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Food for Peace Must Remain an American Priority

by William Lambers on Mar 12, 2008

William Lambers
 

The United States says it will be scaling back food donations to impoverished countries because of soaring food prices. This announcement deals a devastating blow to the survival of many countries who depend on food aid. In nations like Sudan and Afghanistan, peace and stability hinge on preventing hunger.

Despite the financial burden for the United States, it is urgent that we continue to provide food to countries in need if we intend to nurture peace. Americans have risen to meet the challenge of delivering humanitarian aid abroad before.

The destruction caused by World War II left hundreds of millions of people at risk of starvation. The United States had to send massive food aid to countries such as Germany. Former President Hoover noted, "It may come as a great shock to American taxpayers" to give aid to those with whom they had just been in a death struggle. But America led the way, saving millions of lives. The United States then shouldered the expense of the European reconstruction program known as the Marshall Plan.

Today, the United States needs to increase funding for its "Food for Peace" program, which promotes peace and stability while it fights hunger abroad. Food for Peace is a major supplier to the UN World Food Programme's life-saving work in impoverished nations. Hunger and poverty claim 25,000 lives each day across the globe. A human disaster, it's also a major source of instability.

Other American aid programs such as the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program need more funding. The McGovern-Dole program is vital to developing countries because it provides school lunches to children, an essential plan to boost their health and school performance. More money for these programs is essential now to make up for shortfalls caused by higher food prices.

Back in postwar Germany preventing hunger was the top priority for the American general Lucius D. Clay. Gen. Clay described how he "begged and argued for food" for the German people. Clay knew that Americans did not want to see suffering among the Germans and that a new democratic government in that country hung in the balance.

Today in Afghanistan the rising cost of wheat is forcing Afghans to struggle to get basics such as bread. The World Food Programme has put out a $77 million appeal to provide food for suffering Afghans. We can't expect democracy and freedom to catch on in Afghanistan — or anywhere for that matter — in the midst of hunger.

Darfur is another example where food is crucial for achieving peace. In Darfur, ongoing insecurity, coupled with the upcoming rainy season of April and May, poses a massive challenge to feed millions of refugees. Roads become impassable with heavy rains, thus preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching their destination. Should food aid to Darfur be reduced, it would dash hopes of peace in that war-torn region.

Iraq is also a country where food is necessary for reconstruction and peace. Many Iraqis are displaced within their country due to sectarian violence and need food aid. More than two million Iraqis have fled, with over a million of these refugees landing in Syria. According to the World Food Programme director, Josette Sheeran, "Iraqi women, children and men are unable to meet their basic food needs and social support systems in Syria are being overstretched."

Food aid to developing nations has to be a top foreign policy priority for the United States. Higher food prices are making this essential commitment more difficult to fulfill. But failure to do so will perpetuate the hunger that is the gravest threat to peace.


William Lambers is an author and historian who partnered with the World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World” (2009).