2013 hunger report: Goals are ‘within reach’

Sometimes, reducing childhood malnutrition and mortality can be as easy as substituting one crop for another.

That has been the result of a United Methodist initiative in the Kamina area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which farmers were introduced to moringa and soybean as replacements for nutrient-poor cassava.

For June Kim, an executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief who serves as the agency’s staff coordinator for the Kamina initiative, such grassroots efforts are key to achieving measurable progress in international goals to eradicate hunger and poverty.

Sharmila Chaudhari feeds her daughter Sanjana, 19 months, at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Dhangadhi, Nepal. Forty-one percent of Nepali children younger than age 5 suffer from malnutrition. UMNS PHOTO COURTESY LAURA ELIZABETH POHL/BREAD FOR THE WORLD

National nutrition strategies are important, she said, but international aid money also must be allotted to implement those plans.

“We have to balance the need for a ‘national plan’ and the direct need of the people,” said Ms. Kim. “The more dollars we can put down at the community level, the more of a direct impact we can have at the health and livelihoods of those we are trying to help.”

An examination of what are known as the “Millennium Development Goals” regarding hunger and poverty and discussion of a framework for action in the years to come is at the heart of Within Reach, the 2013 hunger report from the Bread for the World Institute.

The report’s “bulls-eye” recommendation: End hunger and poverty in every country in the world by 2040.

Religious leaders urge world leaders to embrace this “bold” goal. “With concerted effort, a system to hold all nations accountable, and God’s help, we believe this is an achievable goal,” they said in a statement in the report.

Among the statement’s signers are Susie Johnson, public policy director for United Methodist Women, and the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and president of Church World Service. Both Church World Service and UMCOR are sponsors of the 2013 report.

‘A people of visions’

Carter Echols, staff for congregational engagement and church relations for Bread for the World, noted that many congregations already have focused on the Millennium Development Goals “so it’s language they understand.”

The point of the report, Ms. Echols said, is to build on previous conversations, emphasizing the importance of having the next set of goals to eradicate hunger and poverty.

Even if such goals seem huge, “we [Christians] are a people of visions and prophetic visions,” she added. “We come from a history of promise and this is a faithful way of doing things.”

From Ms. Kim’s perspective, the report offers a “really good snapshot” of why the goals are important and what more needs to be done.

The 2013 hunger report says the goals have made some measurable successes in the poorest countries, but also shows “the majority of poor people are no longer in the poorest countries,” Ms. Echols pointed out. “They’re embedded in middle-income countries.”

The report’s tables and graphs also show that:

  • Extreme poverty has fallen in every part of the developing world.
  • Sub-Saharan African countries made the most human development improvements between 2000 and 2011.
  • Growth in agriculture surpassed growth in other sectors for reducing poverty.
  • The global total of children younger than 5 stunted because of malnutrition has dropped 35 percent, to about 165 million.
  • Eighty-three percent of those who lack access to improved drinking water sources live in rural areas.

The Rev. Liberato Bautista, an executive with the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society based at the Church Center for the United Nations, noted that while the Millennium Development Goals have become a well-publicized vehicle for discussing hunger and poverty, such popularity “did not necessarily translate into lasting achievements.”

The “most minimum” goals, easier to implement, “were chosen over the longer-term struggle for enacting human rights,” he said. But those goals were designed to raise the poor from extreme poverty to normal poverty. Sustainability is the key to real progress beyond 2015, he said.

“Sustainability ensures no one is dependent on the other people’s charity,” Mr. Bautista explained. “Empowerment points to the enablement of peoples to find meaningful ways to participate in the civic, political and economic life of their communities.”

To truly make change, U.S. churches must challenge the way the government ties aid money to foreign policy rather than need, Ms. Kim said.

“What we’re encouraging United Methodists to do is move beyond charity,” she explained, noting that Americans love their own rights but don’t think about the fact that basic human rights are violated in other places every day. “Can we talk about global development absent those conflicts and absent those root causes?”

While the report, which includes a Christian study guide, will not change, Ms. Echols said, Bread for the World Institute will add resources for congregations at www.hungerreport.org throughout the year.

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