Leaders in the worldwide humanitarian community appeared before a key U.S. Senate committee in Washington recently, to discuss the various strategies to alleviate child hunger across the globe. They also highlighted the many challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of those efforts.
A report released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization last year says nearly six million children around the world die each year due to hunger and malnutrition. The majority of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Ann Veneman, the director of the United Nations Children's Fund, told lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that simply providing emergency food aid to starving children is not the only solution in reversing the current trends.
"Healthy mothers during pregnancy, good nutrition and vitamins, breast feeding, better education, effective disease control, policies that safeguard food access, access to clean water and sanitation. It has to be an integrated approach," she told the committee.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said while governments have an important role to play in the fight against child hunger, the private sector has the means to assume an even greater role.
"Ability of the private sector to innovate probably exceeds even that of some of our government research enterprises, in that what this allows innovators to do is to take some risk. It's very difficult to take risk with government dollars, but it is possible to take risks and stretch your brain and get out of the box [act outside of conventional methods] with these private sector enterprises."
James Morris, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, told the committee that recent natural disasters, such as the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, have placed an unforeseen burden on international relief agencies.
"The World Food Program used to be 80 percent a development, prevention, mitigation moderating program,” said Mr. Morris. “Today, we are 80 - 85 percent engaged in responding to natural disasters. And so this limited pot of money that is available has been heavily skewed to saving lives in an immediate set of circumstances as opposed to investing in programs around the world that long term, once again, has a huge payoff."
Republican Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wondered which relief agency or entity is ultimately responsible for implementing the dozens of anti-hunger programs created by both governments and private relief groups. Morris said the responsibility lies well beyond the international relief community.
"Ultimately, the responsibility for addressing what we're talking about is a country responsibility, and our job is to be there, to be helpful,” he said. “Very difficult issues of capacity and resources, technical competency that the rest of the world will have to provide, but the only chance for this to be sustained and really to work is if the country where the work is being done is in charge."
But George Ward, the senior vice president for international programs for World Vision, said the responsibility lies even beyond governments.
"Who's in charge needs to be the family in need, because they know best their needs, and they are also the ones who will have to implement solutions. So we need to find solutions that they can adapt to and they can implement," said Ward.
The U.N. has pledged to cut in half the number of people around the globe who suffer from hunger and malnutrition by 2015. It also wants to reduce by two-thirds the number of deaths of children under five by the same year.