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USAID Works To Break Link Between Hunger and Conflict

31 August 2007

United States delivers half of emergency food aid to world's combat zones

Washington – The U.S. Food for Peace Program teams with the United Nations and humanitarian aid organizations to help break the link between hunger and armed conflict by building greater food security.

“If you look around the world to where most of emergency food aid needs are, a lot of it is related to conflict,” says Bill Hammink, director of the Food for Peace Program in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The program has fed more than 3 billion people in 150 countries since its creation in 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“The U.S. is the Number 1 food aid donor in the world,” Hammink said. “It shows the giving, and benevolence, and caring of the American people.” The United States provides half of the world’s emergency food assistance.

Inspired by the success of aid programs such as the Marshall Plan, Food for Peace began as an initiative to ship surplus U.S. agricultural goods abroad to support humanitarian relief efforts.

It transformed itself in the 1960s by working more closely with the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and private voluntary organizations, which are better able to determine what food commodities are needed most critically in underdeveloped countries.

Hammink told USINFO August 23 that USAID and its international assistance partners are seeing increasing numbers of chronically vulnerable communities that have been weakened by conflicts, natural disasters and other causes, making them unable to cope with sudden shocks that can disrupt area food supplies and contribute to conflict.

Using tools such as the Famine Early Warning System Network – a database that tracks climate, economic and agricultural trends to project potential food shortages – USAID works together with affected governments, WFP and private aid organizations to assess demand. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USAID also procures goods within the United States for shipping abroad or, if needed, purchases foods in the region and arranges for delivery.

On any given week, USAID ships more than 350,000 metric tons of food commodities such as peas, beans, lentils, cornmeal, wheat and vegetable oil to more than 35 countries for distribution by WFP and private nongovernmental organizations to people in need.

Sub-Saharan Africa, no stranger to hunger and conflict, has received more than $1 billion worth of emergency food assistance from the United States annually in recent years, he said.

Sudan’s Darfur region is a major beneficiary of Food for Peace, Hammink says. Working with WFP and private voluntary agencies on the ground, Food for Peace helps feed about 2.5 million internally displaced people in Darfur, and more than 220,000 refugees who have fled into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic.

Other major Food for Peace programs can be found in current and former conflict zones in Somalia, northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

To confront the vulnerabilities that can be caused by food insecurity, Food for Peace and partners have expanded their focus from simply saving lives to helping communities find new livelihoods, he said. Communities are encouraged to try new crops and farming techniques, new industries and other local economic development projects to strengthen communities and help them regain self sufficiency and become less vulnerable, according to Hammink.

“The focus on vulnerability to food insecurity encourages our emergency programs to encompass activities that address the underlying causes of emergencies and for development programs to incorporate activities to assist vulnerable people by improving their capacity to prevent and cope with future emergencies,” Hammink said.

Because food insecurity can contribute to war, emergency food assistance can become a critical first step in building peace, Hammink said.

Improved food security can help to decrease child mortality and keep children in school. In some cases, food rations can be used as payment to laborers, helping citizens to provide for their families and enabling the country to move forward toward reconstruction and development.

Once improved food security helps stabilize the situation, other aid programs can step in to help rebuild build agriculture, education, economic development and health services.

Through new initiatives to improve how U.S. government agencies work together to deliver foreign aid, Food for Peace also is committed to integrating its efforts with those of other aid programs that can help remove land mines, rebuild infrastructure, provide education and health care, and assist former combatants with their transition into peacetime, he said.

For more stories on U.S. assistance, see Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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