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We must feed the starving refugees

Imagine if all the people in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan were forced to leave their homes. What if conflict displaced this entire population? It would be a gigantic humanitarian nightmare.

A Syrian refugee mother and child rest after crossing the border into Jordan.

Well, that is how many people worldwide, roughly 51 million, who have been forcibly displaced. This is the highest figure since the end of World War II.

Wars in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic have dramatically escalated the numbers of refugees. As 2014 unfolds, things are not getting any better. Conflict in Iraq is displacing hundreds of thousands more people.

Every one of those numbers is a tragic story. A story of fear, hunger, loss of livelihoods and belongings. It is a child who instead of playing and going to school is fleeing for survival. That child will be scarred for life from being in a war zone.

The relief of war-stricken peoples needs to be a top foreign policy priority. Our Congress will have to respond accordingly in their budget decisions. The International Disaster Assistance Program (IDA) and Food for Peace come to mind. Both these US. government initiatives fund hunger relief and non-food emergency supplies.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the largest hunger relief organization, receives funding from both programs. However, the current war emergencies are so huge the WFP needs far more resources. Rations have already been reduced for at least 800,000 refugees in Africa. WFP simply does not have enough money to feed them. How do you explain this to a starving child when so much of the world has an abundance of food?

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is another agency that receives funding from these U.S. government programs. The IDA was able to provide CRS quick funding to provide tents and other supplies to typhoon victims in the Philippines. Support from IDA and Food for Peace, along with its donor base, allows CRS to do amazing relief work in areas stricken by conflict or natural disasters. We need to ensure this continues at this time of war and suffering around the world.

UNICEF, the children's agency of the UN, receives both Food for Peace and IDA funding. They are on the front lines of treating child malnutrition and illness in the war zones. They depend on voluntary donations but are struggling to keep up with the humanitarian disasters.

Bread for the World, an advocacy group, suggests that Congress will need to pass a supplemental bill this summer to boost humanitarian aid funding. The conflicts around the globe are getting bigger by the day. We cannot lose generations of children because we were too slow to respond with basic necessities.

Clearly we need to increase our international disaster relief resources. The United States can start by boosting money for both the IDA and Food for Peace programs.

We can come through because we have done it before. Our response to the suffering caused by both World War I and II fed, clothed and healed those in need. It is our humanitarian tradition.

Originally published at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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