Famine and Food Aid

August 9, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

In the midst of the worst famine to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years, the US Congress has proposed cutting international food aid by 30%.  In addition to these drastic cuts during the ongoing humanitarian crisis, other programs that address food security could also face the chopping block in coming weeks.

Last week, the UN declared that East Africa is suffering from a severe famine that is the result of over two years of negligible rain.  Hundreds are estimated to be dying daily, and nearly one million refugees are fleeing Somalia, the epicenter of the famine, for neighboring countries which are unequipped to handle the logistics and medical needs for such a vast flow of refugees.  Humanitarian agencies in the region have requested $2.5 billion to handle the massive flow of refugees attempting to escape the famine and provide medical care for the starving populations, yet less than $1 billion has been pledged.  Yesterday, President Obama approved an additional $105 million to the efforts, but there have been obstacles to distribution.  Making it more difficult is lack of central government and U.S. provisions against distributing relief that could possibly benefit terrorist organizations.

While further cuts to the International Affairs Budget are expected, cuts to international food aid from the Department of Agriculture budget have already passed the U.S. House, and are devastating in their own right.  Further programs designed to combat food shortages around the world are still at risk for budget cuts in coming weeks.  Feed the Future, for example, is designed to build the basic agricultural infrastructure and safety nets for vulnerable countries that would make a humanitarian crisis like the one in Somalia a thing of the past.  Last week, USAID Administrator Raj Shah emphasized Feed the Future’s value to the United States, saying “It is cheaper and safer for America to make those investments now than to deal with the tragic consequences of famines, failed states, and of food riots.”  While difficult decisions must be made regarding the budget in coming weeks, Congress should consider protecting programs that could save countless lives and demonstrate American values and leadership to the world.