Developing strategies to end hunger

9 posts from August 2011

Smart Deportation


Unauthorized immigrants getting off a bus in Presidio, CA, will be deported to Ojinaga, Mexico.
Photo: Bob Daemmrich for Texas Tribune.

Last week the administration announced it would review the cases of nearly 300,000 immigrants currently in the deportation process to clear out low-priority, non-criminal cases and focus on detainees who are criminals or pose a security risk.

White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz stated in the White House blog that current deportation cases will be reviewed for prioritization and that in the future, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will take steps to avoid putting low-priority detainees into the deportation pipeline. The Department of Homeland Security is creating a joint committee with the Justice Department to review the cases and determine which are low priority and can be administratively closed. 

This announcement builds on a memo issued by ICE director John Morton in June. The memo stated that because ICE doesn’t have enough resources to deport all of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, the agency will use “prosecutorial discretion” in determining deportation priorities. Some of the factors ICE will take into account are:

  • “Whether the person, or the person's immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military … with particular consideration given to those who served in combat”
  • “The person's criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest warrants”
  • “Whether the person poses a national security or public safety concern”
  • “The person's ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships”

The memo also calls for “particular care and consideration” for potential deportees with the following favorable factors:

  • Members and veterans of the U.S. armed forces
  • Minors and elderly people
  • Individuals resident in the United States since childhood
  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • Victims of domestic violence, trafficking, or other serious crimes
  • Individuals who suffer from a serious mental or physical disability
  • Individuals with serious health conditions

Instead, Morton directs ICE officers to prioritize the use of their enforcement resources for:

  • Individuals who pose a clear risk to national security
  • Serious felons, repeat offenders, or individuals with a lengthy criminal record of any kind
  • Known gang members or other individuals who pose a clear danger to public safety
  • Individuals with an egregious record of immigration violations, including those with a record of illegal re-entry and those who have engaged in immigration fraud

This announcement is part of a history of U.S immigration enforcement agency changes that allow discretion in using limited resources to respond to large numbers of unauthorized immigrants. But it remains to be seen how the new policy will be implemented and what will happen to deportees who are released from proceedings on the basis of the new guidelines.

Sen. Dick Durbin’s office announced that if the new process for handling cases is fully implemented, it would prevent the deportation of all DREAM Act students who are now facing deportation proceedings. Durbin’s press release also stated that unauthorized immigrants whose deportation proceedings are closed would be eligible for certain benefits, including work authorization.

But that would leave unauthorized immigrants in a strange position: Their best chance of gaining work authorization might be to be detained by ICE, but then avoid deportation under the new priorities. What about qualified unauthorized immigrants who are never detained—do they get work permits?

The details on how this will play out on the ground are still unresolved but the nuanced deployment of immigration enforcement resources is nonetheless a step toward smart immigration policy.

Note: Bread for the World has not taken a legislative position on the issue/issues covered in this blog post.

Celebrating People Who Help People

Today, August 19, is World Humanitarian Day, a United Nations celebration of people helping people. “The day recognizes the sacrifices and contributions of those who risk their lives to give others help and hope,” explains the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his World Humanitarian Day message:  “Wherever there are people in need, there are people who help them…. [These humanitarians] draw the world closer together by reminding us that we are one family, sharing the same dreams for a peaceful planet, where all people can live in safety, and with dignity.

“On World Humanitarian Day, we honor these aid workers and thank them for their dedication,” Ban said. “This is also a day to examine our own lives and consider what more we can do to help.”

Humanitarian workers may be Kenyans who are raising money and caring for mothers and children now literally walking away from their drought-devastated villages in Somalia. They may be American surgeons who spend two weeks each year in a developing country, performing surgery for birth defects such as cleft palate or childbirth injuries such as fistula. They may simply be people--from developing or developed countries, high-income or low-income--who devote time and energy to helping others break down barriers and improve their lives.   

Some people combine their direct-service efforts with advocacy on behalf of hungry and poor people. Rebecca Vander Meulen used to work in Bread for the World’s government relations department, asking Congress to support efforts to end hunger. For the past eight years, she has lived in a rural area of northern Mozambique as the director of community development for the Anglican Diocese of Niassa (Mozambique).

