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A holiday gift that can help save lives

Global hunger is at its most dangerous level in decades. This holiday, we can help stop malnutrition among children worldwide and give them a second chance at life.

A child holds a specialized food called Plumpy’Sup that is used to fight malnutrition.
A child holds a specialized food called Plumpy’Sup that is used to fight malnutrition.
Photo provided by World Food Program.

A severely malnourished infant in Sierra Leone just got a Christmas present, and it will save her life. The little girl was given a peanut paste called Plumpy’Nut. This “magic food” rescues children from potentially deadly malnutrition.

Navyn Salem, the director of the non-profit Edesia, brought Plumpy’Nut on her visit to Sierra Leone in early December. Edesia, based in Rhode Island, is helping Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health fight deadly malnutrition. Through generous donations, Salem is able to bring extra food supplies to them directly.

During this Christmas holiday, where the focus is so often on material gifts, we should not forget there are millions of starving children worldwide who are fighting for their life. These children just need that little bit of generosity from someone to get that second chance at a future.

Malnutrition for children under age 5 can cause lasting physical or mental damage, or death. Right now, with global hunger at its most dangerous levels in decades, malnutrition stalks children in many nations.

Dozens of countries are threatened by famine, according to the United Nations World Food Program. The WFP says its analysis across the 43 threatened countries shows families “being forced to eat less, or skip meals entirely, feeding children over adults, and in some extreme cases being forced to eat locusts, wild leaves or cactus to survive — as in Madagascar.”

Yemen, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso are among the countries facing the most severe hunger emergencies.

And it will get much worse. A group of charities led by Action Against Hunger wrote a letter to world leaders with this dire warning: “Conflict, the climate crisis, economic shocks and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic are set to push more people into crisis-level hunger and malnutrition in 2022.”

Every 11 seconds

Hunger-fighting charities including CARE, Bread for the World, 1000 Days and Edesia are urging the U.S. Congress to pass the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act (H.R. 4693 and S. 2956). The bill would allow the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase nutrition interventions like Plumpy’Nut in the fight against world hunger.

In an open letter to Congress, the charities state: “The time to act is now. Malnutrition is entirely preventable, but it is a major underlying cause of child deaths worldwide.

Malnutrition claims roughly 3.1 million children’s lives each year — meaning a child dies of malnutrition every 11 seconds — and is a key factor in about 45% of deaths in children under age 5.”

There is bipartisan support for the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act. It would likely pass in both chambers, but just needs to be at the top of the agenda to get done. Congress moves slowly, but it must pick up the pace when so many lives and world stability are at stake.

“By coming together and demonstrating a strong U.S. commitment through this legislation, we will save lives and help millions of children and families to survive and thrive,” the charities’ letter to Congress reads.

You can help get Congress to move on this legislation by writing to your representative this Christmas. Your actions also speak volumes. By donating to charities, you can help feed the hungry and set an example for others.

We have seen the public and government work in tandem to fight hunger during critical times before. Before Christmas in 1947 citizens were collecting food donations for staving Europeans through the Friendship Train and the “silent guest” program.

These actions preceded Congress passing a massive interim food aid bill a week before Christmas. These donations helped feed Europe and paved the way for the Marshall Plan to rebuild the continent and win peace after WWII.

Likewise this holiday season, the public and government can take action against hunger overseas at the most critical time. If we do, we can give children worldwide the most precious Christmas gift: A second chance at life by stopping deadly malnutrition.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book Ending World Hunger.