Pacem in Terris Lecture Series

Doing What’s In Front of You: 20 Years of Humanitarian Response From the Ethiopian Famine to the Asian Tsunami
February 5, 2005


Thank you very much President DeGioia.  It’s great to be with you, here in the hallowed halls of Georgetown University.  For all of my years in Washington, this is the first time I have been invited to give a speech here at Georgetown and I am honored that you would have me.    Now my office is in Rome, only one mile or so from the Vatican and even less to the first Jesuit church in Rome.  One of the extra benefits of working in Rome is that I have become friends with some wonderful people in the Catholic Church.  My wife and I have truly benefited from a great deal of what the Church has to offer.

Not surprisingly, Rome is a lovely place to visit.  My wife and I have guests almost every week.  Long-lost cousins are crawling out of the woodwork to invite themselves to our house.  As the saying goes, “tutte le strade portano a Roma — all roads lead to Rome,” but I didn’t know they came to my house!  I have to say that it’s great to be an Ambassador for the United States.  I’m also a farmer for the first time in my life and making my own olive oil.

It’s also great to have been a public servant all these years – first as an Ohio state legislator, then as a U.S. Congressman and now as an Ambassador.   It can be very humbling.  But you know, back when I first came to Congress, if a reporter knew my name it was a shock. 

Thank You

I am very glad to be with you this morning and talk to you about hunger and my passion – a subject I care about very deeply – and a problem that most people want to ignore.  I was especially glad to accept this invitation because of the audience.  It is impressive to have all of you students and faculty here this morning. 

I am also pleased to be a part of the President’s Pacem in Terris — Peace on Earth — series, celebrating the now 42nd anniversary of the Papal Encyclical.  One of many profound things it outlines is in the realm of human rights. In the gender not-so-neutral, “Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.”

I want to focus my remarks on the right to life through the provision of food and start them by saying thank you.  Your interest, your commitment and your efforts make sure that more men, women and children don’t die from hunger, or here in the U.S., that someone has a meal who otherwise might not.

Some of you might have visited the places around the world where our food aid goes.  You probably just read about the different places in need, such as Darfur, Haiti or Afghanistan.  But I have visited most of these places.  I’ve been to more than 110 countries and most of the hotspots in the past 20 years.

I have spoken with the mother who doesn’t have anything to feed her kids in Ethiopia, so she leaves the house before they wake up in the morning in order not to face them or hear their hungry cries.  I have looked into the eyes of an orphan in Malawi who lost both of his parents to AIDS and watched him eat the one solid meal he gets through an NGO feeding program.  I have visited patients in hospitals in North Korea who had no medicines, no heat and no electricity, but who did have food.  For them, and the millions of others who depend on the generosity of the United States to survive, I say thank you to all of you.  It is your tax dollars that pay for the food they eat.

Generosity of the United States

When President Bush asked me to serve in this capacity, one of the primary things he asked me to do was to “communicate and demonstrate America’s compassion for people in need.”  Americans are a generous people and when they know about a problem, they usually want to help.

Our U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture is small – about fifteen people – but it could not have a more noble purpose.  It is reflected in our slogan: “Putting into action America’s commitment to alleviate hunger and build hope in the world”.  This is a tall order, but one we take seriously.

The President initially talked with me about the problems in the developing world.  He wanted my thoughts on what we could do about it.  During our discussion the President charged me with essentially a three-part mandate, or mission:

  1. Find the most urgent pockets of hunger and poverty and draw attention to them so America can respond,
  2. Let the world community know what a generous and compassionate people we are,
  3. Insure that these UN Agencies are well managed and accountable, because what they deliver is in may cases the difference in life and death.

I promised him that I would be true to this mission.  Let me add that given my lifelong advocacy on global hunger, I was both inspired by the President’s challenge, and comfortable with what he has asked me to do.

In terms of just our food aid, the U.S. government has provided the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) with more than $8 billion dollars in cash and commodities in the last ten years alone.  Traditionally, we give between one-half to two-thirds of all donations to WFP.  In 2003, we gave $1.5 billion dollars, the largest single annual US contribution to the UN in history.  And last year, we gave WFP more than one billion dollars to help them feed 90 million people.  This does not include all of the other food aid we provide directly to our NGO partners.

Americans have a long tradition of international private generosity.  Charitable foundations, universities and corporations provide substantial assistance for the developing world.  U.S. non-governmental organizations work in some 159 countries in almost all areas of development, including health, nutrition, child survival, community development, food security and disaster relief. U.S. NGO private funding (including international volunteer time) is currently estimated at U.S. $7.6 billion. 

