Category Archives: East Africa

Friendship Trains, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut

Baby Food for the Friendship Train in 1947.

A group of Army personnel went on a special mission in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall of 1947. This group of soldiers was helping to load boxes of baby food onto a truck. The following day a train was to roll into Cincinnati to pick up the food. Its destination: Europe.

World War II was over, but the peace was not yet won. Millions of people in the war-devastated countries were suffering from food shortages. Harsh winters and drought had followed the war. Reconstruction still had a way to go. Children were at severe risk of stunted growth if they could not get the right nutrients.

Americans took action. The Friendship Train, as it was called, went from coast to coast picking up food like the baby formula. One of the great achievements in American history was helping to rebuild Europe after World War II, and the Friendship Train was part of this.

The world scene now is no different, in the sense that food is needed to win the peace. If children are hungry, action has to be taken.

What better way to do so than a Friendship Train of plumpy’nut heading toward the areas of suffering and conflict around the globe? Plumpy’nut is the special peanut paste that rescues children from life-threatening malnutrition. The key is to get plumpy’nut to every child at risk from malnutrition so they can be saved.

Low funding and lack of political will are often what prevents this. While there are many great efforts ongoing among the public to raise funds and promote plumpy’nut, getting all the political leaders on board is essential. It has to be a team effort, as Josette Sheeran, the World Food Programme’s director, often points out.

A Friendship Train of plumpy’nut today could rescue every malnourished child whether it’s in East Africa, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Guatemala, or any of the other suffering countries. It’s critical to reach the children because without nutrition in the first thousand days of life, they suffer lasting physical and mental damage.

It is unacceptable that low funding prevents foods like plumpy’nut from reaching malnourished children. Food aid is relatively inexpensive when it comes to foreign policy spending. Global hunger-fighting programs make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the entire U.S. federal budget.

So let’s get the Friendship Train rolling. All aboard with plumpy’nut. Save lives and help an entire generation of children to be healthy and strong enough to overcome the challenges their country may face.

Article first published as Friendship Trains, Global Hunger and Plumpy’nut on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Books, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Europe, global hunger, History, malnutrition, plumpy'nut, School feeding, World Food Programme, World War II

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

Interview: Kate O’Malley of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia

The Irish National Famine Memorial Coffin Ship in County Mayo. Erected "To honor the memory of all who died, suffered and emigrated due to the Great Famine of 1845-1850, and the victims of all famines." (photo courtesy Irish Americans in Support of Somalia)

The drought in East Africa is so massive it threatens over 13 million people with starvation. That is almost as many people as the population of Maryland and Virginia combined.

The hardest hit area is conflict-torn Somalia where UNICEF says that a child dies every 6 minutes. Aid agencies are rushing to save lives. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes in the desperate search for food and water.

But will you see this story in the news? Not often, as reported by the Pew research center. Kate O’Malley of Rhode Island noticed this lack of media attention and took action to do something about it. She started a group called Irish Americans in Support of Somalia. She recently took time to talk about this group and how it connects the past with the present crisis in East Africa.

What gave you the idea to form Irish Americans in Support of Somalia?

I felt frustrated about the lack of media coverage about what was happening in Somalia. My husband is from Ireland and I am Irish American and we have two daughters who have grown up sharing time between both places. We were raised with stories of the bitter devastation of the Great Irish Famine of 150 years ago, when millions perished from starvation or were lost to the coffin ships as they fled in desperation. We felt honoring our history by helping famine victims today was a compelling connection that would resonate with others, so we started this campaign to spread awareness and raise funds to aid in the biggest humanitarian disaster of this century. What’s happening in the Horn of Africa in 2011 is a complex mess and far away, but we hope people, Irish or not, will consider this: In 1831 tens of thousands Native Americans were forcibly relocated with more than half dying on the march now known as the Trail of Tears. Just sixteen years later, despite their suffering and because they understood what starvation meant, members of the Choctaw Nation sent $710 to the starving in Ireland, a huge amount at the time. To this day the Irish are grateful. This history should inspire people to realize that if they could do that then, surely we can each do something today for the starving in Somalia and East Africa.

