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U.S. should give more food aid to other countries, expert says

When the United States contributed more than $146 million to avert famine in Afghanistan, millions of Afghans survived.

If the United States could give that same level of support to other countries on the brink of malnutrition and poverty, they too might be on the road to recovery, said Catherine A. Bertini, a former United Nations (U.N.) World Food Program (WFP) executive director.

Bertini, who is teaching a semester at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, said in a speech that this country, which has ample resources, should not wait until another international crisis to offer more aid to other countries. Recently, President George Bush announced a 50 percent increase in overall aid, from $10 billion to $15 billion annually. Bertini considered this a significant step toward increased support, and recommended additional annual increases, especially in food aid.

Bertini gave the inaugural lecture Oct. 16 for the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence program at Schorling Auditorium, U-M School of Education. The Ford School coordinated the event.

As the largest humanitarian agency in the world, the WFPa voluntarily funded part of the U.N. systemprovides food aid to millions of hungry people. The agency assisted 77 million people in 82
countries last year. Bertini led the Rome-based organization for 10 years until 2002, and described it as a "demanding, but rewarding job."

She led the effort to provide aid during emergencies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, North Korea, the Horn of Africawhich is made up of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Djiboutiand many other countries.

In Afghanistan, where residents lived through drought and poverty, the country is rebuilding its civil forces of police officers, teachers and others, thanks to assistance from the United States and other countries, she said.

"The people in Afghanistan are better off today and will be even better a year from now," Bertini said.

But the United States contributes less per capita, $34 per person, than all 22 of the world's wealthiest countries, she noted. The country gave a record $1.2 billion last year, a 52 percent increase compared with 2000. This figure includes primarily non-perishable food contributions, such as corn, wheat, flour, rice, vegetable oils and beans. However, with 777 million hungry people in the world, and with successful U.S. agricultural production, the country could do much more to aid the world's poor, she said.

"Do we have an obligation to help these people? I say absolutely," Bertini said. "I believe the American people accepted the responsibility that no one goes hungry."

The world could become more stable if people in poor countries those affected by drought, flooding or unforeseen consequences, such as the end of the Cold Warreceived more aid and resources from the United States and other countries, she said. "If people understand the state of desperate poverty, they would ensure that the government help" other countries, she said.

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