Here’s how Vander Meulen thinks about her work as an expatriate development worker: “I don’t see my role as providing services to people, but rather helping people more fully reach their potential.  If I look at people living in material poverty as having nothing to contribute to their own development, I deprive them of their agency and reinforce the common message that they are helpless.”

Humanitarian workers enable people not only to survive, but to move forward in their lives. Visit OCHA’s World Humanitarian Day page for more on humanitarian workers; the difficulties they often face, such as personal safety; and how you can help in the Horn of Africa humanitarian crisis.


How Policymakers Can Help Children from Struggling Families

Today the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book. The newest edition of the most comprehensive resource available on the state of the nation’s children tells a sad story of the recession’s effects on children in our country.

Some striking examples from the data:

  • Nearly 8 million children have at least one parent who is unemployed--double the number of 2007.
  • There are 7.7 million children with no health insurance, along with 12 million parents.
  • Since 2007, 5.3 million children have been affected by foreclosure.
  • In 2005, 29 percent of families with children were considered “asset poor,” meaning that their total assets (liquid and non-liquid) added up to less than three months of poverty-level income. By 2009, the percentage of families with children who were asset poor had jumped to 37 percent.

These data are in line with trends from the past decade that show widening levels of inequality. Before the recession, low-income households were not benefiting from economic growth as middle- and high-income families were.  “The official child poverty rate,” the Casey Foundation reports, “which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, essentially returning to the same level as the early 1990s.”

There were, however, improvements in five indicators of child well-being: the infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, and percentage of teens who are neither in school nor high school graduates.

The Casey Foundation recommends six ways for policymakers to support struggling families:

  • Strengthen and modernize unemployment insurance and promote foreclosure prevention and remediation efforts.
  • Preserve and strengthen existing programs that supplement poverty-level wages, offset the high cost of child care, and provide health insurance coverage for parents and children.
  • Promote savings and asset protection and help families gain financial knowledge skills.
  • Promote responsible parenthood and ensure that mothers-to-be receive prenatal care.
  • Ensure that children are developmentally ready to succeed in school.
  • Promote reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

The new edition of the Data Book is supported by an interactive website that enables users to search the national and state-level data collected in the book. 

Saving Lives with U.S. Support for Food Security, Early Warning, and Prepositioned Food Aid

The hunger and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa is still growing, but regional U.S. aid programs, coupled with efforts by countries in the region, are saving lives. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, investments in food security are paying off. In an August 11 speech at the International Food Policy Research Institute, she said that the United States is now “doing development differently.”

 Photo Credit: IFPRI

Clinton was referring to the Feed the Future initiative, which focuses heavily on strengthening smallholder agriculture, improving nutrition, and involving local governments and building their capacity so that development efforts can be sustained after donor funding runs out. The difference between the current drought in Ethiopia and the last occurrence of a drought this severe (2002-2003), is notable. Last time, more than 13 million Ethiopians faced starvation. Today’s figure is less than 5 million.

“That is still an unacceptably large number, but it is also an astonishing improvement in a relatively short period of time,” said Clinton. “And it is evidence that investments in food security can pay off powerfully.”

In 2005, the government of Ethiopia established the Productive Safety Net Program, with support from the United States and other donors. Its focus is on smallholder farmers—helping them diversify their crops, manage water resources, and improve their nutrition.

Clinton said, “More than 7.6 million farmers and herders have now been helped by this program, people who are not among those in need of emergency aid today.”

More broadly, the governments of both Ethiopia and Kenya have stepped up their investments in agricultural development to nearly 10 percent of their respective national budgets. 

Feed the Future’s goals in Ethiopia include moving 1 million people out of hunger and allowing 430,000 children to benefit from improved nutrition. In Kenya, the goals are to raise the incomes of 800,000 smallholder farmers and improve nutrition throughout the country.

Programs such as the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), which enables analysts to anticipate food shortages related to weather and other conditions, are also beginning to change the impact of extreme weather on human life. FEWS NET supplied data as early as last August that raised concerns about the impact in the Horn of Africa of last fall’s drought; agencies were able to pre-position food aid so that it could be quickly sent to those in need. FEWS NET and other tools offer opportunities to mitigate the impact of drought and prevent some of the related suffering and death, although in the case of the current crisis, the international humanitarian response was not as swift and generous as was needed.

