Estimated 820 million people go hungry
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic WriterThu May 24, 5:20 PM ET
An estimated 820 million people around the world do not get enough to eat, despite delivery of 2.5 million tons of American food a year worth more than $1 billion, the U.S. Office of Food for Peace told Congress on Thursday.
Millions of lives have been saved as a result of the largest food aid program in the world, testified William Hammink, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development program.
However, Hammink and Thomas Melito, of the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, said emergency food aid requests are increasing as are transportation costs, while natural disasters compound needs.
For instance, Hammink said, droughts that used to occur in Africa every 10 or 20 years recently began occurring every two or three years. At the same time, he said, the spread of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa contributes to the food crisis by leaving more people unable to work.
Hammink told the House Africa and Global Affairs subcommittee that the Bush administration is proposing that up to 25 percent of the U.S. food contributions be purchased locally, easing delivery costs.
And to help reduce the time needed to respond to emergencies, Hammink said the Agency for International Development is pursuing a successful program of pre-positioning food aid at U.S. ports and overseas.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., said the proposal for local purchases was controversial because farm groups, agribusiness and the maritime industry benefit from the current program.
"However, the status quo is not serving the interests of our food assistance programs if domestic economic interests are overriding the need to save people from dying of hunger," Smith said.
The senior Republican on the subcommittee said he was encouraging Congress to grant the authority to make emergency food purchases closer to where the food is to be distributed.
Melito, testifying on a GAO report completed last month, said under U.S. law 75 percent of the food must be shipped on U.S. flag carriers, which generally cost more than foreign carriers.
The GAO report concluded rising business and transportation costs have contributed to a 52 percent decline in the amount of food delivered between 2001 and 2006 and take up 65 percent of what is spent on emergency food aid.
The watchdog agency recommended improved planning and better monitoring of deliveries.
Still, the report said the U.S. program last year helped more than 70 million people