President Obama will be delivering the State of the Union before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. Catholic Relief Services and other aid agencies want the President to focus on global hunger.
There are 805 million people worldwide living in hunger. With wars raging in the Middle East and Africa this number grows daily. What can the President do?
Today I asked Bill O’Keefe, the Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), about the state of world hunger.
What would CRS like to see the President do about the global hunger crisis, particularly with the wartime emergencies where the humanitarian needs are increasing every day?
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) urges President Obama to commit the US government to addressing both expanding humanitarian needs and the long-term causes of systemic hunger. Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic all present immediate and urgent challenges. We would like to see the Administration’s budget fund emergency food relief, refugee assistance, and other humanitarian programs sufficient to address anticipated needs. At the same time, the Administration needs to put in place long-term strategies to help people in these areas improve agricultural practices and earn more income to provide food for themselves. The Administration can support efforts to strengthen the incredible resiliency of families, even those that find themselves in the midst of war, so they can provide more for themselves. Ultimately, ending these conflicts provides the best chance for people there to thrive and the Administration needs to expand its efforts to find solutions to conflict through diplomatic engagement.
The resources required to respond to these emergencies must not detract from longer-term anti-hunger programs supported by Food for Peace and Feed the Future lest more countries slide slowly into instability. And focusing on immediate needs must not detract from global climate negotiations that are needed to protect poor families in the developing world—who have contributed the least to the causes of climate change but stand to suffer the most from it.
Does CRS think the President can work with the Congress on hunger during this difficult political time?
Yes, CRS finds bipartisan support for the fight against global hunger and the President can build on that support for an even more robust response. The President has to be smart about when to fight battles and when to stand on common ground. The Republican-led Congress shares a desire to ensure that global hunger programs help the most vulnerable in sustainable ways so that ultimately they can feed themselves. This means investing not just in emergency programs that help people get through today, but also investing strongly in long-term interventions that change the way people grow food, participate in markets, and prioritize actions that pay dividends in the future. Such programs — McGovern-Dole which promotes education, Food for Peace development programs that help whole communities more sustainably grow food, and Feed the Future which helps good farmers get better — address hunger issues while satisfying policy makers who want to taxpayer dollars spent on high impact, sustainable programs. In addition to providing robust funding for these programs, the President and Congress can authorize the Feed the Future program so it will continue into the next administration.
Additionally, this Congress will likely be supportive of efforts to reform how government works; reforms that make it more transparent and efficient. As such, this is a great environment to push forward reforms to agricultural cargo preference rules that affect food aid programs. Current interpretations of the law hamstring food aid programs and make shipping costs more expensive than they need to be. For instance, food aid programs must ship 50% of the commodities being sent on US flagged carriers, which generally are much more expensive than other ships. Even more onerous, current interpretations of the law require that this 50% requirement be applied to each food aid program, and to each country receiving food aid. For countries where there is only one shipment in a year, this means all the food aid going to that country has to be on a US carrier. In countries where there may be a McGovern-Dole and a Food for Peace program, it means the 50% requirement has to be met by each of the programs separately. These interpretations drive up the up the costs of the program needlessly. A different and more reasonable interpretation of the underlying law could remedy this and allow food aid programs to spend more of their funding on helping hungry people.