating, “Low income families are receiving better diets…Retail food store sales in these areas increased 8 percent in dollar volume. There have been savings in distribution costs and benefits to the economy of the food stamp communities.”

Also the Kennedy administration worked on improvements to the national school feeding program. This is a vital safety net to ensure that children in impoverished families do not suffer from lack of nutrition.

Today, protection is needed for families all across America, where unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Demand for food banks is growing. Many Americans face a struggle to afford food. But support from the federal government is dwindling, with programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) facing reduced funding levels. Emergency food banks across the country count on TEFAP for supplies.

Vicki Escarra of Feeding America says, “As Congress and the administration look for ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is more critical than ever to protect funding for nutrition programs that provide the first line of defense against hunger in America.”

President Obama and the Congress should expand food aid for hungry Americans. Programs like TEFAP, food stamps, the national school lunch program, including summer feeding, need to be emphasized. Like JFK on his first days, they need to do what is right for the American people.

But also like JFK, Obama and Congress have to think globally and consider our national security interests abroad. Fighting hunger overseas is an essential part of our foreign policy. JFK realized this. His predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower knew this when he signed Public Law 480, which became known as Food for Peace. This program is the primary tool for the U.S. in fighting hunger abroad.

President Kennedy, in his second executive order, created a White House office for Food for Peace. This bolstered the existing program and made fighting hunger a top priority, where it also needs to be now.

Today, the U.S. should expand its food for peace program, not reduce funding as proposed in budgets put forward by Congress earlier this year. Hunger-fighting initiatives are relatively inexpensive and do not contribute to our debt problems. Moreover, they are essential in terms of promoting stability and economic development abroad.

The U.S. simply cannot afford to retreat from fighting the menace of hunger. There is tremendous suffering ongoing in East Africa in the famine and drought zone. In Afghanistan, where we are trying to win the peace, a hunger crisis is growing, and food aid programs face huge budget shortfalls. Likewise, in Yemen hunger is on the rise while the World Food Programme and UNICEF remain low on funds to combat the scourge.

One area where the U.S. really needs to step up is in child feeding. When Kennedy became president, he named George McGovern the Food for Peace Director. McGovern led a vigorous campaign against hunger, including school meals for millions of children in Brazil, South Korea, India, Poland and other countries. Many of these nations developed their own national school feeding program from this effort.

Today, we need that same kind of resolve as funding for school lunch programs in developing countries remains low. In Afghanistan, for instance, reduced funding for the World Food Programme forced about 500,000 children to lose their school meal ration. That is hardly an epitome of a reconstruction going well.

In Haiti, support for school feeding is critical to turning the corner on rebuilding the country from the earthquake. We do not want to cut funding now. Food for Peace as well as the McGovern-Dole school lunch program need increased funding.

Food aid programs have historically received bipartisan support. They should today as well. For the future of the United States and that of other countries rests on the most basic foundation–food and nutrition. Food for Peace must remain a top priority for the current government as it was the day President Kennedy took office fifty years ago.

Article first published as Obama, Congress Should Copy JFK’s First Days in Office and Protect the Hungry on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, drought, Dwight Eisenhower, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, Kenya, malnutrition, Middle East, plumpy'nut, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Yemen

Senate Urged to Support Food for Peace Program

This week the Senate will be considering how much funding to give to the Food for Peace program, our main tool in the fight against global hunger. It’s vital the Senate give full support to Food for Peace.

For if you are looking to have a cost-efficient and effective foreign policy, then look no further than Food for Peace. We know this plan works.

Food for Peace was essentially born out of the World War II era where the famous motto was, “Food will win the war and write the peace.” Every CARE package, Friendship Train, or people taking in a silent guest at their home on Thanksgiving was food for peace in action.

The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe stood on a foundation of food. These post-war actions paved the way toward the official launch of Food for Peace (Public Law 480) in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. President Kennedy continued and strengthened Food for Peace, showing the bipartisan support for the initiative.

