May 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: US Embassy in Italy: U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: Current Issues in World Hunger

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U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: Current Issues in World Hunger

U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: Current Issues in World Hunger

U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: Current Issues in World Hunger



"Current Issues in World Hunger"

U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee Briefing

Representative Henry Hyde, Chairman

MAY 11, 2004

I. Introduction

It is great to be back in Washington, DC. It is an honor and a privilege for me to continue my public service as an Ambassador of the United States – a representative of the American people, not just the people of Dayton, Ohio, and as an advocate for the world’s hungry.

Chairman Hyde, I am grateful that you have invited me back to appear before your committee. Thank you. Vice Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Lantos, distinguished Members of this Committee, thank you for providing me with this platform to speak about my passion – ending world hunger. As you know, it is a subject I care about very deeply – and a problem that most people want to forget.

II. My Appreciation

I want to start my remarks by saying thank you in a bigger way. While your work requires you to be here in Washington, the decisions you make in support of humanitarian and development assistance save lives all around the world. Your efforts make sure that more men, women and children don’t die from hunger. As it is, around 25,000 people will die today from hunger and related causes. 25,000 more will die tomorrow and the same number died yesterday.

Thank you for the contributions of this committee and your leadership on many issues, such as HIV/AIDS, school feeding, the President’s proposed Famine Fund and the new Millennium Challenge Account. Many of your constituents might not fully understand the great work you do to demonstrate America’s compassion for people in need, but I sure do.

I know that most of you do not get to visit the places where our food aid goes to feed the hungry. But I have visited many of these places as I have traveled to more than 110 countries and most of the humanitarian hotspots in the past 20 years.

I have spoken with the mother who doesn’t have anything to feed her kids in Ethiopia, so she leaves the house before they wake up in the morning in order not to face them or hear their hungry cries. I have looked into the eyes of an orphan in Malawi who lost both of his parents to AIDS and watched him eat the one solid meal per day that he gets through a charitable feeding program. I have visited citizens of the newest country in the world, East Timor, who were grateful for American assistance in giving them a new start. For them, and the millions of others who depend on the generosity of the United States to survive, I say thanks to all of you.

III. My Current Mission and The Generosity of the United States

When President Bush asked me to serve in this capacity, one of the primary things he asked me to do was to "communicate and demonstrate America’s compassion for people in need." Americans are a generous people and, when they know about a problem, they usually want to help.

I spend a great deal of my time on public diplomacy – telling the world the good story we have. Right outside my office, I have bags on the wall that say "Gift of the People of the United States" in Arabic, Pashto and Korean. Those bags of wheat or rice represent some of the best ideals and action that America has to offer the world. Especially in a time of bad news, our humanitarian aid is good news waiting to be shared.

The U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture is small – about the size of a Congressional office – but it could not have a more noble purpose. It is reflected in our mission statement: "Putting into action America's commitment to alleviate hunger and build hope in the world". This is a tall order, but one that we take seriously. We represent the United States to the UN Agencies that deal with issues of hunger – the World Food Program (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

I am proud to note that the United States contributed $1.46 billion in food aid through the World Food Program in 2003. This is the largest voluntary donation to the UN and to a humanitarian agency in history.

The United States is WFP's leading donor. Overall, donor support to WFP in the past decade totaled $19.94 billion, of which the United States contributed $8.77 billion – almost half. Last year, we gave 57 percent of their total budget and, in some recent years, it has been as high as two-thirds. This is a fact that President Bush noted with pride in his State of the Union speech two years ago.

But our generosity goes even deeper than that. At $9.9 billion, Official Development Assistance accounts for just 18 percent of total U.S. assistance—public and private—to developing countries. Private international assistance, by contrast, is estimated at another $33.6 billion. Along with charitable, university and corporate assistance, estimated U.S. international assistance to developing countries from all sources totaled $56.2 billion dollars.

Finally, we are not backing away from government assistance. Through the leadership of this committee, U.S. Official Development Assistance will be increased through the President’s Millennium Challenge Account. This funding will support reformers and reward good performance – for a select group of 16 countries announced last week. It is clear that in good policy environments, a dollar of aid will attract two dollars in private capital. And in the monumental struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, you have pushed the United States to accept its global leadership role in turning the tide against this scourge through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.

Allow me to turn now to five themes that are essential to addressing the challenge of world hunger today.

