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Beating global hunger requires political leadership, report says

 


April 14, 2004

A UMNS Report By Linda Green*

More than 800 million people throughout the world live with hunger every day because political leadership, which could end the problem, is lacking, according to a new study on hunger.

Worldwide, 842 million people go hungry daily, according to the 14th annual Hunger Report, released by the Bread for the World Institute April 14. For every six people who have enough to eat, one man, woman or child does not. In the United States, 13 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in 10 U.S. households are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.

The report calls the hunger problem in the United States and the developing world political because solutions are attainable with the proper leadership.

"We know what needs to be done to turn the corner in the battle against hunger," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World Institute. "Far too many children go to be hungry each night, be they in Malawi or Milwaukee. The problem is not the lack of food. Hunger is a political problem, and people need to demand change from their elected officials."

This year's report, titled, "Are We on Track to End Hunger?" analyzes the progress that has been made against hunger and why backtracking is occurring on the goals set forth by world leaders in the 1990s. It also assesses U.S. nutrition programs and international development policies, and offers a set of reforms to get the United States and developing countries back on track.

The United Methodist Committee of Relief is one of the report's sponsors. Through the relief organization's world hunger and poverty program, Bread for the World is a partner in hunger initiatives and is also supported by United Methodists as an Advance Special.

"The report gives United Methodists and other agencies working on hunger a valuable resource, and Bread for the World, through (its) offering of a letter campaign and kit, enables United Methodists to be part of a movement to lobby Congress on issues to alleviate hunger and poverty in the U.S and around the world," said June Kim, executive secretary of UMCOR's world hunger and poverty program.

The 2004 report is a call to United Methodists to take a stand in advocating the alleviation of hunger and keeping that agenda before Congress, Kim said. "In light of what is happening in the world today, and although people across the United States would like to see the government work to reduce hunger and poverty, it is not on the agenda right now. (Leaders) are focused on other issues.

"United Methodists have to continue to bring poverty and hunger issues to the forefront of our representatives so that they don't get sidetracked in the other 'pressing' issues at hand," she said. Advocacy is about addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty, and U.S. citizens have the responsibility and the means to reduce hunger in the world, she said.

World leaders set a goal in the mid-1990s of cutting hunger in half globally by 2015 and in the United States by 2010. The study shows that leaders have backtracked in reaching the goal, and the number of hungry people is rising at 5 million a year. People are willing to engage in the hunger battle worldwide, but political leaders need to harness that will and expand proven initiatives, according to the report.

Anti-hunger programs are important to 94 percent of U.S. voters and should be supported, even in times of budget deficits and economic hardships, according to the report. However, some elected officials expect churches and charities to lead the hunger fight, while food banks and other organizations are stretched beyond their means, the report noted.

Private donations to food banks and soup kitchens net up to $4 billion annually, compared to the $44 billion annually spent on federal programs, Bread for the World reported.

If the United States is to meet its goal of cutting hunger in half by 2010, nutrition programs must be reformed to catch the people falling through the cracks, Beckmann said. "It is up to our political leaders to make this happen."

Addressing basic needs such as food and health care around the world would help reduce problems such as terrorism, she said.

"Politics has a major hand in what can go wrong and right in this world, and if food or poverty or the basic necessities for survival are not secured for everybody in the world, then the world is not at peace," Kim said. "The political agenda can make or break what needs to happen."

To reduce hunger in the United States, the report said that federal policies must support the efforts of poor people to help themselves by providing opportunities for decent jobs, education and training.

A similar but integrated approach is needed to address international hunger and poverty, since most of the world's poor live in rural areas, according to the report. Efforts must emphasize increasing agricultural productivity while pursuing an integrated approach to rural development that includes health, education, infrastructure, women's and small farmers' needs.

The 2004 Hunger Report is available at www.bread.org. People interested in giving to Bread for the World through the United Methodist Church can do so by designating checks for "World Hunger/Poverty," Advance No. 982920-4, and dropping them in church offering plates or sending them to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, N.Y. 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling toll free (800) 554-8583.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer.  News media can contact Linda Green at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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