Christian Groups Hail $20 Billion Commitment to Fight World Hunger

Christian humanitarian groups over the weekend hailed news of the G-8's commitment to investing $20 billion to help fight world hunger.

"We welcome President Obama's lead on this issue and the renewed focus by the G-8 on fighting global hunger," said Robert Zachritz, World Vision's director for advocacy and government relations in the United States.

"We have the audacity to believe that we can end global hunger if governments make these sorts of major commitments to join in the fight," added Bill O'Keefe, Catholic Relief Services' senior director for advocacy.

And according to the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, the agreement by G-8 leaders last week to contribute $20 billion over three years to a new "food security" initiative to combat global hunger is a sign of hope for tens of millions of the world's most vulnerable people.

The additional resources would go both toward rebuilding international capacity to address agricultural issues, and toward directly assisting farmers through improved access to higher-yielding seeds, fertilizer, credit and marketing.

They would also come as the global food and financial crises have pushed the number of people suffering from chronic hunger past the one billion mark for the first time in recorded history.

According to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, there are around 642 million suffering from chronic hunger in Asia and the Pacific, 265 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 42 million in the Near East and North Africa; and 15 million in developed countries.

This year, mainly due to the shocks of the economic crisis combined with often high national food prices, FAO expects the number of hungry people to grow overall by about 11 percent.

In light of this, CRS's O'Keefe said the new $20 billion initiative, though overdue, is timely.

"The food price crisis and our concern about the impact of global climate change on rain-fed agriculture in Africa make the effort all the more urgent," he said.

"The global economic collapse has been especially hard on poor people," added Bread for the World's Beckmann .

The new food security initiative "would be the most ambitious international effort in many years to help millions of the world's poorest farmers to significantly increase their crop yields to the benefit of their families and communities," he added.

However, while the commitment for a pledge of $20 billion is higher than many expected, anti-poverty groups are urging the United States and other governments to follow through to help people in the developing world feed themselves - especially considering their failure to meet their promise to double aid to Africa by 2010, as Patrick Watt, head of World Vision's G-8 campaign, noted.

According to a recent report, G-8 nations are collectively off course in delivering on their 2005 pact to more than double aid to Africa through 2010, with France and Italy falling far short of their commitments.

By the end of 2008, the G-8 nations only delivered one third of the additional assistance they promised to Africa by 2010, despite being two thirds of the way to the deadline. By the end of this year, they are expected to meet just half of their targets, the ONE anti-poverty campaign noted in its annual report this year.

"[T]he G-8 must seize this opportunity to help save millions of lives and demonstrate global leadership," commented Watt. "If this renewed focus on fighting global hunger is followed through, it will be the best decision the G-8 leaders have made in L'Aquila."

Though good progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, FAO reported last month that hunger has been slowly but steadily on the rise for the past decade. The number of hungry people increased between 1995 and 1997 and between 2004 and 2006 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. But even in this region, gains in hunger reduction have been reversed as a result of high food prices and the current global economic downturn.

FAO also noted that, unlike previous crises, developing countries have less room to adjust to the deteriorating economic conditions this year because the turmoil is affecting practically all parts of the world more or less simultaneously.

The economic crisis also comes on the heel of the food and fuel crisis between 2006 and 2008.

In its statement, CRS cited a call last week by Pope Benedict XVI, who stressed that the problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed within a long-term perspective, eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries.

World Vision's Zachritz also highlighted the need for long-term development, hailing the new "food security" initiative as a more holistic approach to ending global hunger.

"Tackling the need must include long-term agricultural development and providing quality nutrition, as well as food aid," he said.

"We urge leaders to back this approach with funds and action."

Christian Post reporters Lawrence Jones and Aaron Leichman contributed to this article.