U.S. Committed to Fight Against Global Hunger, Malnutrition
USINFO Staff Writer
Washington - Five Latin American journalists, with U.S. help, are getting the chance to report firsthand on the many programs supported by the United States and the international community to fight global hunger and malnutrition.
U.S. official Gaddi Vasquez will accompany the journalists on the U.S.-sponsored media tour to Guatemala and Honduras May 13-18. He told USINFO May 8 that the trip aims to increase “visibility” for the anti-hunger efforts of the United States and the international community in Central America and around the world -– a world in which someone dies of hunger every five seconds. The five journalists are from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico.
Vasquez, the U.S. representative to the U.N. food and agricultural agencies in Rome, said the trip will give him and the journalists a chance to interact with beneficiaries of the food programs. The journalists will also meet with Peace Corps volunteers who work in areas where U.S.-backed food aid programs are operating in Guatemala and Honduras, Vasquez, a former director of the U.S. Peace Corps, said.
Vasquez’s Central American trip follows a similarly designed visit to Mali in December 2006 to highlight U.S. support for humanitarian food aid programs. (See online journal.)
The United States is the largest donor to U.N. food and agricultural agencies. In 2006, the United States contributed:
• $1.125 billion to the World Food Programme, about 43 percent of total contributions to that organization;
• $90 million in “assessed” (required as a condition of membership) contributions to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - approximately 22 percent of contributions by all member states to that agency - and another $30 million in voluntary contributions; and
• $15 million to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
USAID PROGRAMS ADDRESSING CRITICAL NEEDS IN LATIN AMERICA
“Food security” programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) benefit about 500,000 poor families in Guatemala. The agency provides that country from $16 million to $18 million a year in food assistance. USAID says Guatemala continues to have the highest rate of chronic child malnutrition (49 percent nationally) in the Western Hemisphere. Food security, said USAID, refers to “when people at all times have access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.”
Hondurans also suffer from chronic undernourishment, according to USAID. In the highest poverty areas of Honduras, some 40 percent to 50 percent of children suffer from malnutrition, related to food insecurity. The high level of malnutrition underlies many of the country’s causes of infant and child mortality.
The agency’s food programs help some 500,000 Hondurans, which includes pregnant women, children under age 5, and families of subsistence farmers. The United States provides about $10 million a year to Honduras in food aid.
Vasquez emphasized several times in the interview that the United States and the international community seek much longer-lasting returns than just supplying countries in need with food aid and emergency equipment for the short term, following such natural disasters as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and tsunamis. The ultimate goal, he said, is to increase a community’s capacity to produce its own agricultural products and to build supporting infrastructure, such as reservoirs and irrigation systems, to sustain its citizens in the long term.
The itinerary for the May trip includes participating in the WFP’s “Walk the World” global campaign May 13 in Guatemala City, an event to highlight the U.N. goal to end child hunger by 2015. At least 25 Walk the World events are being held in the United States.
Vasquez also plans to meet with community leaders and laborers from Guatemalan communities like Santiago Atitlán, where, with USAID and other international support, residents are building new homes after Hurricane Stan devastated the town in October 2005.
Stops in Honduras include visiting a USAID-backed agricultural diversification project in Comayagua. That project is part of a three-year USAID program, begun in August 2005, to increase incomes and employment opportunities in Honduran rural communities.
Vasquez said his own background as the Mexican-American son of Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers who worked the fields in California gives him the “first-person understanding” of the lives of minimum-wage agricultural workers at literally the “grassroots level.”
Growing up poor when some days there was not enough food to feed the family, said Vasquez, has given him a sensitivity to the problems of global hunger.
“The opportunity to be a voice for those who have to endure difficult circumstances is a very unique position to be in,” said Vasquez. He added that “having come from very modest beginnings [myself], it’s an enormous honor and privilege” to represent the United States before the U.N. food and agricultural agencies.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Global Development and Foreign Aid.