IV. Specific Themes in the Fight to End Hunger

1. Food aid as a tool

Our food aid produces so much more than full stomachs. Everywhere I travel, people are eating food with USA on the package – former child soldiers who were happy to trade their guns for a regular meal and hope for the future, women whose only hope of recovery began with proper nutrition, farmers who were building everything from roads to fish ponds in exchange for a sack of food and some seeds to start their lives over again. Those are just examples from the DR Congo.

In Albania, food aid is being used as an incentive for women to get training and education that helps prevent them from becoming victims of human trafficking. Around the world, food for work projects are reforesting mountains stripped of their trees, constructing small-scale irrigation projects that will help farmers become self-sufficient, and rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in natural disasters.

Food aid is a great tool for leveraging other development goals – more often than not, it gets into hungry mouths, instead of cash, which can be easily used for other things. While it is not appropriate in every situation, it is a tool that works and we should continue to use it to help build a world with less hunger and poverty.
2. HIV/AIDS and Nutrition

HIV/AIDS is a multi-faceted killer. By every analysis, AIDS is a primary cause of world hunger. More than that, in many places in the developing world, hunger and malnutrition are what cause those with HIV to die from AIDS, and to do so much sooner than they would otherwise. My recent missions to Ethiopia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi – all of which are among countries with the highest HIV-infected populations – confirmed this grim reality for me beyond any doubt.

AIDS is devastating the agricultural labor force – in fact, more than seven million farmers have died in Africa in the past two decades. AIDS has a huge impact: on adults’ ability to prepare food for children; on lost farming skills handed down from one generation to the next; on family incomes; on women and their legal right to land; on the loss of biodiversity of crop varieties; and on diminished nutrition. On this last point, some have observed that the first medicine for AIDS is good nutrition. While it cannot cure or prevent the disease, a nutritious diet can make the immune system healthier, which is so necessary for improving the quality of living.

I am pleased that your colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have focused on this very topic today, hearing testimony from USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias and WFP Executive Director Jim Morris. I am concerned that without a deeper appreciation of the link between nutrition and AIDS, your hard work to provide more resources for this fight will not be as affective as it could be.

3. School Feeding

For 19 cents a day, we can provide a meal for a hungry child at school. This is probably the single best investment we can make for the future of children in the developing world. School feeding helps get kids to school, keeps them there and helps them to learn while they are there.

I have seen many examples of decreased drop-out rates and increased attendance and performance, simply by offering lunch or breakfast – just like we do here in the United States. Together with complementary efforts, like deworming medicine or nutrition education, the investment in school feeding will pay rich dividends in the future and we’re seeing the evidence to prove it.

Your strong support for the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education Program has provided crucial resources for this vital initiative around the world. One of my staff just returned from Central America, where severe malnutrition is on the rise. The governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are very grateful for U.S. assistance for school feeding, but extremely concerned about cuts in the funding. Support for the program is growing worldwide, as evidenced by the fact that other countries are following our lead and contributing to these programs. Additionally, the Government of Chile has spearheaded the establishment of the Latin American School Feeding Network, a continent-wide initiative that seeks to involve the private sector in much the same way as our own school lunch and breakfast programs.

4. Biotechnology

I deal with this issue all of the time and it upsets me to no end when our allies attempt to slander our food aid on the basis of its biotech content.

The U.S. position on food aid and foods derived from biotechnology is clear. People around the world have been eating biotech food for years, without any negative health effects. Biotech foods help nourish the world’s hungry population, offer tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition and protect the environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use. This position is fully endorsed by a joint biotech report from the national science academies of the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.

In fact, biotech food is eaten daily – and has been for years – by you and me and millions of Americans. We feed it to our own children. How much more proof do people need that we think it is safe?

Our common goal should be to work closely with all food-insecure countries to better understand the facts and science of biotech foods, so that misunderstandings and misperceptions do not lead to delays and barriers that endanger the lives of millions of people. I continue to speak out on this issue, especially as countries in Africa continue to endanger their own populations because of mistaken policy decisions.

Finally, I would like to quote the words of former President and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter: "if imports like these biotechnology crops are regulated unnecessarily, the real losers will be the developing nations. Their countries could suffer for years to come. It is crucial to reject the propaganda of extremist groups before it is too late."

5. Food as a weapon in the war against terrorism

The President’s National Security Strategy has three pillars – defense, diplomacy and development. The first two are getting plenty of attention. Without serious consideration of the development piece, by this body and others, this three-legged stool will fall down.

