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Remembering Eisenhower’s speech on child hunger

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It was on July 8, 1948 when Dwight Eisenhower made a speech at the United Nations on ending child hunger. Ike warned that hungry children could not be expected to become apostles of peace.

His speech is actually just as timely today, as we have the most refugees since World War II. About half of those refugees are children. If their growing years are afflicted with malnutrition, disease, and lack of education, what can we expect of them? They will grow up stunted in body and mind. What future will their country have? How can we expect nations or regions to build a peace if their citizens struggle to find even one meal a day?

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) just announced it had to reduce rations for 800,000 refugees in Africa because of low funding, and put out an appeal for donations from the international community. Will anyone listen?

The numbers show alarming malnutrition rates. In Cameroon, for example, thousands of refugees have arrived after fleeing war in the Central African Republic. That journey, often walking for days or weeks, has left many children malnourished and weak. The enemy they could not flee is hunger.

A recent UN study found that one in three of these refugee children in Cameroon suffers from malnutrition. UNICEF and its partners have reported seeing starving children, sometimes two or three to a bed, in hospitals. Félicité Tchibindat of UNICEF in Cameroon says, “Children who have survived the horror in the Central African Republic are now at risk of dying from malnutrition and its complications. Death is stalking these children. It is alarming to see entire families undernourished – including older children and women.”

Funding is very low from the international community. Of the US $9 million requested by WFP only two percent has been received so far. WFP relies entirely on voluntary donations.

We need to replay Ike’s speech as an appeal for today’s children in need. Back in his time children in Europe, Japan and other war-devastated areas needed the most help. UNICEF, in fact, was just getting its start as a humanitarian organization. It was also the time of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe – an initiative which made fighting hunger a priority, for the Plan could not succeed if people did not have enough food.

Today, millions of war victims are hoping someone will come to their rescue. We have to realize the magnitude of this refugee crisis, and increase humanitarian aid before its too late.

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