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The United States Must Improve Its Response to World Malnutrition
(Testimony before the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee)

I am Robert Drinan, a professor of international law and human rights at Georgetown Law School, and a former member of Congress from Massachusetts. I am submitting testimony as a Board member of the World Hunger Education Service (WHES). WHES, along with its principal publication Hunger Notes, has been in existence for 24 years. Its mission is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, which:

  • inform the community of people interested in issues of hunger and poverty, the public, and policymakers, about the causes, extent, and efforts to end hunger and poverty in the United States and the world.
  • further understanding which integrates ethical, religious, social, economic, political, and scientific perspectives on hunger and poverty.
  • facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions.

WHES receives no funding from the United States Government.

Father Robert Drinan
Robert Drinan

Thank you very much for permitting public testimony on U.S. foreign relations. This makes for a long day, but one, I trust, with insights and worthwhile ideas. Each year, in testimony before this subcommittee, WHES tries to bring attention to one very important issue. Last year it was the famine in North Korea. This year it is the plight of hundreds of millions of malnourished people throughout the world.

Malnutrition is one of the most serious world problems, yet the effective U.S. commitment to ending it-- in deeds, not words-- has dwindled substantially over the years. The United States needs to reverse this decline with a substantial new initiative.

Over 800 million people are malnourished, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. The number of malnourished people declined during the 1970s and 1980s, but has risen during this decade, with the worst malnutrition occurring in Africa and Asia. Of the 12 million children who die each year in developing countries, 55 percent are attributable to malnutrition, according to UNICEF.

In spite of substantial growth in the U.S economy and the end of the Cold War, both of which should have increased resources available to address festering world problems, and the World Food Summit, which brought the nations of the world together to discuss the problem and make commitments to reducing malnutrition, resulting in the subsequent U.S. plan of action, resources from the United States directed toward reducing malnutrition have shrunk, not increased.

Table l indicates how a key component of U.S. assistance to prevent malnutrition, assistance to agriculture, has fared. USAID's assistance to developing country agriculture has declined from $806 million in 1989 to $306 million in 1999. This is a shocking decline of $500 million--62 percent!

USAID's Agricultural Assistance: 1989-1999 ($ millions)

 

1989

1992

1994

1999

Agricultural Assistance

806

626

418

306

Source: USAID

The other principal source of funding for preventing malnutrition has been food assistance. Food for Peace has declined substantially. Title II, the most important part of Food for Peace has been maintained to some extent, while Titles I and III have declined drastically. Title II provides assistance for emergency situations, and also for non-emergency situations such as using food assistance to increase agricultural production. However, the number of food emergencies have increased significantly, in part due to conflict, leaving a declining amount which can be used to address malnutrition and other development problems in non-emergency situations. Thus, we are faced with a substantial decline in U.S. resources devoted to preventing malnutrition in ordinary circumstances. Ordinary circumstances for the poor cause malnutrition all too frequently.

There could have been-- should have been-- a substantial U.S. initiative for fiscal 2000 to address the problem of malnutrition and the decline in U.S. resources directed to reducing malnutrition. Otherwise what was the point of the World Food Summit and the elaborate activities around the development of the U.S. Action Plan, which was supposed to respond to the challenges of the summit. The Plan however can be more accurately described as a U.S. Inaction Plan. The plan proposed no additional resources to combat malnutrition in the world.

A USAID-sponsored document called for a new $685 million annual U.S. response to meeting the world food summit goals. The actual U.S. response in the area of international food security for FY 2000 is to propose an increase of $15 million in the Africa Food Security Initiative. The world food summit goal is to reduce the number of malnourished people by half-- to 400 million, even as the world population grows. An increase in food security funding by $15 million is probably not enough to compensate for the cost of inflation in food security programs, and is a woefully inadequate U.S. contribution toward meeting these goals.

As the Administration has now submitted its budget, an improvement in the response to malnutrition must be provided by Congress. We acknowledge Congress' and this subcommittee's strong support for child survival. Efforts to reduce malnutrition also deserve the strong support of Congress and this subcommittee.

The World Hunger Education Service calls on Congress to provide an additional $120 million in U.S. foreign assistance funds to reduce malnutrition. This amount is not all that should be allocated, but it is an amount that will end the more than decade-long decline in U.S. assistance for preventing malnutrition.

Let us indicate how the money might be used.

An additional $30 million should be provided for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). We believe that this important anti-hunger organization has not been accorded reasonable treatment by the United States government in recent years. Why has IFAD's funding been cut so drastically? The vast majority of the world's poor, malnourished, and food insecure people either live in rural areas or support their families through agriculture-related activities. I would like to emphasize our support for this institution, the only international financial institution that focuses exclusively on this important rural population. This year, IFAD's member states will examine the adequacy of IFAD's resources to meet the growing need for its agricultural development activities. Given IFAD's unique and effective role in promoting food security, we hope the United States, Administration and Congress alike, will play a constructive role in that examination and in the replenishment of IFAD's resources. We request that the Subcommittee include language in its report that calls on the administration to contribute significantly to IFAD's resources so the institution can continue its much-needed efforts to promote food security in developing countries worldwide.

We believe that $90 million should support USAID initiatives for the express purpose of reducing malnutrition.

Support to U.S. private voluntary organizations (PVOs) for the purpose of reducing malnutrition should be substantially increased. PVOs can reach rural areas where malnutrition is a problem and address the needs of low income communities. This is not actually an increase in U.S. funding for PVOs but rather a recognition of the fact that food aid funding-- Title II-- for the purchase of food which is delivered to developing countries and used for development purposes has been declining in the past decades. This increase merely restores some of the funding that has been lost, and in the foreign operations budget rather than the agriculture budget.

Aid to agriculture in Africa should also be increased. Most poor Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Congress recently passed the Africa: Seeds of Hope legislation, which is authorizing legislation. Money should be appropriated to implement the legislation. Again an increase in funding for African agriculture would not be an increase to new high levels of assistance, but would only serve to arrest the decline in assistance to African agriculture that has taken place.

We urge Congress, and the Administration, to make a commitment to reducing malnutrition in the world, and to providing sufficient resources to carry out that commitment.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer this testimony.

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