CRS OFFICIAL RECOMMENDS URGENT RESPONSE TO
GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS
Sean Callahan Tells House Agriculture Subcommittee About
Mounting Hunger Crisis in Africa
Baltimore, MD, July 16, 2008 – A top official for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) urged Congress today to reinforce recent supplemental funding with $1.6 billion in additional resources for Food for Peace and other food security programs. Sean Callahan, CRS’ executive vice president for overseas operations, recently returned from a trip to east Africa and testified about the additional help needed by impoverished Africans affected by mounting food and fuel prices.
“CRS staff around the world has heard stories of families who are stretched to the limits of life itself by the high price of food,” Callahan, told a subcommittee hearing of the House Agriculture Committee.
In some regions of Niger, he said, families have started eating only one meal a day. In dire circumstances, people have resorted to eating anza, a wild plant with bitter leaves, to supplement their diet. In northern Ghana, students have been taking CRS-provided lunches home to share with hungry family members, sharing their only meal of the day.
“Some families must make do with eating less at each meal. They are already skipping meals, or even not eating on a particular day,” he said. “Tragically, they may even have to decide which child or children may have the best chance of survival and which, already so ill and weak, will be allowed to die. These are the agonizing choices the global food crisis is forcing the poor to make.”
Callahan also alerted the subcommittee to what he saw several weeks ago in Ethiopia, where two consecutive seasons of poor rains have led to total crop failure and malnutrition.
“I visited a feeding site run by the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the Missionaries of Charity in a largely Muslim area where, over the previous five weeks, 28 children had died of malnutrition. The conditions there are already dire,” he said.
“I saw one Ethiopian parent bring a very sickly, lethargic child to the center for emergency treatment. The parent told the sisters, ‘I brought this child because I thought he could make it. My weakest child is at home.’
“My first reaction on seeing all this was simply to bite my lip, to contain my emotion,” Callahan said. “My second reaction was anger. How could we let this happen? But the more I observed, I realized that this was a place of hope. I saw kids being fed and stabilized, getting better. Parents were thanking the workers for saving the lives of their children.”
Callahan described CRS’ emergency response to the food crisis, which involves getting food and cash into the hands of the urban and rural poor, so they can eat. These efforts include providing cash vouchers so families can purchase food, and projects that provide cash for work on disaster preparedness measures, like clearing out drainage canals to prevent flooding when a storm hits. CRS is also redoubling efforts to promote agricultural development for long-term food security.
CRS will fund many of these projects with private donations. Callahan noted that there are not enough cash resources available from the U.S. government and urged Congress to expand the availability of these resources.
“This global food crisis is bigger than food aid alone,” he said. “The U.S. government should provide much more cash in the International Disaster Assistance and Development Assistance accounts to complement current food aid efforts.”
Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency provides assistance to people in more than 100 countries and territories based on need, regardless of race, nationality or creed. For more information, please visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org