10/16/2009 08:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

World Food Day: We Can End Global Hunger - But Do We Have the Will?

By Ken Hackett

Last month saw the passing of Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution that lifted millions of people out of hunger through the production of high-yield varieties of wheat.

In the ensuing four decades, we have made significant progress in the fight against global hunger. Thanks in no small part to US foreign assistance and the generosity of American citizens, the percentage of chronically hungry people declined from 37 percent of the world's population in the 1960s to about 13 percent today. Countries like Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan, which once relied on food aid, are now food exporters.

Still, despite the achievements of Dr. Borlaug and others, we commemorate this year's World Food Day facing the fact that for the first time in our history, more than a billion people, a sixth of the world's population, suffer each day without enough to eat. The fight against global hunger continues.

How should we, as members of the world community, respond? Over the years, we've heard many calls to end world hunger. What is the difference today?

We have learned much since Dr. Borlaug's Green Revolution. We know that successfully combating hunger will require a wide range of approaches. Advanced technological achievements are only one part of a larger effort that also includes approaches such as good education and health programs, access to credit and markets, providing clear title to land and creating safety nets for vulnerable people who cannot support themselves. Global hunger is a complex problem that calls for a complex array of solutions.

We know how to end global hunger. We know what's involved. And we know how much it's going to cost.

The question is: Do we have the will?

I believe we do. I detect a growing consensus in the Obama Administration and among some members of Congress in both parties that we can and must make a major commitment to fight and end hunger. We have before us what could be a watershed opportunity.

President Obama demonstrated his commitment when he announced at April's G-20 conference that he will work with Congress to provide nearly $500 million for immediate assistance for Africa and Latin America, and to double US financial support for agricultural development in developing countries, to $1 billion in 2010. Preliminary drafts of the Administration's comprehensive plan for fighting global hunger are very promising and show new thinking about addressing hunger more comprehensively.

At the same time, several initiatives in Congress will also contribute significantly to the cause. Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have introduced bipartisan legislation that seeks to fight global hunger by focusing on agricultural development, program coordination, basic nutrition, and emergency mitigation and response. Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced a bill that would enact many elements of the Roadmap to End Global Hunger, a comprehensive plan devised by a broad coalition of humanitarian organizations that addresses global hunger. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has also just introduced the Global Food Security Act of 2009, a broad U.S. plan for targeting the underlying causes of hunger.

These are good first steps. But they are first steps. Ultimately, success depends on consolidating and funding a bi-partisan vision that is broad, comprehensive and flexible. And it must be urgent.

We must summon the same sense of alarm and resolve sparked by the global financial crisis and channel it to addressing the global hunger crisis. It is a moral outrage that 16,000 children are dying every day from hunger-related causes. It should not seem far fetched that if we can marshal hundreds of billons of dollars to bail out failed banks, then we can find a fraction of that to fight the scourge of hunger.

With the support of the American people, it is time for the Administration and Congress to put these commitments into action and use these synergies of interest to make unprecedented gains in fighting global hunger.

Ken Hackett is president of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Community.