Opinion of William Lambers* – Newsweek
The government shutdown over President Trump’s border wall has ended, but not before causing a hunger crisis. Federal workers who lost income from the shutdown had to turn to foodbanks for support. Kate Leone of Feeding America says “we are still concerned about the ongoing disruption this has caused for them and the accompanying lack of certainty because the threat of another shutdown looms in less than a month’s time.”
Although this shutdown has ended, the impact of hunger will continue. Leone says “many of the contract workers who have lost nearly 10 percent of their annual income, and are unlikely to receive back pay, may continue to need assistance going forward.”
Despite all the suffering and turmoil it has caused, Trump insists on his border wall plan, and might even revive the shutdown to bring it to fruition.
But the truth is the border wall won’t solve the root causes of why people migrate to America in the first place. Hunger is a major driving force causing families from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) to make the dangerous journey through Mexico to the United States. The government must remain open to fight hunger, which is far more of a national security priority than an expensive border wall.
A UN World Program survey of migrants from the Northern Triangle revealed that “no food” was a primary reason for leaving their home countries. Drought has hit Central America in recent years limiting the ability of small farmers to grow food.
No food means no income. You can see why people in Central America would become desperate enough to flee. Guatemala, for example, has nearly half of its children malnourished.
Spending money on a border wall won’t solve the hunger crisis in Central America. David Beckmann of the Bread for the World says the Trump border wall will “waste taxpayer funds that could be invested in programs that help people experiencing hunger.”
Hunger is not unique to Central America: it is a worldwide crisis.
Look at the ominous warning from the U.S. famine alert system: “Across 46 countries, 83 million people require emergency food assistance in 2019, 75 percent more than in 2015.” We can’t build peace in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, or South Sudan if there is starvation.
Congress needs to be at work increasing funding for Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program. The World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, UNICEF and other agencies depend on this funding. The shutdown diverted attention from these and other critical issues.
This shutdown made a negative impact on our global food aid programs. Bill O’Keefe, the VP of Mission and Mobilization for Catholic Relief Services said “The latest government shutdown has created funding delays and operational confusion for our program staff in various countries, and has also created an overall sense of uncertainty for our partners. Such delays and confusion can ultimately hurt our local relationships, which can then impact the overall design, implementation, and effectiveness of our programs.”
The shutdown is the latest in a series of poor governance. O’Keefe adds “Combined with delayed Congressional approval of budgets, draconian federal budget requests, and threats of rescissions, continued shutdowns will risk lives and jeopardize the reputation of the United States as a reliable partner.”
We need a long-term solutions to fund the government with budgets passed in a timely manner. We need to get government running right again so we can fight hunger overseas and at home. Democrats and Republicans should work together on these difficult challenges.
Trump’s wall is not the answer to the immigration crisis and certainly not worth shutting down the government over. Fighting hunger is a far more important priority when it comes to our national security.
*William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by the NY Times, History News Network, Newsweek and many other news outlets.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.