International programs in disaster relief, healthcare, agriculture, and education play a large role in the non-secular activities of U.S. religious organizations. Churches, synagogues, and mosques give money overseas, often as small grants that help pay school tuitions, set up nutritional programs, provide medicines, or pay for vocational training in the world’s developing countries. An overall estimate for religious international assistance in 2002 was U.S. $3.4 billion/annum.  Last year, Latin American immigrants living in the United States sent back an estimated $30 billion to their home countries. 

Finally, we are not backing away from government assistance. The United States has pledged to increase its core development assistance by half, adding $5 billion annually by 2006.  The Millennium Challenge Account encourages all nations to embrace political and economic reform.   This funding will support reformers and reward good performance. It is clear that in good policy environments, a dollar of aid will attract two dollars in private capital. And in the global struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, under President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief, the United States has committed U.S. $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS. 

A Special Word about HIV/AIDS

There is a new and important dimension in our international understanding of the root causes of global food insecurity.  It regards HIV/AIDS.  This scourge was for years treated by international organizations, and by governments, as a “health” issue, or a “social” issue, and therefore, it was left to other institutions to deal with this disease.  In fact people still say to me, “Tony, why are you so concerned about AIDS?  I thought your mandate was on world hunger?”

Let me answer that question today:  By every analysis, AIDS is the first rank among the causes of world hunger.  More than that, in many places in the developing world, there is no greater single cause of food insecurity than AIDS.  My recent missions to Ethiopia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi – all of which are among countries with the highest HIV-infected populations – confirmed this grim reality for me beyond any doubt.

AIDS is devastating in its impact on the agricultural labor force; on the adults’ ability to prepare food for children; on lost farming skills handed down from one generation to the next; on family incomes; on family land tenure because women have no right to inherit in many countries; and on diminished nutrition.  On this last point, some have observed that the first medicine for AIDS is good nutrition.  While it cannot cure or prevent the disease, a nutritious diet can make the immune system healthier, which is so necessary for improving the quality of living.

Goals to End Hunger

With that as the backdrop, let me read you something — “within a decade, no child will go hungry, no family will fear for its next day’s bread, and no human being’s future and capacity will be stunted by malnutrition.”

Now these are wonderful goals.  But the fact is that they are goals that were never met.  What I just read was a quote from the World Food Conference in 1974.  Ten years after that goal was adopted, about a million people died in the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85.

In 1996, we had the World Food Summit, where cutting hunger by half by 2015 became a goal.  In 2002, we had the World Food Summit: five years later, which also called for an international alliance to accelerate action to reduce world hunger.  Since then, only a few countries have succeeded in decreasing the number of undernourished people.  At the other extreme, 26 countries saw the numbers of hungry increase throughout the same period.  The prospects of reaching the goal of reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015 appear increasingly remote.  This goal will only be reached if annual reductions in the number of hungry can be accelerated to 26 million per year, which is a rate 12 times greater than the 2.1 million annual reduction achieved during the 1990s. This will not be an easy task.

The Current Situation:  a few of the highlights

Indian Ocean Region:  You all know of the earthquake and the tsunami that claimed one quarter of a million lives.  We were all inundated with the images, soon after the waves inundated the lives of our brothers and sisters in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and other affected countries.  People lost their lives, their loved ones and their livelihoods.  Fortunately, the United States and the world community responded swiftly and generously.  We have seen the positive side of globalization.  As we were still cleaning up the wrapping paper from our Christmas presents, our hearts and contributions went out to people half way around the world whom we had never met.

The World Food Program was delivering food to some of those in need only 36 hours after the earthquake struck.  Our military has been doing a great job assisting in the delivery of needed supplies and the assessment of the damage.  In addition to our $350 million in humanitarian aid, our military has provided almost as much through in-kind donations.  In fact, I just received a letter of thanks from WFP’s Regional Director for Asia expressing gratitude for the invaluable role the United States has played in this massive effort.  I am sure that many of your responded with compassion in doing what you could.  Unfortunately, the tidal wave did not wash away all of the other serious humanitarian crises in the world with its victims.

