Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Biden Optimistic Global Hunger Struggle Can Be Won

Vice President Joe Biden spoke last Monday at the World Food Program USA award ceremony. He praised this year’s winners, Bill Gates and Howard Buffett, who have dedicated their talents to fighting hunger around the globe.

But Biden also made an admission of guilt—-for being optimistic that we can win the struggle against global hunger. This battle is now ongoing in the famine zones of East Africa, drought-ravaged Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and numerous other regions.

Biden said, “I am often accused of being an optimist. I plead guilty, because I believe strongly in the human capacity-and desire-to build a better world. But I am particularly confident in our ability to feed the future because we have done it before.”

Biden talked about our support of South Korea, once a war-torn country with millions starving. Today South Korea has strong economic development and is a donor to the UN World Food Programme’s hunger-fighting missions.

Biden said, “Beginning in the 1950’s, we provided agricultural support-research, training, and partnerships with American firms-to South Korea, which was one of the poorest countries on the planet. Today, it is the world’s 15th largest economy, and a major trading partner responsible for hundreds of thousands of American jobs. ”

This is a long way from the South Korea that U.S. Army major Charles Arnold saw in 1951 during the Korean War. Arnold, who led a UN Civil Assistance team, said children arrived at feeding stations and “greeted us by rubbing their stomach and saying hungry.” After regular meals from Arnold’s team, the children took on a new, healthy look. They began to smile.

South Korea was also a country that benefited from the famous CARE packages that fed so many hungry people in Europe after World War II. President Truman urged Americans to send these CARE packages to feed those hungry and displaced by the Korean conflict.

As time went on, South Korea gained from agricultural development projects, similar to those Biden praised in the current “Feed the Future” campaign. South Korea was also one of the beneficiaries of the U.S. Food for Peace program started under President Eisenhower and expanded during President Kennedy’s administration.

George McGovern was Food for Peace director under President Kennedy. He writes that about 2 million South Korean children were receiving school meals under this hunger-fighting initiative. These meals made children healthier and better educated. This is a contrast to Afghanistan today, where low funding for the UN World Food Programme has meant that many impoverished children have lost their school meal ration.

In addition, proposed budget cuts to international food aid, including Food for Peace, will mean school feeding, Feed the Future and other aid projects will face cutbacks. This is a severe threat to peace.

Biden also said, “We will continue to support your work, by urging our friends in Congress to resist the urge to slash foreign aid budgets, because long-term solutions now can reduce the cost of massive relief efforts and instability later.”

Hunger-fighting programs currently make up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. So slashing them does virtually nothing to eliminate the debt. Funding cuts though would devastate U.S. foreign policy. It is virtually impossible for countries to develop and have peace when generation after generation of children grow up malnourished and stunted in mind and body.

Biden finished his speech on Monday citing Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who saved millions from hunger through his agricultural innovations. Borlaug said: “If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”

This is a message Congress needs to hear again and again as it makes crucial decisions about our foreign policy. The Food for Peace tradition of the U.S. is very much at stake in the current debates on the federal budget. What they decide in the coming days will have major implications on whether the struggle against global hunger can be won.

View a video of Biden’s speech.

Article first published as Biden Optimistic Global Hunger Struggle Can Be Won on Blogcritics.

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WFP and Aschiana Provide Food for Street Children in Afghanistan

Since last year I have been writing about a promising take-home ration program for street children in Afghanistan. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Aschiana Foundation are teaming up on this initiative which helps Afghan children caught in a severe poverty trap. Below are some photographs of the food distributions courtesy of WFP.

In the coming weeks the Congress will be deciding whether to cut international food aid. Programs like this one will be in jeopardy if the U.S. Food for Peace and other hunger fighting programs are scaled back. WFP depends on voluntary donations from the U.S. and other countries. See my interview with Nora O’Connell of Save the Children for more about the budget crisis.

Assadullah Azhari of the World Food Programme took these photos of the WFP-Aschiana program:

WFP’s Food for Training Program in Afghanistan provides rations for street children at Aschiana Foundation Centers. Funding is needed by WFP and Aschiana to ensure these programs can be maintained and expanded to reach impoverished children. (photo courtesy WFP/Assadullah Azhari)

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Is Anyone Paying Attention to Food Shortages in Afghanistan?

This a file photo of a girl during class in an accelerated learning center in Balkh Province in Northern Afghanistan. The province she lives in has now been struck by massive drought which is causing severe food shortages. The UN says the Balkh Province has one of the highest rates of "severe food insecurity." (Photo: Mats Lignell / Save the Children)

As drought and food shortages have struck Afghanistan, there are alarming reports of child malnutrition. A survey by the charity Oxfam Novib in two drought-affected provinces (Faryab and Saripul) showed global acute malnutrition (GAM) in nearly 14 percent of small children. The global emergency threshold number is 15 percent.

A study by the aid agency Medair showed GAM rates of 30 percent for children 6-59 months in the Badakhshan Province in northeast Afghanistan.  This is a high number of children threatened with such poor nutrition that they face lasting physical and mental damage.

The charity Save the Children is taking action by helping community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) in drought-ravaged northern Afghanistan. This includes providing the miracle peanut paste Plumpy’nut to save small children from the potentially deadly effect of malnutrition. Funding will be crucial to Save the Children so it can carry out this work.

Save the Children is also starting a cash-for-work program in Faryab and Saripul to help families struggling with high food prices and unemployment. The U.S. Food for Peace program is sponsoring this initiative. It could not come at a more critical time.