It is not as simple as saying that our terrorist enemies are all poor and hungry and that is why they are fighting the United States. But it is safe to say, that, unless we drain the swamps of poverty, they will have a much easier time recruiting others. As one Pakistani teacher stated about the training of terrorists, "It’s poverty and hunger that drive these students to the madrasahs. If their stomachs weren’t empty, they wouldn’t come."

I am proud of the small role that our mission was able to play in the feeding of 26 million Iraqis and in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. We were able to help coordinate our governments’ efforts with the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization to ensure that no one starved in Iraq and that they could begin to feed themselves again. This is just one of many success stories that I have tried to tell.

As all of you are aware, there is no shortage of crisis situations around the world. Allow me to highlight just a few.

V. The Current Hunger Hotspots Around the World

1. Sudan
– What we are witnessing throughout the Western region of Darfur and in neighboring Chad is a dramatic humanitarian crisis. It is, no doubt, one of the worst in the world today. It is a crisis of massive displacement, critical humanitarian needs, and extreme levels of violence and fear – as documented in the UN and Human Rights Watch reports issued last week. The UN estimates that at least one million people have been displaced, both internally and to Chad. About ten percent of the displaced – about 100,000 refugees – have fled across the border. Eastern Chad is a very poor, dry and difficult area under regular circumstances, so providing support to an additional 100,000 people poses tremendous challenges to the Government of Chad and aid agencies.

Inside Darfur, another 900,000 have been terrorized into leaving their homes and villages. Only about half of the internally displaced are estimated to actually live in camps. The others are scattered throughout towns and rural areas, with many of them hiding from the militias and without any access to assistance. It is clear that UN agencies and international NGOs have to strengthen their capacity on the ground as quickly as possible. All of these operations require the urgent and generous support of donors, but first and foremost, the full cooperation of the Government of Sudan.

For UN agencies, the priorities and financial requirements for the remainder of the year are set out in two special appeals – a total of U.S. $140 million for the response in Darfur and $30 million for assistance to refugees in Chad. I want to acknowledge the leadership shown by my friend Jim Morris of WFP who traveled to Darfur in late April and stressed, in meetings with senior Sudanese Government officials, the immediate need for full and unimpeded access to all areas of Darfur. Given the overwhelming needs, urgency and logistical challenges that face the international community, any delays caused by cumbersome bureaucratic procedures cannot be accepted. Whether it is visas and travel permits for international UN and NGO staff, or import permits for equipment and supplies, further stalling at this stage will cost lives.

2. Ethiopia – Mr. Chairman, I just returned from my sixth trip to this country last month. In 1984, when I was the first Member of this House to witness the Great Famine, Ethiopia had a population of 40 million, an estimated 8 million people were affected by drought, and one million died. In 2003, the country, whose population had grown to 69-70 million, was affected by a similar drought, which put more than 13 million at serious risk. Thankfully, people did not die in terrible numbers and we showed that –working together – we can prevent famine.

I am proud that in 2003 the United States contributed more than half a billion dollars ($533 million, including one million tons of food) to feed the hungry and prevent the emergency from becoming the tragedy that happened 20 years ago. Building on our success last year, we all need to intensify our efforts until collectively, we succeed in breaking Ethiopia’s cycle of famine. The $20 million that Congress provided for the President’s Famine Fund was a good first step to ensure that we have the flexibility to deal with situations before they explode into full-blown famines. Hopefully, the upcoming G8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia will continue the forward momentum on a famine prevention strategy. I will continue to push the UN agencies, along with our fellow donors, to work together on comprehensive solutions in the immediate and longer terms.

3. Democratic Republic of the Congo – Having traveled all over the world, I have never seen a place like the Congo, which I visited last September. Nowhere have I witnessed so much suffering on such a massive scale – the flame of childhood has been snuffed out in the eyes of so many child soldiers, millions are going hungry because they are forced to abandon their farms and women are raped in such a way that it is not just a violation of the woman, but the very fabric of society.

It is a place where the people sing and dance while they toil, where the soil grows anything planted in abundance, and where the United Nations and the humanitarian community are working very well collectively to address the issues at hand.

I am proud that the people of the United States have not abandoned the Congo during its time of trouble. Last year alone, we have provided more than $100 million in assistance, plus hundreds of millions more through international organizations. Additionally, the United States gave more than three quarters of all the food that WFP has received in the past two years. As I mentioned earlier, food aid is leveraging so much more.

