WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently returned from a congressional trip examining the humanitarian and food crisis in east and central Africa. From March 24 through April 1, he visited South Sudan and Somalia, two of the Four Famines sites, as well as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where food insecurity and famine-like conditions threaten millions of lives.
Over six days, the Senator held over 35 engagements with top government officials, refugees and internally displaced people living in camps, and with international and non- governmental organizations who are on the front lines of providing critical food aid and other support to vulnerable populations. He engaged both on the root causes such as climate change and conflict, as well as on the human toll that displacement and suffering has inflicted on the region.
“Millions of our fellow human beings are at risk of starvation unless the global community acts to head off this crisis,” said Merkley. “It is important that we address the immediate surge of massive food shortages, while also working with the nations of the world to take on the underlying challenges and address the root causes of climate chaos and drought, conflict, and government corruption and negligence.”
The United Nations currently estimates that more than 5 million people are acutely food insecure in in South Sudan, 3 million in Somalia, 18 million in Yemen, 3 million in Nigeria, 3 million in Kenya, and 7 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“It was powerful to see U.S. assistance through USAID, the World Food Program, and other partners providing lifesaving food supplements — with extra care to address malnutrition in women and children,” Merkley added. “I visited refugee and internally displaced persons camps and met with families who rely on U.S.-funded food assistance to feed their children and reduce their risk of stunting. I met with demilitarized child soldiers who found safety with UN peacekeepers and are now enrolled in reintegration programs the United States supports. I spoke with women who had been the victims of rape and endured unspeakable sexual violence and who receive emergency health care in a U.S.-funded hospital.
“People from these communities stressed what a huge difference the U.S. is making in their recovery from horrific conditions.”
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Multilateral Institutions, Merkley has been a leading voice in calling for increased food aid to help address these burgeoning global hunger crises.
In March, Merkley and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) co-led a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on food aid in which experts testified about how famines not only create enormous humanitarian crises, but also contribute to global instability and threaten national security. It was a follow up from a July 2017 hearing on the Four Famines.
Merkley and Young also recently led a bipartisan letter pushing for funding for International Disaster Assistance (IDA). IDA, which funds the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its international partners, supports the World Food Program and other initiatives that help save millions of lives each year. At the end of March, Merkley helped deliver a significant increase in IDA funding, with 2018 funding boosted to $4.23 billion, an increase of 17% from FY2017 levels.
Merkley also helped maintain funding for the P.L. 480 Title II program, a separate food aid program that President Trump had proposed eliminating in his 2018 budget. And the Senator helped preserve funding at FY2017 levels for Migration and Refugee Assistance, at $3.06 billion, to help countries in coping with influxes of refugees fleeing across their borders.
“While President Trump has twice proposed budgets cutting one-third from U.S. foreign assistance, it is critical that the United States Congress reject this abdication of U.S. leadership and maintain full funding for these programs,” said Merkley. “Providing aid is the right thing to do on a humanitarian basis and it’s the right thing to do for our national security. Now, as we face down the crisis of these Four Famines—and seek to address the root causes of climate change, conflict and government corruption—it’s time for the U.S. to do more on the world stage.”