U.S.-led efforts in the G-20 group of states with significant economies resulted in the creation of the World Bank’s Global Agricultural Food Security Program. Thus far, seven donor countries and the Gates Foundation have awarded $510 million to 12 developing countries for food security initiatives. Scaling Up Nutrition and the 1,000 Days Partnership followed. Both emphasize the importance of better nutrition during the critical period of pregnancy through a child’s second birthday. Malnutrition at this stage of human development causes damage that is preventable but irreversible.

According to Clinton, after the great successes of the Green Revolution, whose agricultural investments helped lead millions of people out of hunger and poverty, particularly in Asia, it seems we have “lost our way” in supporting critical agricultural research and development programs. Feed the Future is one effort to get back on track by supporting country-led sustainable development programs and smallholder farmers in building resiliency that can help them cope with crises, whether natural or created by human actions.

Immigrants and the Recession

A farm worker picks cherry tomatoes on David Mann Farm in Fort Blackmore, Virginia, near the southwest border with Tennessee, on July 2011.  Photo credit: Laura Elizabeth Pohl

“In times of economic downturn, like our country now faces, we begin to fear that which we do not know. And many choose to point the blame for our economic problems on immigrants,” said David Roefaro, mayor of Utica, NY, at last month’s hearing, “The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform.” before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security.

The United States in the 21st century is clearly not the first, and is unlikely to be the last, society to blame outsiders for its economic problems. What’s important is that we identify the facts of the situation and ensure that they are considered when it comes time to establish policies.

 Despite the controversy surrounding nearly every aspect of U.S. immigration policy, the three witnesses at the hearing—mayors from New York, Georgia, and Maine—identified at least one area of consensus: every day, immigrants are making economic, social, and cultural contributions to the United States.

 Farm workers’ contributions, for example, begin with the work that they do to supply food for our tables. The rest of the economy benefits as crops are harvested by “skilled migrant farm laborers who have harvesting down to a fine art,” as Mayor Paul Bridges of Uvalda, GA, put it. Bridges said the direct contribution of agricultural workers to Georgia’s economy is $6.85 billion.

The direct contribution, though, is augmented by the taxes immigrants pay in their role as consumers. In Georgia and in every other state, immigrants pay the same amount of sales tax on every purchase as other customers, thus helping to pay for schools, transportation, and other public services. Other contributions to the state economy come from rent, mortgage payments, and property taxes.

Immigrants make a net contribution to the national economy as well, since they pay federal taxes and support Social Security, contributing up to $7 billion a year. Unauthorized as well as authorized immigrants pay into Social Security, even though the former will never receive a single monthly check.

In North Carolina, immigrants contribute more than $9 billion to the economy. Communities with a declining tax base that are having trouble surviving can get a badly-needed influx of vitality when immigrants arrive and start new businesses, buy homes, pay local taxes, and purchase consumer goods from local and regional markets. Immigrants also can enhance a city’s culture since they diversify activities and organize events that promote civic engagement.

Although these contributions should be evident, the position of immigrants is increasingly threatened by the enactment of anti-immigrant legislation at both state and federal levels. Some states have passed harsh anti-immigrant laws with far-reaching repercussions. Bridges, who has been an educator and farmer in his part of Georgia, spoke up at the hearing about the problems caused in more than one area of the economy and community by laws such as H.B. 87 (which, among other provisions, allows the police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of a crime and requires businesses to use an electronic verification system before hiring workers).

One problem is that local law enforcement agencies are forced to use their scarce resources to implement the new laws. Often, police officers are not trained for these duties, which in any case take them away from their chief responsibility of protecting the community from crime. The new laws also contribute to a climate of fear for immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized.

The repercussions of anti-immigrant legislation such as that passed in Georgia are felt throughout the state as well as at the community level.  Immigrants have been driven out to more welcoming states; reportedly, this created labor shortages in Georgia of as many as 11,000 workers.

Shortages of farm workers can also lead to a domino effect:  crops worth millions of dollars are left to rot in the fields. Not being able to harvest and sell all their crops creates hardships for farm operators and their families and puts them at greater risk of defaulting on business and personal loans. Consumers, in turn, have to pay more for produce since it’s in shorter supply; for low-income families in particular, this often means less nutritious meals (since grocery budgets generally don’t increase just because food prices have). This carries consequences for productivity, both for individuals and the economy as a whole.

