As in every crisis like this one, women are especially affected: they are most vulnerable to malnutrition and communicable disease, often subjected to assaults and physical violence in refugee camps, and forced to make difficult choices about how to best to care for their families under impossible circumstances. A majority of women in the Horn, like most of the developing world, are small-scale farmers. They truly feed the world: growing over sixty percent of the food in Africa, they are also responsible for feeding their families. But they’re also likely to eat last and least: women are over six in ten of the world’s hungry. Making long-term investments to support small farmers like them would make societies less vulnerable to the next natural catastrophe.
The U.S. government, and other global institutions, have continually underinvested in long-term agriculture and food security programs worldwide for the past three decades. Only recently has this begun to shift, beginning a long-overdue transition to investing more in rural roads and irrigation, food storage, environmentally sustainable agriculture, and access to markets for rural farmers to sell their produce. These are far better solutions than purely relying on the Band-Aid of emergency assistance.
Now that the debt ceiling debate is behind us, Congress will debate the 2012 budget after recess. In this tight economic climate, there is no doubt that cuts have to be made. But the House State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee has passed a bill that would cut spending on long-term investments in international development by over 20 percent compared to 2010: a huge amount to be taking out of something that amounts to one-half of one percent of our nation’s budget and focuses on the most vulnerable people on the planet.
If we simply turn our backs on sustainable interventions in these times of economic hardship, we run the risk of continually responding to disasters. This is ultimately more costly both in terms of money and human life: we’ve already committed almost half as much to this crisis as we would commit to agricultural development in an entire year, and we’re only just beginning to see the human cost of this tragedy.
The crisis in the Horn is one more reason to dial back counterproductive cuts that reverse long-term investments in the world’s poorest – and that do not even save very much money.
Ritu Sharma is co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide. Visit www.womenthrive.org for details about the ‘Help Women Feed the World’ campaign on global hunger.