Starving to death

Our world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. When one region is suffering severe hunger, global humanitarian institutions, though often cash-strapped, are theoretically capable of transporting food and averting catastrophe.

But this year, South Sudan slipped into famine, and Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are each on the verge of their own. Famine now threatens 20 million people — more than at any time since World War II. As defined by the United Nations, famine occurs when a region’s daily hunger-related death rate exceeds 2 per 10,000 people.

Entire generations are at risk of lasting damage stemming from the vicious cycle of greed, hate, hunger and violence that produces these famines. Children are always the most affected, as even those who survive may be mentally and physically stunted for life.

At this time of unprecedented need, the world’s biggest supplier of humanitarian relief is getting ready for a major cutback. Humanitarian aid makes up a tiny fraction of the U.S. government spending — less than 1 percent — but the Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate much of it. Although the cuts would have to withstand bipartisan opposition, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) could see their budgets reduced by more than a third. U.S. funding to the United Nations might drop by more than half.

The United Nations had sought $4.4 billion by the end of March for emergency hunger relief operations, but raised barely a fraction of that. Emergency funding doesn’t address the root causes of famine, nor can it always reach the worst-affected. But it can prevent the spread of disease and provide enough sustenance to the millions it does reach so that they might survive.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 4/11/17)