Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Food Aid and Haiyan: Offering Emergency and Long-Term Help

USAID Phillipines
USAID photo of beneficiaries of U.S. food aid in Tacloban City in the Philippines (photo courtesy of USAID: IOM/J. Lowry).

It took only a moment for Typhoon Haiyan to destroy any semblance of normal life when it pummeled the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving hunger and loss in its wake. Those who survived the storm now face an uncertain future.

American generosity and compassion shine in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, but what happens when the cameras are aimed elsewhere? What happens when the global shock wears off, but hunger remains? Do U.S. food aid policies address long-term solutions to rebuild lives and address hunger? Passing needed reforms in the farm bill would allow U.S. food aid to better assist those in need for extended periods of time.

Being yesterday's news is something displaced Filipino families worry about. "What will happen to us when this kindness ends?" Maribel Villajos, a woman who fled a ravaged Tacloban City in the wake of the typhoon, asked one reporter. Villajos, a mother of three, made her way to Manila, and found temporary shelter and food aid there, but she worries about the future.

As infrastructure in the Philippines is rebuilt, the Villajos family, and other survivors of Haiyan, will need continued assistance.

Since the 1950s, when the United States began the international food aid program, billions of lives have been saved, but policies that dictate how aid is delivered are inefficient and outdated. Using aid dollars to buy food locally is one way to rebuild economies and help farmers rebound by marketing their produce. But since the U.S. Agency for International Development(USAID) has exhausted the bulk of its allotment for such local and regional purchase (LRP), most additional food sent to the Philippines will be shipped from the United States.

Increasing the option to buy food locally, and address both hunger and nutrition, could be an important part of the post-disaster reconstruction in the Philippines—especially with 1.5 million children at risk of acute malnutrition. In a New York Times report, Eric Munoz, a policy analyst with Oxfam International, cautions that without reforms, food aid can destabilize local economies, undercut farmers, and make recovery that much more difficult. Common sense fixes would give USAID experts the flexibility to match resources to the best local solutions.

And while the United States acts quickly to respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the world, reforms could make our government's response time even faster, and decrease the cost of emergency food aid.

Some U.S.-donated rice has already reached the Philippines, because of prepositioned emergency aid, which was put in place in Sri Lanka before the disaster. Additionally, an LRP pilot program (included in the 2008 farm bill) that has allowed for a small amount of food aid to be purchased locally has been essential in helping hungry survivors. But, by law, most U.S. food aid consists of commoditized crops that are shipped from this country on U.S.-owned vessels. A “rush” shipment of rice to the Philippines from the United States would not arrive until late January or early February. In the face of debilitating hunger, that is too long to wait.

The profound loss in the wake of a disaster like Haiyan is heartbreaking, but our collective willingness to help in the face of tragedy speaks volumes about human compassion. Asking our senators and representatives to ensure that U.S. food aid is used as effectively as possible must be  part of our compassionate response. As Congress negotiates a new farm bill, they need to hear from you that food aid must be reformed.

Hunger won’t wait, and neither should help.


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