CRS Testifies Before Congress on Global Food Crisis

Sean Callahan, CRS’ executive vice president for overseas operations, recently returned from a trip to east Africa and testified today before a House Agriculture subcommittee about the additional help needed by impoverished Africans affected by mounting food and fuel prices.

“CRS staff around the world has heard stories of families who are stretched to the limits of life itself by the high price of food,” Callahan told a subcommittee hearing of the House Agriculture Committee.

Family members must feed their malnourished children therapeutic milk every three hours until wasting bodies return to health. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Family members must feed their malnourished children therapeutic milk every three hours until wasting bodies return to health. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

In some regions of Niger, he said, families have started eating only one meal a day. In dire circumstances, people have resorted to eating anza, a wild plant with bitter leaves, to supplement their diet. In northern Ghana, students have been taking CRS-provided lunches home to share with hungry family members, sharing their only meal of the day.

“Some families must make do with eating less at each meal. They are already skipping meals, or even not eating on a particular day,” he said. “Tragically, they may even have to decide which child or children may have the best chance of survival and which, already so ill and weak, will be allowed to die. These are the agonizing choices the global food crisis is forcing the poor to make.”

Callahan also alerted the subcommittee to what he saw several weeks ago in Ethiopia, where two consecutive seasons of poor rains have led to total crop failure and malnutrition.

“I visited a feeding site run by the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the Missionaries of Charity in a largely Muslim area where, over the previous five weeks, 28 children had died of malnutrition. The conditions there are already dire,” he said.

“I saw one Ethiopian parent bring a very sickly, lethargic child to the center for emergency treatment. The parent told the sisters, ‘I brought this child because I thought he could make it. My weakest child is at home.’

“My first reaction on seeing all this was simply to bite my lip, to contain my emotion,” Callahan said. “My second reaction was anger. How could we let this happen? But the more I observed, I realized that this was a place of hope. I saw kids being fed and stabilized, getting better. Parents were thanking the workers for saving the lives of their children.”

Sean’s entire testimony is posted on the CRS website.

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