Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Standing up for humanity: What we need to do to tackle the hunger crisis

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Korile temporary settlement, Donod Woreda, Somali Region, Ethiopia. A devastating drought is causing the worst food crisis to hit Ethiopia in 30 years putting millions of people at risk of hunger and disease. (Photo: Tina Hillier / Oxfam)

It’s not just campaign promises at stake. People’s lives are on the line as the Trump Administration implements it’s ‘America First’ agenda.

As a child, I remember seeing images of starving kids in Ethiopia on TV. Those images roused something in a lot of us, something that all the data that scientists and policy wonks use fail to deliver- the humanity of it all. While I’m not longing for the days when “poverty porn” was a fixture on TV every evening, I do wish more of my fellow citizens (especially those working in DC on our behalf) felt more urgency to act – both to meet short-term humanitarian needs, but also to tackle the longer-term climate and development challenges to build a better future for us all.

The doom and gloom

Famine has been declared in South Sudan and there are devastating food crises in East Africa, northeast Nigeria, and Yemen. If nothing is done, some of these crises could escalate to famine-level. Northeast Nigeria is already very close to famine and the risk is high in Yemen and Somalia as well. Famine or not though, about 20 million people across these regions are experience alarming hunger.

The causes of these crises are complex. Conflict, weak governance, poverty, chronic malnutrition, and slow global response are all critical factors. In East Africa, drought is a leading cause of the food crisis. Nearly 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are dangerously hungry and in need of humanitarian assistance. And, there is growing evidence that climate change is making a bad situation worse.

Meanwhile in “the swamp”

With this scale of human suffering and the UN declaring the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, it’s hard to imagine a stronger call to action. Unfortunately, Washington (namely, the Trump Administration) hasn’t risen to the occasion.

This week, Congress and the administration are haggling over two big issues that could save millions of lives:

  • The budget: Which will require Congress to figure out what to do about the President’s plan to dramatically cut humanitarian, development, and climate assistance, and merge USAID and the State Department (and many other controversial funding proposals). Moving forward with such a proposal would have potentially devastating effects for millions in the developing world and US global leadership.
  • The Paris Agreement: Which requires navigating the political infighting about whether the US should live up to the commitments it made in the Paris Agreement, renegotiate them, or withdraw completely.

Unfortunately, leadership to tackle the humanitarian and climate crises is hard to find these days, despite histories of strong bipartisan support. Instead the Trump Administration is playing politics with people’s lives.

We’ll keep fighting the good fight

The direction the administration is headed on climate and development assistance in the midst of famine and other urgent humanitarian needs is astounding and immoral. The administration and Congress need to change course, and here’s what each of us – Congress and administration included – should do:

  1. Congress should provide $1 billion for famine relief and prevention now, in fiscal year 2017. Call your representatives to let them know that stopping famine is important to you.
  2. Congress should fully-fund international affairs in the FY18 budget at $60 billion. At less than 1 percent of the federal budget these programs provide life-saving assistance to people in need and support long-term growth and development to create a better future for us all.
  3. The US must live up to its commitments to tackle climate change. Walking away from the Paris Agreement is NOT an option. Cutting climate assistance to developing countries and potentially lowering our emissions reduction commitment sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the world – that the US cannot be trusted to keep its word. Not to mention, it leaves Americans high and dry in the face of growing climate risks.
  4. Join the People’s Climate March Saturday, April 29th to march for climate, jobs, and justice. We all need to show our leaders that there is demand for climate action. So bust out the poster board and make your voice heard!