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Ertharin Cousin Headshot
Ambassador Tony Hall Headshot

Hunger at Thanksgiving

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By Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, U.S. Ambassador, and Tony Hall, former Ambassador, UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture, Rome, Italy

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, we ponder all the things we are thankful for: the joy our family brings us, our good health, the people we love, our jobs, and the wealth of food on the tables in front of us. It is a time when we Americans take a minute to consider our many privileges and opportunities.

In our country, when parents cannot feed their children, community and government programs will catch them. But this is not so for families facing hunger in far too many countries around the world.

Thanksgiving is also an occasion to stop for just a minute, and think of them as well.

As former and current U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture agencies -- the UN organizations that provide assistance to people suffering from hunger or under nutrition around the globe -- at Thanksgiving our thoughts swing to these poorer areas of the world. In particular, our thoughts turn to 13.3 million people in crisis in the Horn of Africa, where the worst drought in the last 60 years, coupled with severe instability, has caused a famine in areas of Somalia. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and crossed into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia in search of food, water, and medicine. Millions are suffering from extreme hunger, and tens of thousands of children have already died from starvation and disease. What we saw there during recent visits will stay with us for a long time.

This should not have happened, not again, not in 2011.

We knew this drought would come. Warning systems have been in place in the region for decades -- monitoring rainfall, crop patterns, livestock, and undernutrition. Working with the Governments of Kenya and Ethiopia, UN agencies, and other donors, we were able to preposition food stocks and scale-up programs in the area, to provide life-saving aid to millions of people in need and lessen the impact of the crisis.

In Kenya and Ethiopia, our development investments have paid off, helping families cope with the effects of the drought and preventing a slide into famine.

But in Somalia, sadly, the situation is different. The terrible drought in areas of the country has been exacerbated by the actions of al-Shabaab, the terrorist group that continues to block access for relief organizations to vulnerable areas of Somalia, forcing more than a million to flee, and tens of thousands to starve.

A large-scale response to this emergency (and other emergencies around the world) has been underway for many months and is having a positive impact. The effort is international, it is multilateral, and it is coordinated by the United Nations.

As U.S. Ambassadors to the 'food' agencies we have observed and supported the work of the World Food Progamme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) almost from their inception. We are committed to supporting this critical work and coordinating with UN partners and other stakeholders through Feed the Future, President Obama's global hunger and food security initiative.

We have seen how WFP's globe-spanning logistics operations can bring nutritious, life-saving food relief anywhere in the world within hours, while laying the foundations for communities to become food producers again. We have seen how the FAO assists farmers and livestock herders, around the world obtain seeds to plant and livestock to raise, and improve their lives. We have seen how a $100 loan through IFAD's micro-credit program enabled an impoverished woman in Bangladesh to open a fish-farm, expand into poultry farming and send her children for higher education.

We must continue to provide emergency assistance where it is needed, but at the same time, and with equal commitment, develop the long-term food security of countries that still struggle with hunger. Agricultural development is key to the future of the planet as it faces a rapidly growing population which just reached 7 billion on October 31st, with changing needs and tastes that demand a 70% increase in food production by 2050. We must take what we call a "twin-track" approach to the problem of food insecurity in the world.

As a global community, we must all make sure that every country can produce the food it needs, that every mother has the means to feed her children, and that smallholder farmers, especially women, have the tools they need to better produce, store, and market what they grow. These values are at the core of Feed the Future; by alleviating hunger and the desperation it causes, we promote stability and security for all of us.

As we take that last bite of pumpkin pie tonight, let us take a minute to think about the importance of pursuing the goal of feeding those hungry children whose faces haunt us, but more importantly, to give them the tools they need to feed themselves in the future.

For more information about the crisis in the Horn of Africa, see:

United Nations World Food Programme: www.wfp.org

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: www.fao.org

The United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome: http://usunrome.usmission.gov/

International Fund for Agricultural Development: www.ifad.org

USAID> FWD: action.usaid.gov

Feed the Future: www.feedthefuture.gov