Georgia is just an example of what is happening as states try to fix the immigration system. Lifting up the economic and other contributions of immigrants, which are often left out of the immigration debate altogether, will be key to finding humane, fair, and practical solutions for the broken U.S. immigration system.

Note: Bread for the World has not taken a legislative position on the issue/issues covered in this blog post.

Somali Fighters Allow Some Food Aid; Other Problems Emerge

The militant group Shabab, closely linked to Al Qaeda, controls large parts of southern Somalia, including famine-stricken areas and sections of the capital city, Mogadishu. In what is being described as a glimmer of hope in the growing humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, Shabab has now pulled out of Mogadishu, where an estimated 100,000 malnourished people have arrived to seek help. According to The New York Times, relief workers are hopeful that food supplies and other assistance will now be able to reach starving people in the city.

  Somalia 2

As a “failed state” that has lacked an effective central government since the early 1990s, Somalia has been largely unable to provide its people with basic public services. The transitional government is now in control of the capital for the first time in years. Yet its own troops are reported to have killed people and looted sacks of grain during a recent riot over emergency food supplies, adding to the concern of relief organizations.

Elsewhere in the region, people who have fled to southeast Ethiopia’s refugee camps are facing an outbreak of measles on top of severe malnutrition. According to health workers, more than a dozen people in the Kobe camp have already died of the disease, which rarely kills healthy people but is often fatal to those who are weak from malnutrition. The conditions in refugee camps are ripe for diseases such as measles and illnesses related to sanitation, such as dysentery. Bread for the World Institute’s own Faustine Wabwire said in an interview on August 5 that her greatest fear was “increased mortality from potential disease outbreaks.” On August 8, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees added that he “fears the outbreak could lead to high mortality and serious illness in an already vulnerable refugee population whose overall health was already fragile.”

Vaccination teams need to reach as many refugee children as possible. Experts are on their way to the camp to help with the vaccination effort, scheduled to begin August 9. The Dollo Ado camp in southeast Ethiopia is host to 118,400 refugees, 78,000 of whom arrived this year because of the drought and ensuing hunger emergency.

SNAP Participation Still on the Rise

Nearly 15 percent of all Americans participate in SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), according to the newly-released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures for May 2011. That’s a record 45,753,078 people.

While many argue that SNAP spending is “out of control,” two examples illustrate that the program is working as it should be—serving more people during economic hard times:

  • As poverty and unemployment have increased, the number of participants has also gone up since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.
  • The May 2011 figures include people affected by tornadoes in Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia, who received benefits under SNAP’s disaster program.

Bread for the World members have consistently supported a strong SNAP program that is accessible to all who are eligible. In many states, eligibility requires an income of less than 130 percent of the poverty level—for example, an individual’s income must be less than $14,088 a year.

In its article “The Struggle to Eat,” The Economist reports that less than 10 percent of SNAP participants also participate in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a cash-payment program for low-income people. The largest group of SNAP participants is low-wage workers and their children. (In fact, children alone make up 50 percent of all beneficiaries). The article adds that the average participating family has only about $100 in savings or valuables.   


Child Malnutrition: Part of the Solution is Breastfeeding

August 1-7, 2011, is the United Nations’ 19th annual World Breastfeeding Week. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and people in more than 170 countries will spend the week reaching out to others, particularly youth, with conversations, music, and other strategies to communicate why breastfeeding matters.

This June, Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide organized an international meeting, “1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition: Building Political Commitment,” to strengthen support for the 1,000-day “window of opportunity” for nutrition—a window that lasts from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Malnutrition during this time causes irreversible damage: there’s only one chance to get it right. The conference drew nutritionists and other advocates from developing countries—many of them part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) network—who are working to expand good early childhood nutrition practices. In a video message, Melinda French Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation encouraged participants to include exclusive breastfeeding in the practices to be scaled up.

For babies, breastfeeding is a critical component of nutrition. The respected medical journal The Lancet, in a five-part series on nutrition that forms the basis of plans such as the SUN framework for action, names breastfeeding one of its “13 highly cost-effective nutrition interventions.” The World Health Organization recommends nursing exclusively—which means giving babies no water or other food—for the first six months and supplementing food with breastfeeding thereafter, up to age 2 or later.