4. Iraq – Part of the story that has not been told is that no Iraqi starved – at any point since we assumed responsibility. There have been no food riots, because we made sure that every Iraqi had enough to eat. Our UN colleagues in WFP carried out the largest humanitarian operation ever, directly moving 2 million tons of critically needed commodities over the last year to assist some 27 million Iraqis. They successfully renegotiated Oil-for-Food contracts (after Saddam Hussein’s control of the program ended), responded admirably to the terrible bombing of August 19 and facilitated the procurement of more than one million tons of the 2003 Iraqi wheat harvest. They did this with resources provided overwhelmingly by the United States and our coalition partners. We all look forward to a time when Iraqis are able to feed themselves.

As this committee is well aware, there are some concerns about the administration of the Oil-for-Food Program that need to be investigated. My mission has been working very closely with WFP and FAO, since they received primary responsibility last year, to ensure that their administration of parts of the OFF Program has operated with transparency, efficiency and accountability.

5. North Korea – Since mid-2002, economic adjustments have aggravated disparities in access to basic foods between better-off rural populations and those in urban areas accounting for some two-thirds of the country's 23 million people. Operating conditions for WFP and the NGOs in North Korea are a persistent and serious concern. Current restrictions limit their ability to properly monitor distributions and measure needs. WFP has made some progress, but still has more to go to reach international standards. We continue to push WFP and our allies to demand more from the North Korean government. We will not rest until we have assurances that our food is getting to those most in need.

While increased agricultural production in recent years has reduced the country's cereals gap, and the need for external assistance, its food crisis is likely to persist. As I have personally witnessed, it is a wonderful sight to see some of the twenty million bags with the American flag on them, being used as suitcases by the people. They will not forget those who helped them in their time of need.

6. Haiti – More than half of Haiti's eight million people were already dependent on food aid even before the crisis that led to former President Aristide departure at the end of February. Even now, despite excellent work by the US-led Multinational Interim Force to restore stability and support for critical work by USAID, international aid is getting primarily to the towns but not the countryside, where many are left to fend for themselves. In addition to food, medicines are also critically lacking and safe water supplies are only partially available. UNICEF conducted a nation-wide rapid assessment of the impact of the recent violence on Haiti's children last month. Their findings reveal that conflict had a severe impact on children, as the supply of food was reduced, medical attention was almost unobtainable, and schools in some areas closed for months. We are working in Rome with our UN colleagues to have them increase and improve their operations in Haiti.

7. Central America – Food insecurity triggered by recurring natural disasters, and compounded by an economic downturn resulting from a slump in world coffee prices (before the recent rebound in prices began), has placed rural and urban populations in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in a crisis situation. Almost five million people have been affected by hunger and malnutrition since Hurricane Mitch in 1999. The situation continues to prevent indigenous people, the landless, women-headed households and other excluded groups from escaping poverty and hunger. One of my staff just returned last week from field visits to Guatemala and Nicaragua, and was impressed by the efforts of WFP, which focused on assistance to vulnerable groups, support to education, and recovery of livelihoods.

As I mentioned earlier, they are concerned about anticipated shortfalls in funding for school feeding activities in 2004 and 2005. In Nicaragua alone, some 200,000 children may have to be withdrawn from school feeding programs as early as July 2004. Programs in neighboring countries are similarly at risk.

VI. Our Specific Challenge

In conclusion, and with that as the backdrop, let me read you something – "within a decade, no child will go hungry, no family will fear for its next day's bread, and no human being's future and capacity will be stunted by malnutrition."

Now these are wonderful goals. But the fact is that they are goals that were never met. That was a quote from the World Food Conference in 1974. Ten years after that goal was adopted, about a million people died in the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85.

And two years ago in Rome, we had the World Food Summit: five years later, and in 1996, the World Food Summit. It was the same thing.

You see, goals only count if you meet them. Otherwise they are just empty promises – and empty bellies.

As leaders and elected officials, you can help educate your constituents about hunger. They’ll respond, because they truly do care. You can help to create the political will that will push us all to do better.

VII. Conclusion

Why can't we solve this problem of hunger – of two billion people surviving on less than two dollars a day, 842 million severely malnourished, and 25,000 people dying every day?

It is not rocket science. We know what to do, we just need to muster the will to do it. Mother Theresa was once asked, "don’t you think that your efforts to help the poor are just a drop in the bucket?" "No," she replied, "they are a drop in the ocean, but if I didn’t do them, there would be fewer drops in the ocean."

I am privileged to contribute my few drops. Together, we can flood the world’s hungry with a wave of compassion. Thank you.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: US Embassy in Italy

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