Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

10 posts from July 2008

Third World Inequality in America? You bet.

Economy of American Samoa

Image via Wikipedia

Reuter's published an editorial yesterday about the distribution of wealth and income  in the United States.  The article compared the distribution inequality to that in the developing world.

Today, the United States has the largest gap between rich and poor of any Western industrialized country. In terms of equitable distribution of income and wealth, the U.S. is closer to Iran, Argentina or Mexico than to Canada or Germany.

With the elections less than 100 days away, this should be a huge issue for the presidential candidates and local elections.  But, when was the last time you heard either presidential candidate talk about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in our nation? Food stamps are going out at record levels this year.  This is a wake up call.

Here at Bread, we're mobilizing by launching BEAT 2008 - Bread's Election Action Teams Against Hunger 2008.  Stay tuned for the official launch.

The article goes on to say:

Poverty and inequality are not usually subject of wide debate in the United States but this is an election year which might mark the beginning of a change. A poll this month by TIME magazine and the Rockefeller Foundation showed that 85 percent of Americans are unhappy with the economy and think their country is on the wrong track. TIME termed the percentage unprecedented.

The poll also showed a striking shift of sentiment towards the role of government in solving the country's problems. More than 80 percent favored public works projects to create jobs and 70 percent advocated government programs to help those struggling to survive in a sinking economy marked by falling home prices, foreclosures, and sharply higher prices for fuel and food.

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Let justice flow...

Christine Sine wrote a beautiful prayer about justice and posted it today on her blog - Godspace

(Adapted from Psalm 72:1-10, & Amos 5:24)

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

Please help those of us who are rich to be honest and fair just like you, our God.

May we who have such abundance be honest and fair with all your people, especially the poor.

Let peace and justice rule every mountain and fairness flow as a river that never runs dry.

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

May we your people defend the poor, rescue the homeless, and crush everyone who hurts them.

May we be as helpful as rain that refreshes the ground, to those who are treated unjustly.

Let the wholeness and fairness of your kingdom live forever like the sun and the moon.

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

Because you our God rescue the homeless and have pity on those who hurt

May we who are rich stand up for the poor and let peace abound until the moon fades to nothing.

Let God’s kingdom of justice and fairness reach from sea to sea, across all the earth.

God let your justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry

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.

"Africa's Last and Least"


The Washington Post has covered the global food crisis for the past two months.  They provide some excellent resources for learning and educating others about the crisis.  Visit the website to read stories of families around the world and how they are coping with the rising cost of food.

On Sunday, Kevin Sullivan reported the story of Fanta Lingani from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  When you consider that Lingni's earnings are less than $10 per month, it puts a few things in perspective.

On her way to the market, Lingani explained the ugly math: A year ago, she could feed her entire family a nutritious meal of meat and vegetables and peanut sauce for about 75 cents. But now the family gets much lower-quality food for twice the price.

She said the cost of six pounds of cornmeal has risen from 75 cents to $1.50. A kilogram -- 2.2 pounds -- of rice cost 60 cents last year and costs a little more than $1 now. Other basics such as salt and cooking oil have also doubled in price.

How much does your bread cost?


Image from j.fisher. Use by Creative Commons license.

This fact is from our weekly legislative update at Bread: 

The cost of food at home went up sharply last month, rising 1.0% in June, compared to a 0.3% increase in May. The cost of food at home was 6.1% higher in June 2008 than in June 2007. Grocery prices have gone up as much in the last six months as they did in all of 2007.

Higher food prices are especially severe in some staple foods, with a variety of products seeing double-digit food inflation compared to a year before. Bread and butter items – literally – are experiencing the greatest inflation. Compared to a year ago, the price of bread was up 15.9 percent, butter 12.3%, cheese 14.7%, flour 21.1%, and eggs 23.2%. Rice was up a whopping 27.6%.

Have you noticed a rise in your grocery bills compared to last year? How are the higher prices having an impact on your community?

Time is running out on the Global Poverty Act

We sent out an action alert today to our networks about the Global Poverty Act.  Congress is quickly approaching the end of its congressional session.  We'd like to see the Global Poverty Act reach the senate floor for a vote.  If it doesn't go to the floor, we'll need to start all over next year with the new congress.  Your voice is important.  Here are a few easy steps for taking action:

1) PRAY: Please pray that God will work in the hearts and minds of all U.S. senators. Pray that God moves them to understand that taking actions like passing the Global Poverty Act helps our nation keep the promises it has made to the world's poorest people.  Pray that the senators will be motivated by a deep concern for justice for all God's people.