One of the most common reasons for abandoning exclusive breastfeeding—in both industrialized and developing countries—is women’s need to return to work. Nursing mothers and their babies are interdependent; for the vast majority of women, there is no alternative but to end exclusive breastfeeding when they resume work in fields, factories, offices, and markets and are separated from their babies for hours at a stretch. 

Yet the recognition that exclusive breastfeeding is an essential strategy for babies’ survival and healthy development provides motivation to find ways around the problem. Whether a woman is farming in Sierra Leone or doing less traditional work—even removing landmines—work and breastfeeding can be combined.

In Sierra Leone, babies are often left with grandmothers when their mothers go to work in the fields and given porridge and warm water; in addition, farm labor itself often leaves mothers too hungry themselves to nurse exclusively.

The solution in 18 communities was to establish “baby-friendly farms”—plots of land near town that pregnant and nursing mothers cultivate. Many are near villages; the others offer a nursery near the field. With training and basic tools from Catholic Relief Services, the women grow nutritious foods such as beans, groundnuts, and cassava leaves—good both for them and their toddlers and also a source of extra income. The farms are open to pregnant women and mothers with children younger than 3.

Jamba Besta’s job surprises everyone, including herself, but she knows that both her work and breastfeeding are important to the future of her family and community. Besta, an expectant mother, heads an all-female team removing landmines from former battlefields in Sudan’s protracted wars. The de-miners say they prefer the all-woman team, where they can support each other in the face of criticism that the work is suitable only for men.

In a large tent in an area that has already been checked—and re-checked—for landmines, workers take breaks to rest and nurse their babies and young children, who are cared for there. Women such as Besta, who are in the later stages of pregnancy or have infants younger than nine months, are assigned to logistical duties—another support for exclusive breastfeeding and a healthier future for babies, even in an extreme situation.

The F-Word is Famine

A politically contentious word. A word that many governments shy away from. A word associated with failure that becomes fixed in the international news agenda, bringing continued bad publicity.

The F-word is Famine.

The current crisis in the Horn of Africa, triggered by drought, instability, and high food prices, is affecting at least 12.4 million people. The United Nations has declared two regions of southern Somalia—southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle--famine areas. No respite is expected in the near future as the Horn of Africa-wide food crisis continues to worsen.

Mark Bowden, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, cautioned that inaction now means that famine could spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, as both infectious disease outbreaks and poor harvests due to lack of rainfall continue.

What is a famine?

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a famine means that these conditions coexist:

  • At least 20 percent of households face acute food shortage and have no means of coping with them.
  • Acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent.
  • More than two people in 10,000 die every day. (See map)

The U.N. has reported that malnutrition rates in Somalia are currently the highest in the world, with peaks of 50 percent in some southern areas. In southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; in some areas, deaths of children under five are exceeding 6 per 10,000 per day.

They didn’t deserve to die

So far, 11,000 people are reported to have died in the past 45 days. The inexcusable thing about this crisis is that it could have been significantly mitigated. For months, the Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) pointed to an impending famine. Crops dried up, livestock died, and desperation spread--but these went unheeded. Now, drought has forced a fourth of Somalia’s 7.5 million people to flee their communities in hopes of finding help in neighboring countries.

The importance of promoting community stability and resilience cannot be overemphasized. Multi-sectoral programming to address the impacts of limited food availability, high food prices, asset losses, and malnutition, is imperative. As I have stressed in an earlier blog, it is far more cost-effective to target assistance in building agricultural and economic systems that are sustainable in the long run. It’s better and cheaper to prevent calamities than to respond to hunger emergencies.

Often, though, funds for preparedness and contingency planning are in short supply while large amounts of money go to post-disaster response. For instance, despite early warnings in November 2010, by March of 2011, the World Food Program remained 60 percent underfunded, and had to cut back its feeding programs in Somalia and Ethiopia.

Investing in long-term development requires long-term, sustained commitment from national governments and the international donor community. Yet donor governments are held responsible by taxpayers to show that their efforts are in fact producing results--something that takes time and can become politically contentious.

What we forget is the haunting fact that we have only two options: to pay less now, or to pay dearly later.

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