The presidential campaign is well underway with Hillary Clinton and several Republican hopefuls sparring over foreign policy. They should be as we face the worst global humanitarian crisis since World War II.
There are over 20 million people in war-torn Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan and Syria who are at risk of starvation.
But as Ertharin Cousin, the director of the UN World Food Programme, reminds us the hungry are not just statistics. She said upon visiting South Sudan that these are lives. These are people. The hungry are not just a cost to the world, they are lives as precious as any.
Feeding the hungry should be a guiding principle to our foreign policy. It is the right of every person in the world to have adequate food.
But when a family is forced out of their homes in Syria because of a civil war, they lose their possessions. They lose their income. They cannot buy what food is available. If they are a farmer they can no longer plant crops because of the violence. Food production facilities are either destroyed or forced to shut down because of war.
A deadly domino effect plants the seeds for future food shortages. This is taking place right now in Iraq, Ukraine, South Sudan and elsewhere as war and hunger converge.
All the basics of life disappear in these war devastated nations. In Yemen some markets are forced to close because of the civil war in that country. The ones that are open have such high food prices the poor cannot afford them.
These food shortages contribute to malnutrition among the children. You have generations of children we may lose in the Middle East because of war. They will be stunted for life. They lose out on education. What future can we expect of these millions of children as they face desperation and hunger?
Relief agencies like the World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children are struggling to bring aid to starving refugees. They need funding support from programs like the U.S. Food for Peace initiative.
Right now refugees in the Middle East are seeing cuts in rations because there is not enough funding support from the international community.
Congress needs to increase Food for Peace funding. We can lead an international coalition to ensure war victims receive the food they need.
The United States must also lead the international community in bringing food to those blocked from receiving humanitarian aid. There are people starving in Yarmouk, Syria right now even though just miles away from relief agencies.
Yarmouk, which is home to Palestinian refugees, has been under siege because of the civil war and seen very little food aid. Mahd, a resident of Yarmouk says, “The most difficult thing is when my kids get up in the morning and ask for milk and bread and it is not available.”
Things have taken a severe turn for the worse in recent weeks in Yarmouk after an assault by ISIS. No aid deliveries can get through. There are children starving because of this.
We must do everything in our power to get food to those trapped by war. For every life is precious.
It is our humanitarian tradition. It was 70 years ago almost to the day when the U.S. and British air forces dropped food into the starving Netherlands. The Nazi occupation had caused famine for the Dutch people.
The food drops saved millions of lives. It gave children their future. One of the children who benefited from the food aid went on to become a famous movie star and human rights advocate. Her name was Audrey Hepburn.
Think how many children we can save now, if only we have the political will to feed the hungry. It needs to be a top priority. We should expect nothing less from our President and Congress.
That is where you come in as an individual. Each citizen can be an ambassador for the hungry. You have to speak up. For silence is acceptance. We should never accept starvation as the fate of any person.
If you speak with words and actions that can make the difference for the world’s hungry. The candle you light can inspire others to action.