Ending Hunger Takes Time by Norma Malfatti
When Bread for the World started producing Leaven, a newsletter for Covenant Churches, I was three years old. Almost 30 years have gone by since that first issue and, as I have come to realize after reading sixteen years of hunger facts, bulletin inserts, reflections, activity ideas and so much more, many things have changed. However many things remain the same regarding the plight of poor and hungry people in the world.
In 1980 people in developing countries used 85% of their income on food. Today that figure is about 80% - an improvement to be sure, but only a small one, and with the rising food prices and global hunger crisis, that number is rising every day.
During the mid-1980s 500 million people were food-insecure and one person died every second from hunger and hunger-related illnesses. Today nearly a billion people are food-insecure yet at the same time one person dies only every three seconds from hunger. Considering the increase in world population since the 80s, it is a major feat to have curbed the number of deaths due to hunger.
In 1985, an article talked about African women boiling grass to provide food for their families. Today, in Haiti, people are making mud-pies for dinner because there are no other options.
So, what really has improved for the hungry in Bread for the World’s 34 years? Are the tireless efforts of Bread’s staff, 2,500 member churches and 60,000+ members all for naught? Despite the bleak statistics of hunger today, we must not forget what Bread for the World’s focus is – both immediate assistance AND long term solutions.
Despite the world growing by a third since 1980 the mortality rate from hunger is, in fact, lower. Immediate assistance has helped to curtail that mortality rate due to hunger while the long-term solutions have been created and implemented. And when those solutions have been found, it takes years to see the results of that work. Take, for instance, the Global Poverty Act, Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters focus this year.
The Global Poverty Act was inspired by the first Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The Global Poverty Act, seeks to put current US foreign assistance programs into a comprehensive strategy involving trade policy, debt cancellation, and private sector efforts to ensure that existing US pro¬grams are more effective and efficient. The legislation calls for a strategy to determine the right mix of aid, trade and debt policies and investment. While the bill has already passed the House it has yet to pass the Senate. If the bill does not pass before the Senate breaks, the bill will die and the next Congress will need to start again if the new president doesn’t make it a priority of his administration.
If the bill is successful and it passes before the end of this Congress, and President Bush signs it, it would not be implemented until next year and even then it will take time to coordinate and strategize a cohesive and efficient foreign assistance program that includes every area of our government. Once the strategy is created and implemented, it still takes time to see the effects of the strategy. Teaching new and better agricultural techniques takes more than just a one day seminar; roads to market aren’t built overnight; health care is more than childhood vaccinations; and we won’t see the full benefits of children entering the educational system until they have graduated, sought employment, worked, had a family of their own to pass on their knowledge, etc, etc. That could take more than 20 years when talking about the children of today. It will take at least a generation to see significant improvements, something we are already seeing from the 1980s – lower mortality rates!
So, contrary to what we all want, ending hunger and poverty is not an overnight fix. Yes, immediate assistance of food and other aid is an overnight solution, but we must wait to see the full of long-term solutions, for effects of hunger and poverty to be reversed, for communities and families to climb out of poverty.
We must indeed have faith to end hunger.
Norma Malfatti is serving as an intern in Bread's Church Relations Department. She wrote this reflection for The Beatitude Society's blog.
She is a Master’s of Divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and is also finishing her Master of Arts in Public Affairs and Policy from the Nelson A. Rockefeller School of Public Affairs and Policy. She has worked this past year with Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania and spent this past January at the Lutheran World Federation/ELCA Ecumenical Experience in Geneva, Switzerland where her class focused on interfaith effort.
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