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U.S. food aid still needed around the world [Commentary]

Sharing the bounty of America's farms is a lifesaving tradition almost as old at the Republic itself. In 1812, President James Madison sent emergency aid to earthquake victims in Venezuela. President Herbert Hoover started a large feeding program in Russia during the 1920s. And after World War II, President Harry Truman launched the Marshall Plan, named for George C. Marshall, which delivered tons of food to the people of Western Europe.

In times of emergency, the U.S. government and the American people respond vigorously and generously. But food aid is not only about such short-term responses. Long term development work can help prevent or lessen the impact of these emergencies.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized this, foreshadowing what would become a crusade against hunger in a 1953 speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," he said, adding "We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat."

On July 10, 1954, Eisenhower initiated the Food for Peace Program. The Allies' Supreme Commander at Normandy understood that hunger is a ruthless tyrant that dictates that millions of people around the globe are slaves to the simple chore of finding food. For those starving there is little time to ponder the advantages of liberty, for they are never free from the pain of hunger.

That's why President Eisenhower emphasized, "Food can be a powerful instrument for all the free world in building a durable peace." And Ike's successor, President John F. Kennedy, echoed the call to serve the world when he stated, "Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping hand to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want."

Today, 60 years after the launch of Ike's Food for Peace program, it is still bringing vital food to hungry children, women and men overseas. This is a testament to the hard work not just of U.S. farmers, but also business people, grain elevator operators, truck drivers, freight movers, port operators, as well as our federal government and relief agencies like Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services.

But even as we celebrate six decades of success, much work remains to be done:

•Hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

•842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat.

•The vast majority of hungry people live in developing countries.

•Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of deaths in children under age 5 — more than 3 million children each year

•66 million school children attend classes hungry.

More permanent solutions like the one Eisenhower started and education are among the most effective weapons in this crusade. Improved water management — including wells, irrigation and earthen dams — drought resistant crops; improved crop storage techniques, linking farmers to markets and more education will help hungry communities help themselves. And all come at a fraction of the cost of the weapons designed to destroy life.

Millions of people around the world have avoided starvation and malnutrition because of the Food for Peace program. Just think how many millions more we could help with fresh initiatives. By golly, I do like Ike!

Mike Gesker, author of The Orioles Encyclopedia, is a writer at Catholic Relief Services where he serves as the agency's unofficial historian. He was raised in Catonsville. His email is Michael.Gesker@crs.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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