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More poverty, hunger in developing world as recession takes hold

September 9, 2009

Editor's note: October 16 is World Food Day. Please pray for those facing hunger now and in coming months. Read more about MCC's Food for All campaign.

WINNIPEG, Man.— Although the worldwide recession appears to be letting up in the U.S. and Canada, in many developing countries it has barely begun and the impact will be devastating, says an MCC spokesperson.

“Many families in Africa, Asia and Latin American spend between 50 to 70 per cent of their household income on basic food staples,” says Bruce Guenther, MCC’s coordinator of humanitarian assistance.  “Food prices have come down from the extreme levels they were at last year, but they are still up to triple what they were.”

Families are spending so much on food that they have little money for other essentials like education and medicine. The stress and shock is enough to throw many families that were able to get by, into poverty.

“On top of this, people are now beginning to lose their jobs because of this recession,” said Guenther. “The effects of mass hunger will continue to make it harder for people to survive.”

Guenther recently saw the impact of hunger firsthand in Kenya, where severe drought conditions have increased the need for humanitarian assistance.  MCC is responding by providing emergency food for 3,000 Maasai families and nutritious meals to 43 primary schools.

As well, MCC has organized food for work programs where participants can collect maize, beans and cooking oil in return for community work in sustainable agriculture.

MCC food aid reached record levels this past year as the organization responded to hunger caused by disasters, skyrocketing food prices and climate change. This next year is shaping up to be worse.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations recently reported that the number of hungry people in the world is on track to reach more than one billion in 2009—the highest number ever.

In March, 2009, the World Bank said the recession was expected to trap 53 million more people in poverty this year, defined as subsistence living on less than $1.25 U.S a day. Poor people in developing countries have little buffer to protect them against the effects of the crisis.

“The high cost of fertilizer and fuel, in combination with extreme weather conditions, are affecting access to food and the amount of food grown,” says Willie Reimer, Director of Food, Disaster and Material Resources for Mennonite Central Committee.

“And while there is still a surplus of food being produced, it is not as large as in previous years.”

That there is even a surplus of food being produced in the world is of great importance for Reimer.

“This is really more than a food crisis. It is a hunger crisis. There is still more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone.”

The problem, often, is access to food caused by factors like unequal access to land and conflict.

“In war-torn areas like southern Sudan, 22 years of conflict has resulted in fading knowledge about food-growing techniques. Hidden landmines in the soil complicate people’s abilities to go out and till the land.”

MCC is responding by increasing the amounts of emergency food assistance, continuing to help farmers increase the food they can grow, and advocating for food systems that are fair and just.

However, the needs are still great. Here is what you can do:

Pray for the people who are hungry that they may have enough to eat, soon. Pray for the people struggling to provide comfort and food to the hungry.

Live simply so that your lifestyle in this interconnected world is not a burden on the poor.

Speak out on behalf of the poor and hungry so that they are not forgotten by governments.

Donate to MCC (gifts can be designated to Food). In Canada, gifts can also be made to MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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