Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

15 posts from October 2008

The Economy and the Global Hunger Crisis

Babywithcup_2 With the world economy in a downturn, we can not forget the people who are dealing with the crisis who started in a crisis:  the poor of the developing world.  A sixth of the world’s population is facing devastating hunger.  The slow progress against hunger in the past is now starting to decline. 

Reported in a recent article in Market Watch, the World Bank acknowledges that, “For those already struggling to meet their daily food and nutrient needs, the double shock of food and fuel prices rises represents a threat to basic survival.  The poorest households are reducing the quantity and/or quality of the food, schooling, and basic services they consume, leading to irreparable damage to the health and education of millions of children.”   

The chairman of the African Union fears that aid to developing countries will be cut because of the economic problems with donor countries.  Currently the proportion of the U.S. budget that funds poverty-focused development assistance is less than one-half a percent. 

Countries like Zimbabwe will be facing a humanitarian crisis by the end of the year without additional aid from donor countries, leaving an estimated 3.8 million people as food insecure, reports IRIN.  The planting season begins soon in Zimbabwe yet the farmers have neither seed nor fertilizer to grow food and the foreign exchange crunch has contributed to their difficulties in importing these needed resources.  The World Food Program made an emergency appeal today for $140 million.

IRIN also reports that Ethiopia opened schools for a new academic year but have few students.  According to the report, parents are not sending their children because, “there was little or nothing to eat at home.” Drought and increased food prices have devastated the ability for the poor to get access to the basic nutrients they need to survive in southern and western Ethiopia.

Note:  For an analysis of how the U.S. economic crisis will affect developing countries read an earlier blog in Institute Notes by Charles Uphaus.

A lesson from Indianapolis Activists: Getting out the Message.

This post is a reprint from an opinion column in the IndyStar.com that was a very inspiring example of grassroots activism.

Taking to the Streets for the Poor
By Fran Quigley

Last week, I participated in a day-long downtown Indianapolis fast and demonstration asking Senator Bayh to join Senator Lugar in co-sponsoring the Global Poverty Act and Jubilee Act.  By committing the U.S. to help reduce extreme poverty and cut the debt burden of struggling countries, these two pieces of legislation would address the obscene fact that 16,000 children die each day simply because they are poor.

We took to the streets in the hopes of educating Hoosiers about global poverty. As it turned out, we were the students, too. Even in the age of blogs, Facebook and cell phones, there are still a few lessons best understood by talking with people face-to-face.

We learned about messaging. Some people we spoke with about our issues gestured to the homeless people sitting near our vigil on west Market Street, and asked, “What about the poverty here at home?”

With deeds instead of words, most of the activists at our demonstration eloquently answer that question every day. The folks who held signs asking Senator Bayh to help hungry children in Haiti and Kenya also volunteer at the local food pantries, care for the sick, and empower the struggling right here at home. Responding to domestic and global poverty is not an either-or proposition, and that message has particular credibility when it comes from those who work for justice and peace every day in Indiana.

Of the few thousand passers-by we approached with our signs and flyers over the course of the day, most were courteous and welcoming. A comparative few had their personal spam filters turned on high, and were suspicious or even hostile.  Perhaps because of a richer cultural history of advocacy for social justice, people of color were the most likely to accept our outreach and engage in discussion.

We learned about politics, too. Few passers-by were previously aware of the legislation we promoted, but many were unsurprised by the contrasting positions of our Indiana senators. Senator Lugar provided early and vocal leadership on the poverty bills, but Senator Bayh has sat on the fence. In response to over a thousand letters by Hoosiers on this legislation, Bayh has responded by offering neither support or opposition, or even an explanation for failing to take a position. 

That didn’t seem to surprise the folks we spoke with. White-haired men in dark suits, women pushing baby strollers and young men walking to the Illinois Street bus stop all shook their heads and offered variations on the same observation: “Bayh doesn’t take a stand on anything.” It was a ground-level echo of the verdict widely pronounced by national and local pundits, but we hope our junior senator defies that reputation by becoming a leader in fighting poverty.

Finally, we learned about grace. Several people passed by, accepted a flyer and walked on, only to double back a few minutes later to offer sincere thanks to demonstrators for speaking out for the least of our brothers and sisters. A political science teacher took photographs to show her class that citizen participation in government isn’t limited to complaining about our own property taxes or 401(K)’s. The many kind “God bless you’s”’ we received made less positive reactions fade into the background. 