2) ACT: Before you make your call, check to see if your member of congress is a cosponsor of the Global Poverty Act (S. 2433).  If so, read a list of talking points for existing cosponsors.

If your senator is not listed as a cosponsor, ask them to cosponsor the Global Poverty Act (S. 2433) and pass the legislation before the end of this congressional session.   Call 1-800-826-3688 as soon as possible but no later than July 25. 

[Note:  This toll-free number will connect you to the Capitol switchboard, where you will ask to be connected to your senator's office in order to leave your message. Find out who your senators are.]

Key points to make when you call:

  • Please cosponsor the Global Poverty Act. (If your senator is already a cosponsor--click here for the list--your talking points will be different. Read the list of talking points for senators who have signed on as cosponsors.)
  • With time running out on the legislative calendar, Senate leadership needs to see a robust list of cosponsors to move this important bill to the floor.
  • The Global Poverty Act seeks to bring clarity, coordination, and accountability to our foreign assistance programs has already passed through the House and has bipartisan support in the Senate.
  • The act would require the president to develop and implement a coordinated strategy of U.S. aid, debt relief, and trade policies to meet the goal of cutting by half the number of people who live on less than $1 a day by 2015.

Visit this page for background information.

Post in the comments section to let us know how it goes!

Voices from the Field

There are some excellent blog posts about the global food crisis.  Compassion International's blog features a post from their staff, Karen Wright, who visited Tanzania.  She claims the global food crisis is not necessarily global, rather experienced differently in local communities.  She writes:

"For the woman I met in Tanzania, the increased cost of food meant her children could feed themselves or they could feed their mother in her illness. That’s a burden no child should have to carry. Sadly, I fear this story is not unique." Karen Wright on Compassion International's Blog

Masimba Biriwasha writes some incredibly thoughtful posts over at EcoWorldly.  One of his recent entries, "Where's All the World's Food?" focuses on short and long-term solutions to the food crisis.  I appreciate how he connects the larger political solutions to the personal story of Thai Rice farmers.

"With increased political will, fair trade and investments into agricultural systems, hopefully rice farmers in Thailand will, once again, have nights filled with sleep unafraid of waking up to a bare rice field harvested by some unscrupulous characters bent on making a quick dollar. "

Are you reading other blogs or news sources that you've found helpful on this topic?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Rev. Sudhir Sharma on poverty in his region

In response to yesterday's post about the global hunger crisis, I received a message from Rev. Sudhir Sharma.  He serves as the Director of the Centre for Studies in Rural Development and the Institute of Social Work and Research in Ahmednagar, India.  He also pastors two churches, where they are working hard to respond to the needs of the people in their community. He writes:

There is a drought in our district Ahmednagar. There is no water in some villages and no fodder for animals. Situation is difficult. In one of the churches in a village Walki, we have special prayers for the rains and also we are trying to teach to save the water and to use water properly. This village church people are poor Christians who work as labourers and very few are marginal farmers. We have concern for the poorer people who cannot buy good quality food and have to depend on public distribution system through which government provides low quality wheat. We shall submit our protest letters to the government office about this kind of food.
We shall also raise some funds for the orphanage. As our own people ofthe church are poor, we may not do much to raise funds, but we shall awaken rich community to think about the sufferings of the poor.
If possible, the Institute of Social Work and the Christ Church, Walki will start providing one time food to poor and needy people, and also would like to start project like food for work.

Global Hunger Crisis

The USDA published its Food Security Assessment this month.  It reports a rise in hunger around the world.  Institute Notes discusses the report and some of the implications of these findings. 

In the past couple years, we witnessed great progress in the battle against hunger.  People were getting on the first rung of the ladder - making their way out of poverty.  Yet, the rising cost of fuel and food is having a tragic impact on some of the world's most vulnerable people  It's tough to process a set back of these dimensions.  In many ways, this report provides a greater sense of urgency in our work.  We have seen progress.  We know it can be done. Read more about the current crisis.

I've spoken with a number of Bread for the World members in the past month about the global food crisis.  I've asked them, "What are your churches doing in response to the global hunger crisis?" and I'm encouraged by their response.  Many communities are increasing their contributions to development projects around the world.  Others have responded to the immediate needs of their community by opening up the church food pantry more often.  This fall, some churches will organize an Offering of Letters and communicate their concerns to their members of congress. 

What is your church doing to respond?  How can we support you in your advocacy efforts?

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