The executive director of the World Food Program is calling on the United States to take the lead in working to eliminate child hunger -- which the agency says kills 18,000 children every day. His comments came in testimony Thursday to a Senate subcommittee that examined the U.S. role in international food assistance. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.
World Food Program Executive Director James Morris applauded U.S. contributions to global food aid, which amounted to about 55 percent of total foreign food assistance over the last decade. At the same time, he urged Washington to do even more to specifically address the issue of 400 million children around the world his agency says live in hunger.
"My fondest hope, and I believe it's an earned and deserved opportunity, is for the United States to take the lead in saying we are going to eliminate child hunger in the world," Morris says. "Just a few weeks ago, Iceland said we are going to feed a child in Africa for every child we feed in Iceland. Luxembourg has made the same commitment. Canada has made an extraordinary commitment."
One of the witnesses before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee was Abass Hassan Mohamed, a refugee from Somalia who is in the United States on a full scholarship at Princeton University.
"I remember when we came, we refugees believe that education is important. When we go back to our home countries, I being from Somalia, we would leave all these structures behind. But what we'll go back home with is education," Mohamed says. "We can't go to school without eating food."
He emphasized that hunger is a basic problem, and that if people have enough to eat, they can achieve anything. He said this is especially true for young people.
"They have so much talent," Mohamed says. "Their talent is getting wasted. And if someone can help them, they will be able to help themselves and their communities and their countries."
Senators at the hearing had questions about how aid agencies can be sure that their assistance is not being pilfered or going to corrupt governments. The World Food Program's Morris pointed to Zimbabwe as one relatively positive example, and added that he found his nine meetings with President Robert Mugabe to be effective.
"I said, 'sir, you and I just need to have a good understanding, right off the bat. We're not going to interfere in the politics of your country," Morris says. "We're here to see that people are fed, that women and children who are starving have food and nutrition available to them."
As a result, he said, his agency was able to do its work and feed nearly six million people in Zimbabwe last year, largely with no political interference. On the other end of the spectrum is North Korea, where international aid agencies are forced to work through the North Korean government.
"But when you think that the average boy in North Korea, at age seven, is eight inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than his South Korean counterpart, the humanitarian mandate, imperative, requires us to be there," Morris says.
The Bush administration has requested $1.2 billion for food aid around the globe in the fiscal 2008 budget. Congress is also considering a supplemental request for $350 million for the flagship U.S. humanitarian aid program called Food for Peace.