If we asked General Douglas MacArthur how to win the peace in Afghanistan, he would say send more food. For when MacArthur was in charge of Japan after World War II, he made fighting hunger a top priority. We must do so today in Afghanistan by expanding the existing food aid programs.
Upon arriving in Japan, MacArthur wrote an urgent message back to Washington, D.C.: "Give me bread or give me bullets."
There had to be enough food for Japan to recover from the war. MacArthur wrote "Starvation breeds mass unrest, disorder and violence." Food aid was stepped up for Japan.
Hunger is a serious consequence for any war-torn nation. Afghanistan, after decades of conflict, has 13 million people living with food insecurity, according to the United Nations.
We often don't hear about this silent crisis amid the fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But we need to especially now that U.S. troops may be leaving Afghanistan, after nearly 18 years of supporting the Afghan government in fighting the Taliban and terrorist groups. There needs to be a long-term peace plan which includes food security for all.
Malnutrition is a major crisis for Afghanistan's children, with many suffering stunting. UNICEF says "Afghanistan is one of the countries with the highest numbers of children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, alongside Yemen and South Sudan. "
Drought, driven by climate change, has damaged agriculture making it hard for farmers to grow food.
We must expand the U.S. Food for Peace programs in Afghanistan. Food for Peace, originally started by Dwight Eisenhower, funds hunger relief around the globe. But it needs extra funding to do more of its great work in combating hunger in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Food for Peace funds the UN World Food Program (WFP) on emergency relief and this has proven to be a life-saver. After one food distribution Abdul Rahman, speaking for Afghan drought victims, said "If WFP food was not there, our children could die from hunger."
Other relief programs for Afghanistan that need more funding include providing poor families with cash to use in existing markets. This feeds the hungry and supports the local economy.
In addition to emergency aid, we want to ensure resources for longer term development projects within Afghanistan. Expanding our Food for Peace initiatives and encouraging other nations to do the same is key to make this happen. South Korea recently donated to a WFP program to help farmers.
WFP Country Director in Afghanistan, Zlatan Milisic, says, "By investing in land and water management, and community asset creation, such as flood protection walls, irrigation canals, and tree nurseries, families will have a better chance at withstanding natural disasters and recovering from them quickly.”
Afghanistan's UN humanitarian appeal is only about 27 percent funded, so more donations are clearly needed.
Food for Peace currently receives far less than $2 billion a year to fight hunger worldwide. That is a very small portion of the federal budget. For example, the U.S. military budget is around $700 billion a year.
The Congress should increase Food for Peace in the upcoming budget.
One of the things MacArthur did, at the urging of former President Herbert Hoover, was expand school meals to reach millions of hungry Japanese children. School feeding fights hunger and also improves learning skills.
The World Food Program says the school feeding is a positive investment in Afghanistan’s future. WFP currently provides high energy biscuits and take home rations for Afghan school children. But the school feeding could reach more children with extra support.
Congress should raise funding for the McGovern-Dole global school feeding program, including Afghanistan.
We all want to see a peaceful, stable Afghanistan. Food is a needed foundation for peace and reconstruction as General MacArthur knew well.
We should boost funding for food assistance in Afghanistan, a vital ingredient for peace.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book "Ending World Hunger."