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Cuts Cost Lives: The Famine in Somalia Reinforces the Importance of U.S. Emergency Food Assistance Programs

In response to the declaration of famine in Somalia and the drought-induced crisis throughout the Horn of Africa, the World Food Program (WFP) is working to feed millions of people in need. The United States government has taken action by contributing food aid and funds to WFP’s operations. However, the programs that help the U.S. respond to humanitarian disasters are threatened; the U.S. Congress has recently proposed severe cuts to the budget for emergency food assistance.

Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Drought in the Horn of Africa, combined with conflict and high food prices in Somalia, has contributed to a humanitarian crisis affecting 13 million people in the region. Conditions in southern Somalia have deteriorated to the point that famine has been declared. Furthermore, millions of children are suffering from undernutrition; these nutrient deficiencies impair mental and physical development in children and can result in lifelong health problems.

Response to Crisis

In response to this hunger crisis, WFP mobilized resources and is providing food assistance to people in need in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. WFP has a plan to feed 11.5 million people throughout the region. Additionally, WFP is focused on providing nutritious food to malnourished children; last Friday, July 29, WFP airlifted 70 metric tons of a nutritional peanut paste, called “Supplementary Plumpy,” to Mogadishu for vulnerable children.

In light of this crisis, the U.S. government has emerged as one of the largest donors of humanitarian assistance to the region, providing about $459 million this fiscal year to help refugees, families affected by drought and strength food security in the region. Last week, the U.S. announced it is providing an additional $21 million contribution to WFP’s work in Somalia. U.S. assistance has also gone beyond immediate needs to support programs that build regional capacity to handle future droughts through investments in programs like Feed the Future.

Emergency Assistance under Threat

Despite the importance of U.S. emergency assistance to save lives when disasters strike, several the House of Representatives has recently proposed drastic cuts to American humanitarian assistance. The House passed an Agricultural Appropriations Bill that cut emergency food assistance by 75 percent from 2008 levels. In the subcommittee mark up of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, the account that funds emergency food assistance was cut by 12 percent.

Representatives James McGovern, Rosa DeLauro, and Jan Schakowsky criticized these cuts from the House floor last Thursday. In his speech, Rep. McGovern explained that, “the current crisis, terrible as it is, could have been much worse.   There is good news amongst so much tragedy.  The last time a drought of this magnitude hit Ethiopia, over 14 million people faced starvation.  This time, about 4.5 million Ethiopians are in need of emergency aid.  The difference?   Since 2005, the United States and other donors have made significant investments in Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program. 

I saw first-hand several of these programs in 2007.  They help small farmers and poor communities diversify the crops they planted, broaden their sources of income, create local markets, better manage their water resources, and increase the nutritional content of their own diets and those of their children.  This has enabled over 7.5 million Ethiopians to withstand the worst effects of the current drought.  These families and communities are NOT part of the 4.5 million Ethiopians who require urgent humanitarian aid.”

Speak out 

Historically, the U.S. has led the world in responding to emergency hunger needs when disaster strikes. Send your Members of Congress a message today and tell them: Cuts cost lives!

Media Contact

Erin Cochran
Vice President of Communications

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