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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A R C H 2 0 1 2
Christian traditions came together to
call for a “Circle of Protection” from
budget cuts around programs that
serve hungry and poor people. More
than 60 national church leaders and
thousands of other individuals have
now signed the Circle of Protection
statement. I also participated in dis-
cussions with President Barack
Obama and top leaders from both
parties in Congress on why these
programs deserve protection.
What is needed is a program to achieve lasting solutions
— progress that is sustainable because it addresses the
causes of hunger rather than just its symptoms. Poverty-fo-
cused development assistance supports efforts to build re-
silience among poor people. And, as we point out,
preventing hunger and malnutrition is far less costly than
emergency assistance, both in terms of money and human
For instance, the U.S. Feed the Future initiative focuses
on such important but long-neglected areas as agriculture,
rural infrastructure and rural development. The rationale
is straightforward: families are less vulnerable to hunger
and poverty when they have viable strategies to grow suffi-
cient nutritious food and to earn enough money to provide
for their basic needs and a “Plan B” when things go wrong.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
There are, of course, compelling moral reasons to help
hungry people, but we also marshal logical arguments and
hard data. For example, proponents of cuts to food secu-
rity assistance generally argue that the United States
needs to reduce its budget deficit. Yet the facts show that
development assistance did not cause, and cannot fix, the
Nor does even the argument that “every little bit helps”
in balancing the budget holds water. The 17-percent cut to
food aid for Fiscal Year 2011 would have paid for basic ra-
tions for millions of people. Yet its dollar amount was $354
million (or less than half a billion dollars), a pittance com-
pared to the 2011 U.S. budget deficit of $1.7 trillion. These
numbers show that the cut did not contribute in any mean-
ingful way to improving the U.S. fiscal situation. So its im-
pact could not possibly have justified cutting food rations
for refugees and schoolchildren.
Our efforts have met with some success. P.L. 480 food
aid survived the many attempts to
eliminate it and was funded at
$1.466 billion in the FY 2012
budget, slightly lower than its 2011
appropriation of $1.497 billion. Un-
fortunately, total poverty-focused
U.S development assistance fell by 7
percent during FY 2011, with some
programs suffering much larger
cuts. But in the Fiscal Year 2012
omnibus appropriations bill ap-
proved by the House and Senate, poverty-focused devel-
opment assistance fared well, with proposed funding of
$21.3 billion, only a fraction below the FY 2011 level of
$21.4 billion.
As Congress began its work on FY 2012 appropriations,
more than 120 organizations, both secular and faith-based,
signed a letter urging Congress to protect the international
affairs account, particularly poverty-focused development
assistance, from disproportionate cuts.
Why We Are Hopeful
Threats to funding for food security strike a discordant
note, both because starvation continues to kill thousands in
the Horn of Africa and because, for several years now, the
United States has been a global leader on efforts to reduce
There is, in fact, a strong track record of progress against
global hunger, one reason we maintain that it can be elim-
inated. Over the past 40 years, the global rate of hunger has
been cut in half. Only about one-sixth of the world’s pop-
ulation currently suffers from chronic malnutrition, com-
pared with one third of the human race barely a generation
During the past few years, however, progress has been
stalled by a constellation of new and old problems, from
the more frequent droughts associated with climate change
and dramatic volatility in the prices of staple food crops to
neglect of rural areas and gender discrimination.
Yet despite these setbacks, U.S. leadership has champi-
oned efforts to build global political will and generate mo-
mentum to do more to reduce hunger.
For instance, the United States responded promptly to
the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, which pushed an ad-
ditional 100 million people into hunger. Grasping the es-
sential point about that crisis — that it stemmed from
several interconnected factors, some of which were beyond
The kind of hunger that
babies are enduring in
Somalia is not subtle.
Nor are votes to zero out
hunger programs.