Do you have fundraising events planned?

Since the start of this campaign a few weeks ago, our focus has been to grow this all-volunteer grassroots campaign through online efforts to spread the word. Just like on St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone can be “Irish”, we’re inviting everyone to “like” our Facebook page or to email us at irishamericansforsomalia@gmail.com .

We’re providing information on how to donate, highlighting compelling historical connections and offering updates about what is happening in East Africa. We’re hoping people will share this information with their own networks, family and friends. This week we met with the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee who spearheaded the building of a beautiful memorial to the victims of the Great Irish Famine. As a living memorial, fighting hunger today has always been a part of their mission. They plan to present a donation at an October 9th ceremony at the Memorial in Providence and to encourage their many member Irish American organizations to get behind this effort. Folks should stay tuned for information on upcoming events.

Where will the funds raised by Irish Americans in Support of Somalia be distributed?

We are supporting Edesia, a non-profit, operating its Providence, RI factory around the clock to produce enough Plumpy’nut, to feed 50,000 children a day in the Horn of Africa. Plumpy’nut is designed to treat severe malnutrition in young children who can make a full recovery in just 4 – 8 weeks. Just $50 provides a full life saving treatment. Edesia supplies its products at cost to such organizations as USAID, UNICEF, World Food Programme and Save the Children. Donations help them lower the cost even further so their partners can buy and distribute larger quantities. I visited the plant to see production, learn how it’s being distributed and to meet the people behind Edesia. They’re creating local jobs, they’re saving lives globally, and they need our help now. We’re asking people to donate to them directly at the Edesia donation page and to please write Irish Americans in Support of Somalia in the purpose line of the donation page or on the memo line of their check. This way we can track total donations and determine how effective we’re being.

How can someone get involved with Irish Americans in Support of Somalia?

Helping to spread the word, through Facebook, email, or conversations with family and friends is key to launching this effort and getting people to start paying attention to what’s happening in the Horn of Africa. Our effort is not limited to just Irish Americans, and we are hoping to work with as many individuals and organizations as possible to get the message out. We hope such groups will consider hosting events for this cause, making appeals to their members, or distributing information at their regularly scheduled activities. We have print and electronic materials we can offer. We also ask that people help us with networking and with media contacts, particularly in the Irish American press. If they can make a donation in the name of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia at Edesia Donation Page , all the better.

Article first published as Interview: Kate O’Malley of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Edesia, famine, global hunger, History, Ireland, Kenya, malnutrition, plumpy'nut, social media, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, UNICEF, World Food Programme

Food for Peace, CRS Working to Feed the Hungry in East Africa

President Reagan called the U.S. Food for Peace program an “instrument of American compassion.” This government program has a tradition of feeding the world’s hungry. It saves lives. It represents the very best of America.

And we see it in action again with the recent Food for Peace donation of $64 million to the charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The food will be used as part of a relief mission to drought-stricken Ethiopia.


Ronald Reagan said “people who are hungry are weak allies for freedom.”  Today, Food for Peace is threatened with severe budget cuts by Congress. (photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)

Ethiopia is suffering food shortages from failed crops. For the food that is available, prices are high for many Ethiopian families.

Catholic Relief Services is feeding about a million people there as part of the Joint Emergency Operations Plan. The Food for Peace donation goes to this joint mission.

The charities CARE, Save the Children US, Save the Children UK, World Vision, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia, and the Relief Society of Tigray will assist in the distribution of the food.

Around a million people are being given a lifeline, thanks to Food for Peace, CRS and the other charities working together. In addition, CRS and other aid agencies continue their work to build up the resilience of farmers to drought. This effort has helped make Ethiopia less vulnerable to the drought, compared to parts of Somalia where aid agencies have had far less access in recent years.


