I rarely make political (even ethical) statements on this blog, not because a public forum such as this is the wrong place for such a discussion (in fact, robust debate should be something that we engage in more than we do), but simply because I haven’t to this point. However, excerpts from this Time article have to be made known to as wide a world as possible. I am no expert at global finance, nor do I even truly understand the complex realities of our financial system. Admittedly, I have a deep journey of growth in grabbing hold of my own personal finances.
And yet, I can’t stay silent. I have grown in conviction that my wealth (however ‘small’ it is) is directly linked to the poverty that drowns much of our world. I don’t understand all of these realities, nor am I even in a place personally to truly act upon these growing convictions (World, meet the hypocrite that is Chris Kamalski), but I feel like I cannot be silent any longer. Poverty is complex. Wealth is complex. Therefore, I find myself concluding that there must be a reason why Jesus deliberately named Mammom as a rival deity to God (“You cannot serve both God and Money,” Luke 16:13).
While many world leaders claim the worst has past, the fallout of the global financial crisis still hovers over Minara’s rural hamlet. In 2009, rich western governments have kept a tighter grip on their purse strings, leading to significant funding shortfalls for international organizations dependent on government contributions. The WFP, which currently targets 108 million people on the brink of starvation in 74 countries and is entirely funded through donation, has been one of the worst affected: At the beginning of the year, it tabled a 2009 budget of $6.7 billion. By September, it had received a little more than a third of what it solicited.
In a year when an estimated 100 million more people joined the ranks of the global hungry, pushing the total over a billion for the first time, the WFP is facing the prospect of scaling back operations and cutting off millions of people it has been providing for. “We’re looking at an unprecedented situation,” says Gregory Barrow, a WFP spokesman at the organization’s headquarters in Rome. “We’re having to make extremely difficult calculations that involve real people, real lives.”
The WFP rarely amasses the entire annual sum it requests, but this year’s shortfall has been particularly acute. Even when grappling with the onset of recession in 2008, the U.S. donated $2.1 billion. This year, it has given a bit more than a quarter of that sum. “It’s a challenging period for the agency. There’s a mood of frustration and anxiety,” says the WFP’s Barrow. He says they remain hopeful that top-level negotiations with donor governments may yield an injection of cash down the road, but many elsewhere in the aid community have expressed disappointment with western governments for allowing the situation to deteriorate to the extent that it has. “Wealthy countries are spending trillions of dollars on bailing out banks,” says Stanley So, a spokesman for the international NGO Oxfam’s Hong Kong office. “[They] should not plead tight budgets as an excuse for failing to assist poor people.”