Darfur (Sudan):  Our most recent major intervention has been in the western part of Sudan, the Darfur region, which has received wide international coverage over the last year.  I was just there three months ago, following Secretary Powell and USAID Administrator Natsios, as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Sudanese Government-supported militia’s shocking tactics of raping and pillaging through hundreds of villages have created enormous suffering throughout the area.  More than 210,000 victims have escaped to Chad, where we are supporting them with food assistance.  Many more, however, remain in camps for internally displaced within Darfur, where we work with WFP and a number of our private volunteer partners, such as Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services, to deliver food to nearly 2 million Sudanese who have been victimized.  Despite significant security and access constraints, the U.S. has thus far contributed a total of over $350 million of food assistance to support those who have been displaced from their homes. 

Iraq and Afghanistan: In 2003, the United States provided $250 million so that WFP could quickly purchase over 300,000 tons of urgently needed food from markets in the region.  Another 245,000 tons of US wheat and other food was provided to the Iraqi food distribution program. These critical interventions, valued at a total of about $425 million, averted hunger for 26 million Iraqis in those critical months after the war.  For Afghanistan, since September 11, 2001, the U.S. has contributed through WFP $300 million worth of food assistance. Up to 10 million needy Afghans have benefited in the immediate aftermath of the war and an average of five million vulnerable people have been assisted in the last year.  Even before September 11, the U.S. was the largest donor of food aid to the people of Afghanistan.

North Korea:  I have been to North Korea six times and seen the desperate needs throughout the country.  As the USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios wrote in his book on the subject, it was a devastating and silent famine.  We don’t know exactly how many people have died in the past eight years, but it was one of the worst in our lifetimes.  I am proud that the United States has been one of the largest donors. 

I have seen the results of our investment in helping the North Korean people.  It is a wonderful sight to see some of the eight million bags with the American flag on them, being used as suitcases by the people.  They will not forget who helped them in their time of need.  I am proud that we continue to provide food, despite our concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and other policies.  

Because of politics, the situations I have already mentioned receive a great deal of attention and media coverage.  But often the needs of Africa are forgotten or ignored.  Places like the Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola or Mauritania are often forgotten.

Southern Africa:  In 2002, I visited Zimbabwe and Malawi, during my second week on the job.  The lethal cocktail of poor governance, drought and HIV/AIDS has truly devastated the region.  Fortunately, as the General Accounting Office will state in their upcoming report, major famine was averted thanks to the United States, other donors and the work of WFP and committed NGOs.  Since March of 2002, the U.S. government has provided over 880,000 MT of food aid worth approximately $530 million to the six affected countries in southern Africa. Over 70% of that was provided through the World Food Program while the balance was provided through a consortium of international NGOs, like Catholic Relief Services and World Vision. Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet and we will need to continue to be generous.

The Horn of Africa:  I want to conclude with the situation that threatens more than 10 million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea — almost every year.  Ethiopia has a population of 70 million, the third most populous in Africa, and even in the best of years, they cannot feed five million of their citizens.   I was just there for the sixth time last April, am going again next month, and was there in 12003, to see a situation described by the Prime Minister as “worse than 1984.”  I was there in 1984, before many of you had come into the world, and I did not believe it could be true.  I was shocked to find that it was true, although the government is helping us instead of hindering us this time.  The United States and our partners averted a major famine just five years ago, we did it in 2003, but we’re being called upon again. 

You see, goals only count if you meet them.  Otherwise they are just empty promises — and empty bellies.

My Story

I went to Ethiopia for the first time in 1984, as the first Member of Congress to witness the Great Famine.  What I saw changed my life.

But I had a problem – my constituents began to question why I was talking so much about the developing world.


Why can’t we solve this problem of two billion people making around two dollars a day, 850 million severely malnourished, and 25,000 people dying every day?

We don’t have to be rocket scientists to figure this out.  The answers are things like more food, clean water, immunization, jobs.   Micro-enterprise is part of the answer to serve from relief to development.

One of the sections in the document, Pacem in Terris, is entitled “Little by Little.”  Despite our desires for divine miracles and a better life for the poor today, we are stuck working within the world we have.  But, little by little, the plight of the poor is improving, fewer people are dying from starvation and the future of their children in brighter than their own.

If just two or three of you pick this up and begin to organize, the world can change.  Start small by doing the things that are in front of you.  Let me conclude with a story about my brief time with Mother Teresa at her home for the dying in Calcutta.  Seeing the desperate poverty all around us, I asked her how she got started, how she decided which person to help.  She said, she stopped and picked up the first person she say lying in the street, begging to survive.  She took him back, cleaned him up and loved him.  He died soon thereafter, but he died knowing that he was loved.  She told me, and I’m sure many others, to start by doing what’s in front of you.

I would encourage you to do the same.  Thank you