Women collect water in a region of Ethiopia where CRS has been working on drought mitigation projects since 2003. Photo by KL Dammann/CRS

Food for Peace, which started during the Eisenhower administration, has come under pressure recently from Congress. Members of the House of Representatives have proposed cutting most, if not all, of the funding for Food for Peace. Yet hunger-fighting programs are a very tiny part of the overall budget and cutting them makes no dent in the federal deficit.

CRS is working with its partners throughout East Africa to bring relief from the massive drought that struck the region. This includes aid to Somali refugees in Kenya, as well as support to host communities there which are also suffering from the widespread drought. In Somalia, within the areas of Mogadishu and Baidoa, CRS is helping 28,000 displaced persons with health and nutrition services.

In addition CRS is providing food, water, and livelihood support to 35,000 drought-affected Somalis in the south-central part of the country. Their work involves not only emergency aid, but also projects for building up resistance to future droughts.

David Orth-Moore of CRS says, “While working to alleviate the immediate human suffering, CRS recognizes the importance of long-term drought mitigation programs, and we’ve seen that some communities are faring better now during this current drought because of those projects.”


You can help Catholic Relief Services by donating to their East Africa Emergency Fund

Article first published as Food for Peace, CRS Working to Feed the Hungry in East Africa on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Africa, Catholic Relief Services, drought, Dwight Eisenhower, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, Kenya, malnutrition, Save the Children, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Vision

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

Saints QB Brees teams with World Food Programme on famine relief

Tonight the NFL season kicks off with the last two Super Bowl champions facing off — the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.  Green Bay is fresh off its victory over the 6-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Aaron Rodgers is now established as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

Saints QB Drew Brees is again leading the Saints prolific offense. But this former Purdue grad has already been taking the lead on famine relief for East Africa.

Brees has partnered with the UN World Food Programme, raising awareness of the plight of millions of starving people in East Africa. Massive drought in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other parts of the region has caused severe food shortages, putting over 12 million people at risk of starvation.

Brees made a special famine relief poster available at the World Food Programme’s (WFP) web site. There is also a Drew Brees and WFP fundraising page set up for East Africa. This is a great way for football fans and teams to get involved and help East Africa through its hunger crisis.

Football teams at any level are encouraged to display the famine relief banner at games and on team web sites, etc. Fans and teams can do things, like pledge donations per each touchdown or any type of fundraising ideas to help WFP, which relies on voluntary donations to feed the hungry.

The football community can do great things to help East Africa recover from this great crisis and write another chapter in the American epic of humanitarianism.

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Filed under Africa, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, malnutrition, World Food Programme

Norwegian Refugee Council providing aid in East Africa

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is taking action against the massive hunger crisis facing East Africa. Famine has been declared in parts of Somalia and severe drought has struck Kenya, Ethiopia and other areas of the region. Thousands of people have already perished and millions more are at risk of starvation.

In my article Thoughts on the Norway and the Famine in Somalia I highlighted the NRC airlift of emergency food rations into Mogadishu, Somalia. These rations were ready-to-eat biscuits for adults and children, a way to provide quick nutrients without special preparation or storage unavailable in disaster zones.

Kaja Haldorsen of NRC says another shipment of 28 tons of food rations arrived in Mogadishu in late August. In addition Norwegian citizens have donated 6.2 million (Norwegian dollars) to NRC. The government has donated 50 million to NRC relief efforts in East Africa.

NRC Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson said earlier this summer, “What we have seen so far, is only the beginning of a large scale humanitarian catastrophe that will continue to unfold for at least six months ahead, given that the next harvest in January will be successful. Pending donor support, NRC is committed to do anything within its capacity to assist and prevent as many people as possible from starvation, death and displacement.”

You can donate to NRC’s East Africa relief mission at their web site.

Originally published at Examiner.com

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Filed under Africa, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, Kenya, malnutrition, Norway