Analysis: Actually, US is not that commited to fighting hunger and child malnutrition

There’s a big fight in Congress right now over how we do international food aid and what needs fixing.

Nearly 900 million today suffer from hunger and we often hear that the US government is the world’s biggest donor of food aid. The Obama Administration, facing a tight fiscal landscape, is trying to reform the way we do food aid to reach more people without increasing the amount of money we spend on it (which isn’t really that much, in the scheme of things, something like $1.8 billion).

Reformers who support the President’s and USAID’s plan say we could feed anywhere from 4-10 million more people if we ended certain practices – such as requiring all food for aid be purchased from American farmers, as opposed to farmers overseas. Opponents of the reform proposal include many in agri-business, shipping and some humanitarian organizations like World Vision, and give many different reasons for wanting to largely maintain the status quo.

One of the main reasons opponents reform give is that the current US food aid system is a great success and works well.

Many disagree. The latest evidence against the US approach comes courtesy of Duncan Green at Oxfam. Green notes in his blog From Poverty to Power that an independent analysis of donor countries called the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index shows the US approach is actually not so great:

The US comes in a pretty pitiful 18/23, mainly due to its relatively low spending on hunger reduction and nutrition programmes in relation to its GDP. It is also less likely than many other OECD countries to sign up to international treaties and frameworks. Go to the site for the interactive data and map.

Hunger Commitment Index

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About Author

Editor Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom-at-humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • BobbyD

    The U.S. is not doing a good job with this. Given the political reality – George Bush tried to reduce the amount of U.S. food required by 25%, so that money could be spent to buy food where famine exists, but food is available. That is obviously a rational and logical approach, since it means we would be supporting the sustainability of local farmers, instead of trying to drive them out of business, which is the effect of providing free food to compete against food that costs something. The requirement to ship on U.S. flagged ships is also crazy. It costs us a lot, rather than the minimal transportation costs (AND, the time involved to get food to people who are starving) if food is purchased locally, or nearby. Andrew Natsios was the head of US AID, a former high ranking World Vision executive. When he dared to explain the plan for just a 25% reduction to an industry group, he was shouted off the stage, and not even permitted to speak about it. Which makes one wonder about the chances of Pres. Obama getting his plan through, which would make a 45% reduction in the requirement to use U.S. food. Further, the monetization policy is absolutely awful. Dr. Helene Gayle, CARE’s CEO, was brave enough to stop letting CARE accept free food from the U.S. (paid for by our taxes), which they could then sell, and spend the money on whatever they wanted in their budget. In other words, take the food out of the mouths of the hungry, so that charitable NGOs could expand their empires! Imagine what those suffering from hunger would say if asked. Hey, you could have food, or you could hear us talk about sanitation. Which would you prefer? Of course, the NGOs will not ask, because they know what the answer will be.

    Finally, the U.S. spends a mere pittance of its foreign aid on Nutrition. And yet, we know that malnutrition kills over 3 million children a year, nearly half of the under five deaths every year. We know how to change that. Simple things like Vitamin A, Zinc, and Iodized salt, promoting breast feeding by moms who are not malnourished. Yet one in four children today, around the world, are malnourished to the point of stunting. Which usually is permanent, and not fixable. Imagine what that does to efforts to get kids into school! Or to have them graduate and get jobs! That is why the UK and Brazil have called for a Nutrition for Growth Summit on Saturday, June 8, the day before the G-8 Summit. Let’s hope that rational thought prevails, and that the U.S. actually agrees to help lead the fight against malnutrition, rather than ignoring the problem. Eliminating malnutrition is far easier than getting food aid reform. Call the White House and ask them to do that!