Andrew S. Natsios, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, sent a shudder through the room at a food aid conference in Kansas City, Mo., in May when he said that food aid to the survivors of disasters is a higher priority than aid for development programs. Two-thirds to three-quarters of U.S. food aid will go to emergencies, Mr. Natsios said. The declaration confirmed what, in fact, has been the practice of the government lately, especially in the wake of disasters like the tsunami in Asia last December and the continuing humanitarian crisis in Sudan. But considering that the cost of responding to emergencies is calculated at seven times the cost of preventing them, taking from prevention to pay for emergencies does not seem to make much sense. It is like a city fire department canceling smoke-detector programs in order to pay for a new fire truck, when the city needs both to be safe.
What is needed is more money. Less than $1 billion more could give us enough for both emergencies and developmentthe fire engines and the smoke detectors. That is not a great deal when we are talking about $2.56 trillion budgets.
In the 2005 budget year, U.S.A.I.D. had a $1.183 billion line for food aid. Three-quarters of that was supposed to be used for development programsthe ongoing programs that help the most vulnerable people of the underdeveloped world obtain self-sufficiency. But almost three-quarters of the budget$850 millionwas taken to pay for emergency aid, creating a genuine crisis in the development programs managed by private humanitarian organizations like Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Save the Children and World Vision.
Mr. Natsios expects that what happened in 2005 will happen again in 2006, for which the Bush administration has budgeted $1.185 billion for food aid. Because the government budget does not allocate enough money to meet the needs of both emergencies and development, it has to take from one side to pay for the other. By doing this, it not only breaks the rules; it endangers programs designed to support President Bush’s own view that the elimination of hunger and the stability such elimination generates is essential to America’s national security.
Such programs help farmers grow more and better crops. They create opportunities for better health and education and more political empowerment for the most vulnerable people in the world. They also help to mitigate against the very disasters that cost so much to recover from. They are the very long-term development programs, as Mr. Natsios himself put it, that strengthen communities so that when they face sudden or slow-onset disasters, they are prepared and better able to cope with the setbacks.
Private humanitarian aid organizations serve people in both emergencies and development. But there has to be enough money to do both. These private voluntary agencies are asking Congress to allocate a more realistic figure of $2 billion so the survivors of disasters and the world’s most vulnerable people are not pitted against one another in a rivalry for help from the United States.
This amount would go a long way toward improving social conditions that breed instability, as President Bush noted in his State of the Union address this year: If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming bulk of the constituency for a more realistic amount is not in the United States and it is not clamorous. It resides in practically inaccessible small villages in places like Angola, Madagascar and India. The beneficiaries of development aid eke out a day-to-day existence without enough food, with inadequate water supplies, little health care and sanitation to speak of, little access to education and little preparation for the disasters that may strike them.
Few Americans know anything about them. Nor could most Americanseven the poorest among usconceive of the conditions in which this constituency lives. Most Americans think of food aid as a handout, and even some Catholics may resent the very idea.
These development aid programs are rooted in the Gospel and the principles of Catholic social teaching. These principles urge us to respect the dignity of the human person, dignity that is a casualty of grinding poverty. They remind us that we are all part of the one human family. And they call us to reach out in solidarity, recognizing our responsibility to care for one another in a world that is both increasingly interconnected and yet increasingly fragmented. Pope John XXIII wrote in his encyclical Mater et Magistra: The solidarity which binds all people together as members of a common family makes it impossible for wealthy nations to look with indifference upon the hunger, misery and poverty of other nations whose citizens are unable to enjoy even elementary human rights. Or, as a simple plaque with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew reminds C.R.S. employees in the lobby of its Baltimore headquarters, For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.
In line with the Catholic social principle of the dignity of the human person, humanitarian agencies seek to avoid creating dependencies among the people they serve. Therefore, development assistance is not just a matter of handing out food. Rather, these programs involve a continuum of services that address the social, cultural and economic factors that help people to achieve self-sufficiency, an end that ultimately contributes to political and social stability. Pope Paul VI put it simply, Development is the new name for peace.
Anyone who visits the constituency of vulnerability has to marvel at the extraordinary amount of good that development food aid accomplishes in the name of the United States.
Consider Irana Natalia, who lives in the remote Angolan community of Capupa. Irana is 22. For all but the last three years of her life she lived in a camp for Angolans displaced by the civil war. She was married when she was 14. She has two living children. Two others died shortly after they were born. After the civil war ended, she returned with her family to the Capupa area. At every step along the way she has survived with the help of U.S. food aidfirst, emergency aid and now development aid.
The development aid has helped Irana and her husband start growing their own crops, mostly sorghum and maize. Through the so-called food-for-work program, in which villagers are paid with food to improve their communities and enhance their crops, there is a better road to her village. The road gives her better access to health care facilities.
