Category Archives: Congress

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

Take Action To Save Hunger Fighting Programs from Budget Cuts

Yesterday, I spoke to a great class at the College of Mount St. Joseph about the fight against hunger, both at home and abroad. We talked about proposed budget cuts in the Congress to food aid programs.

Here are food aid programs at risk of budget cuts:

Domestic Food Aid:

TEFAP:  The Emergency Food Assistance Program which supports food bank across the country. If funding is reduced there will be less support at a time of high unemployment when more families need the support of food banks.

WIC- Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children.

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.”

International Food Aid:

Food for Peace: This is the primary tool the U.S. has in fighting global hunger. This program was started during the Eisenhower administration and has saved countless lives and promoted stability worldwide.

McGovern-Dole program: This is geared toward international school meals. Agencies like Catholic Relief Services, World Food Program and others apply for McGovern-Dole funding to run school lunch programs in developing countries.

Here is an excerpt from an interview I did with Nora O’Connell of Save the Children discussing international food aid:

“For every one dollar that the U.S. government spends, roughly one-tenth of one penny goes towards food aid.

Completely eliminating food aid would do virtually nothing to impact either our debt or deficit. And it would not relieve Congress of the need to make the difficult choices required to alleviate the debt crisis. As Congress decides exactly where to make cuts, we urge them to do what’s right for children. Disproportionate and unjustified cuts not only hurt children today, they put our future at risk and move America further away from its values.

The best way to help prevent these cuts is to get in touch with Congress and let them know that programs that fight hunger and poverty are important. Individuals can call, write, email, or tweet their members of Congress and ask that they protect funding for international hunger- and poverty-fighting programs. Communication from constituents is critical to building support for programs that protect children and families across the globe, and help build a more stable and healthy world.”

You can reach your elected officials by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. You can let them know what you expect them to be doing about food aid both at home and abroad.

Catholic Relief Services says “Your action is particularly important now because the funding levels for FY 2012 will become the template for decisions about how much the U.S. invests in life-saving poverty-focused assistance for the next decade. Your voice is critical now to support poverty-focused international assistance so that life-changing and life-saving interventions can continue to reach those who need it most.”

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Filed under advocacy, Africa, Catholic Relief Services, Congress, Feeding America, Save the Children, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger