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OP-ED: A Christmas gift for children: Ending world hunger

William Lambers
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
A young child walks through an alley in Aleppo, Syria, in April 2014. (Raja Abdulrahim/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

During World War II, American Relief for Norway sent donations overseas before the holidays to feed malnourished children living under Nazi occupation. When Dwight Eisenhower became president, one of the first things he did was start Christmas food packages for nations suffering in hunger. Ike made this a year-round program called Food for Peace, which has saved millions of lives from hunger.

Congress should take action this holiday season to further this tradition of feeding the world’s hungry, especially malnourished children. Both parties should unite and pass the Global Nutrition Resolution (HR 189/SB 260), which emphasizes U.S. leadership in feeding hungry children and breaking the deadly cycle of malnutrition. We need to increase funding for nutrition programs to meet the global challenge. As the resolution says “151 million children under the age of 5 in the world, or 22 percent, are stunted, or chronically undernourished, and in countries highly affected by undernutrition, stunting affects 1 in every 3 children.”

This damage to children cannot be reversed, so it’s urgent we act now to stop this crisis. Imagine whole communities and even countries where children face this horrible stunting. They cannot learn or grow like a healthy child. What hope does that offer for the future of their country? They will be more prone to illness. And if malnutrition is severe enough, they will tragically perish. How can we expect any nation to have peace and progress under the enormous instability of malnutrition? That’s why programs to fight malnutrition among children and mothers are crucial. That is why Congress needs to show unity in passing the global nutrition resolution.

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As Rep. Jim McGovern has said about the resolutions, “It is critical for the United States to sustain our engagement on child nutrition and build on our success. This is the best way for us to show the world what America stands for and use our influence to make a real difference in people’s lives.” The world needs to know that the United States is going to make child nutrition a top foreign policy priority in the coming year. We need to expand our global nutrition programs and we need a unified, committed Congress on this issue.

When you look at war-ravaged countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria, you see high rates of child malnutrition. The same is true for the drought affected areas of the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and southern Africa. We have major hunger emergencies ongoing in these areas where children’s lives are at stake. The United States needs to take the lead in saving these hungry children. Infants should receive nutrition to prevent stunting at an early age. Foods like the peanut paste Plumpy’nut can save millions more children and at a reasonable cost.

The Rhode Island nonprofit Edesia produces Plumpy’nut, which one UNICEF doctor called the “magic food” since it brings children back from deadly malnutrition. We need to make sure the World Food Program, UNICEF, Save the Children, Action Against Hunger and other agencies have the resources to rescue all kids around the world from malnutrition. Catholic Relief Services also sees close-up the devastating impact of malnutrition. They run nutrition programs for infants but also school feeding for older children. With grants from the USDA McGovern-Dole global school lunch program they feed school kids in Mali, Burkina Faso and other countries in need. We should expand funding for McGovern-Dole school lunches in addition to infant feeding programs.

Feeding children and mothers is critical for ending the deadly cycle of malnutrition that stalks each generation. There cannot be stability in any nation without food and nutrition. The Congress should be united on this issue, which is so critical to building peace. They should pass the global nutrition resolution now, a fitting reminder during the holidays. If we have the will we can make fighting global hunger a top priority.

— William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.”