In the short term, only Senator Bayh knows what effect our day of fasting and marching may have had. But activists learn to live by the adage that even the Grand Canyon was built a drop of water at a time.  And on the Market Street sidewalk, I learned to treasure the act of walking side-by-side with Hoosiers aged 7 to 78, all standing up for a cause greater than themselves.

Fran Quigley is an Indianapolis attorney who works on global and local poverty issues. He can be reached at franquigley@indy.rr.com   

CR and help for low income Americans.

In 2008’s Offering of Letters, Bread for the World had asked congress to increase funding to poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) by five billion dollars.  This year congress was unable to finalize appropriations and will continue their work in next year.  We will continue asking our nation's decision makers through this year and on into March of 2009 when the Appropriations Committee gets back to work for a needed increase to keep the U.S. on track with the Millennium Development Goals.   September 24th the House passed a $600 billion continuing resolution (CR) for the 2009 appropriations.  The Senate approved the measure on September 27th. 

There are a few bright spots in the CR.

•    The bill includes $5.1 billion for low-income heating assistance (LIHEAP).  With soaring energy prices the poor and the elderly will be hard hit this winter by heating costs. 
•   The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)  program also got a much needed boost in funding of $6.658 billion although that amount is still not adequate to fund WIC for all of FY09.  With increased food prices during this year’s economic downturn, WIC is experiencing growing participation. 
•    Finally, the CR also provides $163 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).  CSFP uses USDA commodities to supplement young mothers and the elderly with nutritious food to their diets.

All these programs depend on annual appropriations.   The increases over 2008 levels are necessary as needs in these programs grow, especially as food prices increase. Continuing resolutions keep funding levels for all programs at the 2008 levels until congress finalizes the 2009 appropriations.

Hope Grounded in Action


This post is by Bread activist Elaine VanCleave from Birmingham, AL.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.” - St. Augustine

This ancient quote from Christian theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo emerged as the overriding theme as I attended global poverty events over the course of two days last week in New York City.

On Sept 22 and 25, the General Assembly of the United Nations conducted two high level meetings to discuss Africa’s Development Needs and, more generally, the Millennium Development Goals.  During the week, NGO’s, philanthropists, business, faith and civil society leaders, scientists, campaigners, and activists met in dozens of complementary events to coincide with this annual meeting of world leaders.  From the Clinton Global Initiative that drew over 1,000 high profile participants, including both presidential candidates, to the outdoor celebrity launch of Will.i.am’s In My Name YouTube project, the Millennium Development Goals, hunger, extreme poverty, and global disease took center stage.

For the previous 51 weeks of the past year, however, extreme poverty, hunger, and global disease remained silent killers with very little press and public attention.  It was UNICEF’s James Grant who, in the 1980’s, first used the image of jumbo jets filled with children crashing repeatedly throughout the day to illustrate how complacently we accept the quiet deaths of, what was then, 40,000 children per day of hunger and related preventable diseases.  In the last 20+ years, that astounding figure has dropped but we still live in a world where a child dies every 3 seconds from hunger and poverty-related causes.

Faced with such a grim statistic as 1 child death every 3 seconds, one could easily feel angry, hopeless, and, in turn, helpless.

Continue reading "Hope Grounded in Action" »

$700 billion for the U.S. economy? How about $72 billion for efforts to end global poverty?

The US Congress was debating the $700 billion rescue package last week at about the same time that world leaders were meeting at the United Nations in New York to track progress on the Millennium Development Goals.   

An article recently published by CommonDreams.org, reprinted from Inter Press Service, draws a contrast between the amount of money that some experts say is needed to save the U.S. economy and the amount that is recommended for world leaders to allocate in order for us to achieve the MDGs by 2015.  The price tag for the U.S. rescue is $700 billion; the amount needed to achieve the MDGs is only about one-tenth that amount: $72 billion.

The article does not criticize the amount spent on rescuing the U.S. economy.  In fact, it suggests that the problem must be fixed because a broken U.S. and global economic system could make the situation worse for poor people around the world.  "This only compounds the damage [already] being caused by much higher prices for food and fuel", the article quoted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as saying.

The point is, that if the U.S. can come up with $700 billion to save the U.S. economy, the wealthy nations of the world can come up $72 billion to help reduce global poverty.

Click here to read the full article, which is entitled No Bailout for the World's Poorest.

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