By Bob Casey and Jerry Moran
Conflict, displacement, extreme weather events and the pandemic have caused billions of people across the globe to be staring famine or famine-like conditions in the face. As the United States has stepped up to help feed the world in past crises, it is once again time for us to lead the world in addressing this persistent challenge.
American moral leadership in the post-World War II era stemmed from a belief that our sacrifices, still memorialized on the beaches of Normandy, would help realize President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four freedoms—speech, of worship, from want and from fear—for hundreds of millions of people bruised by generations of violence, scarcity and starvation.
That leadership and spirit of humanitarianism combined with our postwar resources enabled the United States to provide immediate assistance to our allies, and soon after, implementation of the Marshall Plan. The United States alleviated the widespread hunger and poverty of postwar Europe and quickly transformed former enemies into future allies and partners.
Yet tonight—in Yemen and Mali; Afghanistan and El Salvador; the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia—nearly a billion people will go to bed hungry, while another 2 billion do not know from where their next meal will come. The problem is not just happening overseas; in 2020, nearly 1 in 4 American households experienced food insecurity, up from 10.5 percent pre-pandemic. For about one third of these households, limited access to food forced families to actively reduce how much they ate.
Whether at home or abroad, food security mostly affects children. A United Nations report issued last month showed that more than 149 million, 22 percent of the world’s children, suffer from stunting, a condition resulting in a weak immune system and impaired growth and development. Meanwhile, more than 45 million suffer from wasting, a condition causing rapid loss of muscle mass and strength in children and putting them at high risk of developing severe and chronic diseases at a very young age. These medical conditions indicate a level of malnutrition so severe that they carry lasting impacts on a child’s brain and other organ development, growth and morbidity and mortality rates.
The United States has already built the foundation to re-envision how the world eats. For decades, American farmers and land grant universities like Pennsylvania State University and Kansas State University have worked together to create nutrition-focused food aid programs that aim to alleviate global hunger and exemplify our values of justice, compassion and humanity in times of want and need. For example, the Food for Peace program provides U.S.-grown food to people in some of the most dangerous and remote areas in the world. This program is uniquely American. It lifts our farmers—the backbone of the American economy—and turns them into food ambassadors.
While U.S. contributions through the Food for Peace program have had an enormous impact, we need a deeper transformation of food systems to enact lasting changes and address root causes of hunger and malnutrition. For too long and in too many ways, the way we grow food and feed the world has perpetuated inequality—powerful entities want for nothing while under-resourced communities struggle to access nutritious, affordable food. We see the greatest successes in breaking the cycle of hunger when we take approaches that simultaneously account for the many challenges communities face.
The United States has the capacity, the know-how and the obligation to not just feed the world, but to change the way the world feeds itself so that we can eradicate hunger for the next generation.
CARE’s Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities (SHOUHARDO) program has dramatically alleviated hunger and malnutrition in Bangladesh. The program improved the lives of more than half a million people by addressing several interconnected factors that affect food security: building families’ earning capacity, improving health and nutrition practices within communities and building the resilience of communities to crisis like droughts or locust invasions to increase their long-term food security.
Now, as in the post-World War II period, we must take advantage of moments of global action to make lasting changes. One of these moments is the upcoming United Nations’ Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), a truly global and all-encompassing effort to deliver healthier, more sustainable and more equitable food for the world. This summit represents a key moment for the United States to commit to supporting more equitable and stronger food systems both at home and abroad. As U.S. senators, we will make sure that Congress leads in this effort by strengthening the Global Food Security Act in its upcoming reauthorization to ensure more nutritious food reaches more people in a more sustainable and resilient way.
Just as we did 75 years ago, we have an opportunity to take bold action to eradicate world hunger. Thankfully, we are now not only armed with the power of American values, but with decades of experience innovating and implementing proven programs. The time is now to act together.
Casey and Moran are United States Senators and co-chairs of the Senate Hunger Caucus
This article was first published at www.newsweek.com under the title ‘The United States Has a Moral Responsibility to Eradicate Global Hunger.