Agricultural trainers, whose work complements U.S. food aid, have helped to give Irana and tens of thousands of others recovering from the war a better life, a life in which hope has displaced despair.
Before, life was terrible, with no assurances for the future, she said, speaking through an interpreter. Now life is much better. With the road, I can take my child to the health clinic. The training has helped us to grow better food, which we were not able to do before.
This year, the C.R.S. Angola program has been cut by 22 percent, from $3.6 million to a little over $2.8 million, which came on top of a 32 percent cut from the previous year’s budget of $5.3 million.
Consider Vivienne Malami, a 23-year-old mother of three children, who lives in the remote Maromitety district of Madagascar. All of her children were malnourished, but the youngest, 23-month-old Joranne, has benefited from a recently developed food aid program that teaches mothers to make better use of their own crops to nourish their infants.
This is simple enough. The mothers of infants who were malnourished on a diet of rice and bread have now been taught to vary this with cassava, maize, banana, potatoes and coconut oil. Under the program, the first group of mothers will become teachers for other mothers in the village.
In the same village, farmers are being taught to grow crops in greater variety and more abundance so they do not have to depend on popular crops like coffee, cloves and vanilla that bring in cash but do not provide food out of season.
These programs are desperately needed to help a population of which 70 percent live on less than 70 cents a day and 80 percent live in rural areas.
In India almost a third of the 1 billion population lives on less than $1 a day. That is about 300 million peoplemore than the entire population of the United States.
In the remote tribal village of Bodghundi, in India’s Chhattisgarh State, U.S. food aid has helped to transform a population of less than 1,000 from a primitive lifestyle at the bottom of the social order to a secure community well on the way to agricultural success, social and even political empowerment.
Using the U.S.A.I.D. Food for Work program, with the help of C.R.S.’s Catholic partner, the Jabalpur Diocesan Social Service Society, which is led by the Rev. Antony Rocky, villagers of Bodghundi were persuaded to develop a dam and an irrigation system.
Jeet Singh, a village leader, speaking through an interpreter, points to the successes. Now we are farming 100 acres, he says. We put fish in the pond and there has been a good yield. There is enough food and other basics, so our people do not have to migrate to find work. Food for work definitely helps us to stay in the village.
Development programs like these have been implemented with success by other organizations that receive U.S. food aid, and these projects are also threatened. These include school feeding programs, where children are provided with a hot meal that is often the only substantial nutrition they receive all day. This gives parents a strong incentive to send their children to school, particularly girls, who have the least access to education. These programs provide children with a better education and more economic opportunities in the future.
Officials at Save the Children said that development projects using food aid are at risk in several countries where they serve as well. One of those is Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic that was wracked by a devastating civil war after independence that killed 60,000 people and left the economy in shambles. Save The Children provides wheat flour, vegetable oil, milk powder and potato flakes that have been used to feed 236,000 pre-school and primary school children every day in 896 educational institutions throughout the poor Khatlon region, on the border with Afghani-stan. Since this program began, average school attendance rates have increased from 82 percent to 97 percent in the participating schools. Because of the squeeze in food aid funding, the program faces a cut of as much as 50 percent.
But that is not the only program that is threatened. We sustained the greatest cuts in programs in Tajikistan, with significant reductions in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malawi and Honduras food security programs, said Ina Schonberg, Save the Children’s director of food security. She worries that U.S.A.I.D. may not be able to fulfill all of its complementary funding commitments, which will put pressure on even more programs.
These are but a few glimpses into the enormous amount of long-term, realistic and empowering good that food aid funds provide when they are used for development.
The United States must, of course, keep faith with its tradition of generosity for survivors of disasters like the tsunami and the civil war in Sudan. But development has been the cornerstone of the U.S. food aid program since its inception 51 years ago. The food aid mandate calls for the bulk of the money to be spent on development for the good reason that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
America is not alone in this responsibility. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the nations inhabited by the most vulnerable to use their own resources to help their own people.
Angola’s vast oil and mineral resources generate billions of dollars, which should enable the government to pay for all of its development needs, but thus far the money does not get to the people.
Madagascar is scheduled to receive $110 million from the Millennium Challenge Account to improve its infrastructure, for agrarian reform and for the improvement of its banking system. But the results of that investment will not be felt for years.
India, with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, is a net food exporter; but it cannot get food to its own people. Its stunning info-tech boom and the notion that low-paid Indians are taking American jobs makes it hard for some in the United States to sympathize with that country’s abiding need for assistance.
But America’s pact is not with the governments of Madagascar or Angola or India. It is with the most vulnerable people in those and in many other lands, where the loss of development funds has had an immediate and potentially fatal impact. About $800 million more in the food aid budget would make up the difference.
That is less than it costs to operate the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for a year. It could do a great deal to encourage stability in lands where hunger, poverty and despair can become the recruiting tools of America’s enemies.