But today there is a different tune. Amid all the talk of budget cuts, Food for Peace has been placed on the cutting block. Some members of the House have proposed eliminating all funding for the program. Others want to keep funding levels at 1.69 billion, which is relatively inexpensive compared to other foreign policy expenditures.

Hunger-fighting programs make up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. In short, Food for Peace is not the cause of our spending problems.

What Food for Peace does is it combats hunger and gives hope for peace and stability. Peace cannot be founded on empty stomachs. Whether it’s Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or Haiti, they all share one thing in common: the need for food for healthy generations of children.

The Senate could cut Food for Peace and its partner program Mcgovern-Dole just to save a few dollars. But that would be ill-advised foreign policy.

What Eisenhower said in 1959 holds true today. Food is essential so that “our bodies may be fit for every task and duty and service; our minds free from the fear of hunger; our eyes undimmed by the tragedies of famine, searching out new horizons; our aspirations not frustrated by failure of crop or catastrophe of weather.”

The world’s nearly 1 billion hungry people wonder each day where their next meal will come from. We cannot just skip over this crisis because of tough times domestically, for withdrawing from the fight against hunger will pose grave consequences.

Reducing food aid will threaten millions of lives and will help create desperation among people that will lead to a dangerous instability. The chaos caused by hunger is powerful enough to topple governments.

The Senate needs to stand united and fight global hunger with Food for Peace.

See the World Food Program USA take action page for supporting Food for Peace.

See Food for Peace and the World Food Program.

See also Bringing Dems and Reps Together over Food (Bakersfield Californian 1/9/2011)

Article first published as Senate Urged to Support Food for Peace Program on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Africa, drought, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, malnutrition, Middle East, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme, Yemen

College Class Takes on Hunger and Poverty at Home and Abroad

The College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio (College of Mount St. Joseph photo)

This week I spoke to the College of Mount St. Joseph’s (MSJ) UN Millennium Development Goals class. The MSJ class just returned from a trip to the United Nations in New York where they met with UN delegates. The students aim to take action on ending hunger and poverty, achieving universal education for children, and working on other development goals.

The class runs for the fall semester. Professor Elizabeth Barkley says, “Through their Service Learning with local agencies, students begin to make an impact in their world and realize that, although problems can seem overwhelming and unsolvable, young people can still make a difference.”

At the class I discussed ways you can take action to support the Millennium Development goals. One of the easiest ways is playing a game called Free Rice . In fact, MSJ has its own team . Playing Free Rice, you answer vocabulary questions and other subjects. For each correct answer 10 grains of rice are donated to the UN World Food Programme to fight hunger. The rice is paid for by advertisers on the site.

Currently, Free Rice is supporting school feeding in Cambodia. Earlier this year Free Rice proceeds supported school feeding in Haiti.

What better way to support the Millennium Development goals than through school feeding? The meal at school fights child hunger and malnutrition and improves class attendance and performance, giving children an opportunity to escape the poverty trap through an education. In many developing countries, school meals are the only meal children receive the entire day. Free Rice is a quick and easy way to take action and help children get these vital school meals.

Another idea we discussed in the class was advocacy, making your voice heard to your elected officials. Current budget proposals in the Congress threaten achievement of the Millennium Development goals. For instance, Congress is proposing reducing both domestic and international food aid.

One of the programs being threatened is The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) which supports food banks across the U.S. With demand for food banks fast rising, TEFAP takes on even more urgency. However, the program is below last year’s funding levels and Congress is planning more cuts to it in 2012. Unless citizens take action, this vital source of supply for food banks is at risk.

One of the handouts I gave at class was a guide for how to use Twitter and Facebook to take action to contact your representatives on these key issues.

Another area where Congress is proposing cuts is to the U.S. Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole programs. These are two major global hunger-fighting initiatives sponsored by the United States. If funding is reduced, it is a major blow in the struggle to fight hunger and poverty around the world. Food for Peace was started back in the Eisenhower administration with the idea of sending U.S. surplus food abroad to help countries fight hunger and build stability.

