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U.S. Food Aid: Helping Those Who've Lost Everything

Dadaab 21 - 23 Nov 2007 011
U.S. food-aid products at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. (Stephen H. Padre)

By Stephen H. Padre

Imagine losing everything you have—your possessions, your home, your livelihood. And your friends, relatives, children, or spouse. Even your country.

This is the situation that millions of refugees found themselves in during the 22-year civil war in Sudan that ended in 2005. For many years during the war, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled the fighting and took refuge in northwestern Kenya. Many of them found their way to Kakuma Refugee Camp, which essentially became their new home.

It’s the responsibility of your country’s government to protect you and look after your welfare. When your government can’t do that—when you are forced out of your country because your government is at war, for example—in most cases, the United Nations becomes responsible for you. As a refugee, you are a citizen of a country but are in exile, and therefore have a particular legal status. You can’t always find a way to make a living in your host country. Therefore, you need someone else to support you, which often means providing things as basic as shelter and food.

The U.N. set up Kakuma Refugee Camp in 1992 to house the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war to the north in Sudan. Under the care of the U.N., the camp provided shelter, food and water, health care, education, and other essential services to as many as 200,000 people at the height of its operations.

While the U.N. is responsible for the camp, it contracts out many of the services to private organizations. The Lutheran World Federation, an organization that addresses poverty and is supported by Lutheran churches around the world, was contracted to oversee the day-to-day operations of the camp. In this role, it carried out the distribution of food to camp residents. This was one of the most critical services it provided to refugees who had nothing. Biweekly rations of food staples—including flour, beans, cooking oil—kept people alive day by day.

The path the food took to get to refugees was somewhat complex. But much of it originated in the United States. It had been purchased with American taxpayer dollars and had been sent by the U.S. government to the World Food Program, one of the many U.N. agencies that worked in the camp. The U.S government is the largest donor to the World Food Program.

We as Americans and taxpayers should be proud of our role in providing food to Sudanese refugees. It meant survival for many of them—continuing to live, sometimes for longer than a decade, before they could return to their country.

Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," focuses on our government’s role in providing food to help refugees, survivors of disasters, and people living in the cycle of chronic poverty. While U.S. food-aid programs provide admirable assistance in many ways around the world, they can work even better. With smart reforms, these programs can help up to 17 million more people—and at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Take part in an Offering of Letters, and urge your members of Congress to support changes to policies and practices that will enable U.S. food aid to help more people.

Stephen H. Padre is Bread for the World's managing editor.

 

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