Bush Asks Congress for $770 Million in Emergency Food Aid

WASHINGTON, DC, May 2, 2008 (ENS) – On Tuesday the United Nations Executive Board called for donations of $775 million in emergency funds to feed the 100 million of hungry people worldwide who are victims of skyrocketing food prices. On Thursday, President George W. Bush asked Congress to approve nearly that same amount to support U.S. food aid and development programs that will relieve the hunger of those millions.

The $770 million requested by the president would be in addition to the $200 million in emergency food aid announced by the White House two weeks ago to be available through a program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture called the Emerson Trust.

“Together, this amounts to nearly $1 billion in new funds to bolster global food security,” the president said in a speech at the White House. “And with other food security assistance programs already in place, we’re now projecting … that we will spend nearly $5 billion in 2008 and 2009 to fight global hunger.”

The request for $770 million is being included in a broader $70 billion Iraq war funding measure for 2009 that the White House sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday.

President George W. Bush asks Congress for
$770 million in additional food aid.
(Photo by Joyce Boghosian
courtesy The White House)

Bush said the new funding would allow the United States to fund agricultural development programs that help farmers in developing countries increase their productivity. “And of course this will help reduce the number of people who need emergency food aid in the first place,” he said.

Bush also again asked Congress to support a proposal to purchase up to nearly 25 percent of food assistance directly from farmers in the developing world, a proposal he mentioned in his State of the Union Address in January.

The president said that this measure would help “break the cycle of famine that we’re having to deal with too often in a modern era” by helping to build up local agriculture. “I ask Congress to approve this measure as soon as possible. It’s a common sense way to help deal with food emergencies around the world,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress will “respond rapidly to the growing urgent need for international food assistance.”

“This is not only a humanitarian issue; it is a matter of national security as well,” Pelosi said. “From Bangladesh to Haiti, this food crisis is contributing to international instability by adversely affecting tens of millions of people, including the poorest people in the world. We must take action to address this critical problem and demonstrate to the world the generosity and compassion of the American people.”

“We are also committed to addressing food insecurity affecting millions of Americans, and ask the President to support the major increases in nutrition programs contained in our Farm bill. This legislation will include a major increase to the food stamp program that will ensure that 38 million Americans – especially children – have improved access to basic nutrition. The President must work with Congress and sign the Farm bill.”

President Bush has threatened to veto the Farm Bill in its current form calling it “bloated” with subsidies for wealthy farmers. The term of the current Farm bill has been extended week by week as House and Senate negotiators struggle to write a bill the president will not veto.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said, “It is good to see the president take the necessary steps to ensure that no one goes without food. As a farmer and a national farm leader, I find it appalling that anyone goes to bed hungry. America’s farmers, and farmers around the world, have the capacity to produce the food we need. In fact, most years we produce surpluses.”

USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore said the additional $770 million in funding will help meet immediate needs in countries already experiencing food shortages and will also target new food insecure populations. “We will also be able to invest in additional mid- and long-term agricultural and economic growth programs to help assure future food security,” she said.

“The urgency and magnitude of the challenge confronting us is great,” said Fore. “USAID – working with our interagency, nongovernmental, private sector and international partners – is prepared to enhance our efforts to help minimize hunger in the world and, ultimately, to ensure that there will be a day when there is no need for food aid.”

Bush said he is working with fellow G8 countries and other developed nations to secure commitments from their governments for additional food aid.

The government of Japan, which is hosting this year’s G8 Summit, decided on April 25 to implement food aid of about US$100 million over the next three months as an emergency measure.

About $50 million of that aid will be provided to countries in Africa in May through the UN World Food Programme. Japan has already contributed about $68 million to the WFP this year.

On April 22, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged £30 million (US$59 million) to support the World Food Programme’s work in some of the countries most affected by food price inflation – including Zimbabwe, Somalia and Kenya.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put in place a working group that brings together representatives of several ministries to respond to the worldwide food crisis and rising prices.

President Bush urged the conclusion of a successful Doha agreement under the World Trade Organization that will reduce and eliminate tariffs and market-distorting subsidies for agricultural goods.

“The reason why getting a Doha Round done is important,” Bush said, “is it’ll end up reducing the cost of food, importing food; it will make it cheaper for consumers all around the world. In other words, we want to change the system to make it easier for people to get less expensive food.”

The UN Human Rights Council should convene to discuss the current global food crisis because it is important to view the problem of soaring prices as “a massive violation of the right to adequate food,” a United Nations expert on the subject said today.

Speaking in New York, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, called for a special session of the Human Rights Council so that the Council can “speak with one single voice.”

The Human Rights Council approved on March 26, 2008 the proposal of its president to appoint de Schutter as special rapporteur on right to food, succeeding Jean Ziegler as of May 1, 2008.

“If we had 100 million persons arrested in a dictatorial regime – if we had 100 million persons beaten up by police, of course we would be marching on the streets and we’d be convening special sessions of the Human Rights Council,” de Schutter said. “Every single of these 100 million individuals deserves the same degree of attention from the international community as if the person had been arbitrarily arrested or detained for his or her political opinions.”

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.