The United Nations says: “The drought has added burden to an already volatile and impoverished country with considerable challenges and unacceptably high rates of malnutrition.” The UN just issued an appeal for $142 million for drought relief. Even before this disaster began to strike, the UN was low on funding for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

The drought and resulting food shortages place even further strain on an already weakened country. The United Nations reports that “even in normal times Afghanistan has high malnutrition rates with 59% and 9% of under five (U5) children being stunted and wasted, respectively, and 72% of children 6-59 months, 48% of non-pregnant women and 18% of adult men being iron-deficient.”

This malnutrition rate among children is coupled with a lack of education. The UN states there is a “silent crisis of the 42% (5,000,000) children who are not in school due to poverty and vulnerability. More children will be affected by the drought.”

The country already has many street children who are forced to beg for food and other basics. The drought may very well increase the ranks of children forced into this kind of desperation.

What will come next, without robust intervention, will be a steady deterioration within Afghanistan. It is already under way. The charity CARE reports that in the provinces of Jawzjan and Balkh, 80 percent of farmland is unusable because of the drought. People are being forced from their homes in search of food and new jobs to support themselves.

World Vision, working in Ghor and Badghis provinces, finds that “the drought has already severely affected households in these regions where many water sources are running out, children started to get small jobs instead of going to school to improve their family income, while some households started to sell their assets to buy food.”

When food safety nets are not in place, one thing leads to another. Families get forced into desperate actions. If they sell assets to get food today, it also means fewer resources for their livelihood tomorrow. Children may drop out of school and thus sacrifice their future. This is what is happening in Afghanistan. When funding is low for aid agencies, it means there is nothing for the poor to fall back on.

The UN World Food Programme, for instance, had to severely cut back its school meals program because of low funding from the international community. So that is one less safety net in place.

The international community will need to act quickly to support aid agencies working to bring relief and long-term solution to Afghans.

The Afghan people will never be able to make progress if they are constantly fighting off one shock after another. It’s not until there is solid respite from shocks that real development can take place. This all starts in the area of food and nutrition. For without healthy children, there is no road to peace and progress in Afghanistan.

Article first published as Is Anyone Paying Attention to Food Shortages in Afghanistan? on Blogcritics.

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The Investment We Need to Make in Afghanistan

WFP's Food for Training Program in Afghanistan provides rations for street children at Aschiana Foundation Centers. Funding is needed by WFP and Aschiana to ensure these programs can be maintained and expanded to reach impoverished children. (photo courtesy WFP/Assadullah Azhari)

In my article Food and Hope for Street Children in Afghanistan, I talked about a promising collaboration between the UN World Food Programme and the Aschiana Foundation; the idea being food for Afghan children can give them an opportunity to get the education and the training they need to have a future. It’s the one chance Afghanistan has.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided photos of this initiative. It’s a life changer for street children, who live in poverty and are forced to beg just to get basics. With rations provided to them by WFP, they can concentrate on tutoring and training provided at Aschiana Foundation Centers.  It’s a safety net for the street children and their families.

Many an ill of a society can be fixed if children get the right nutrition and education. It’s vital we remember this now, when many people want to turn away from Afghanistan.

A massive drought has struck parts of Afghanistan this year. Food shortages exist in many provinces. Food prices are high. Malnutrition is likely to get worse. The UN World Food Programme is facing a huge funding shortage despite the recent 40 million dollar donation by USAID. The international community needs to come together and invest in fighting hunger in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan drought crisis comes at the exact time Congress is proposing reducing international food aid, one of the most inexpensive foreign policy initiatives. Reducing Food for Peace and other hunger fighting programs will harm Afghanistan and other countries where development and peace are on the line.

Support for the World Food Programme, Aschiana Foundation, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Oxfam and others is vital at this stage. There should be no withdrawal of humanitarian aid from Afghanistan.

Article first published as The Investment We Need to Make in Afghanistan on Blogcritics.

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Food for Afghan Schoolchildren Runs Out as Drought Strikes

How can we expect to write the peace without basic food and education for Afghan children? Low funding for WFP has forced the reduction of school feeding programs in Afghanistan. (WFP/Ebadullah Ebadi)

As drought and high food prices have descended upon Afghanistan, safety nets have been taken away from children. Low funding for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) means 1.5 million Afghan children are no longer receiving a school feeding ration.

The situation is getting worse. WFP reports that the supply of fortified high energy biscuits for Afghan school children will run out by November. This will bring a halt to school feeding in Afghanistan and leave another 500,000 children without a school meal. A donation from India is expected to arrive in December, but this will allow for only a limited resumption of the program.

WFP depends entirely on voluntary donations by the international community. Since funding has run dry, all year they have been forced to reduce their school feeding and other food aid programs in Afghanistan.

While they have done this, drought conditions have set in around parts of the country causing food shortages. High food prices remain a threat to the entire impoverished Afghan population.

While hunger escalates in Afghanistan and around the world, the U.S. Congress is proposing reducing funding for the Food for Peace and other global hunger fighting programs.

Food is desperately needed right now in Afghanistan. The international community needs to support urgent food aid for the drought-affected areas. School feeding should be resumed at once and expanded where possible.

Afghanistan’s future cannot be built upon hunger, suffering, and a lack of education. Child feeding programs take on the utmost urgency as malnutrition and lack of education threaten an entire generation of Afghans.

Article first published as Food for Afghan Schoolchildren Runs Out as Drought Strikes on Blogcritics.

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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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