The McGovern-Dole program supports international school feeding. For just several billion a year, we could provide food for children at school around the world. Contrast that to the 52 billion (at least) price tag for supporting nuclear weapons programs, with the Cold War long in the rear view mirror–something to think about if want to talk social justice and an intelligent search for peace in today’s world.

One of the highlights of the class was our discussion of Plumpy’nut, a vital life-saving nutrient. Ironically, at that very moment on NBC Nightly News, a segment featuring the plumpy’nut producer Edesia was being aired. Edesia and plumpy’nut have been featured In many of my articles over the past year, such as the Silent Guest , and also in the Providence Journal .

I talked about how critical Plumpy’nut is for rescuing children from dangerous malnutrition, and its easy storage and distribution. Plumpy’nut is a key part of the famine relief effort ongoing in East Africa, but is also critical to many other areas.

The problem with plumpy though is that low funding prevents aid agencies like the UN World Food Programme and UNICEF from having enough supply on hand. Therefore, many children needlessly suffer the effects of malnutrition. One of the students pointed out the need for establishing plumpy facilities in many countries. This creates jobs for the people in the country and provides a plumpy supply for faster and cheaper distribution.

I tried to talk the class into having a plumpy’nut mascot appear on campus for an event. Am waiting for word on this. I also learned that there was concern about the MSJ football team’s season. However, the team has compiled an outstanding record over the past decade with a number of conference titles. So history would suggest the team will do well.

And the class will do well also in working toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Professor Jim Bodle says a main purpose of the class is for students “to become aware of how our actions have an impact on the rest of the world.”

And that sums it up in a nutshell. Actions you take today can make a difference. Whether it’s service to a charity in your community, playing Free Rice, writing a representative, or even promoting Plumpy’nut using a mascot, all are ways you can take action to end hunger and poverty.

Article first published as College Class Takes on Hunger and Poverty at Home and Abroad on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Africa, Books, Catholic Relief Services, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Edesia, global hunger, Ivory Coast, Kenya, malnutrition, Mercy Corps, Middle East, plumpy'nut, West Africa

Josette Sheeran of WFP Ranked 30th Most Powerful Woman by Forbes

Josette Sheeran, the director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has been ranked by Forbes as the 30th most powerful woman in the world. The Forbes rankings were just released this week. Others on the list include Angela Merkel (1), Hillary Clinton (2), Oprah Winfrey (14) and Queen Rania Al Abdullah (54). You can view the complete list at Forbes Magazine .

Sheeran has emerged in recent years as the lead “food ambassador” in the struggle to fight global hunger. As the head of WFP, Sheeran runs the largest agency fighting the hunger that afflicts nearly one billion people worldwide. WFP relies on voluntary donations from governments and the public to fund its relief activities in over 70 countries. The agency constantly seeks to elevate the issue of global hunger in the public consciousness and in the halls of government.

During Sheeran’s tenure numerous challenges have emerged, including the “silent tsunami” of high food prices, the earthquake in Haiti, flooding in Pakistan, unrest and hunger in the Middle East, and this summer’s massive drought and famine in East Africa. Sheeran has rallied support for life-saving missions in each of these disasters, while also pressing for long-term solutions to hunger and poverty.

WFP, for instance, has programs aimed at boosting the production of small farmers in developing countries. WFP’s Fill the Cup campaign calls for school meals for every child. Food for children at school wards off malnutrition and increases class attendance and performance.

Sheeran’s accomplishments continue a family tradition. Her father James, a paratrooper during World War II, organized food aid for a town in France after World War II.

The coming months will be extremely challenging for Sheeran and WFP. Food aid is needed for over 11 million people in East Africa. There is also drought in Afghanistan putting millions more at risk of hunger and malnutrition. Unrest in the Middle East is escalating the hunger crisis in Yemen and other countries. Focus must also be kept on building food security in Haiti.

WFP faces funding shortages for these operations and will need to rally enough support to meet the massive, escalating global hunger crisis.

You can learn more about the World Food Programme and how you can get involved on their website .

Article first published as Josette Sheeran Ranked 30th Most Powerful Woman by Forbes on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, Josette Sheeran, malnutrition, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme