Economic Crisis Magnifies Plight of World’s Hungry

Dear Friend,

As we Americans watch the financial crisis unfold, and our investments and retirement accounts plunge in value day by day, many of us are feeling an overwhelming sense of fear and helplessness.

We are beginning to reassess plans we’ve made, wondering whether we’ve saved enough for retirement or college tuitions. And in our neighborhoods and communities, we are seeing signs of economic stress. People are out of work. Auction signs are sprouting up in front of foreclosed homes. And food pantries are reporting depleted stocks as demand for their services rises.

This is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. But imagine how much worse it would be if we could not afford basic food for our families. If we had to tell our kids, “There will be no dinner tonight—maybe we can eat something at breakfast tomorrow.”

This is what life is like for the working poor in sub-Saharan Africa. Poor families in places like Burkina Faso typically spend more than three-quarters of their income just on food. A sack of rice in this West African country that cost $28 this past January is now going for more than $50—more than a day laborer makes in a month. And the global food crisis, combined with the world economic meltdown, is only going to make things worse.

With the current economic turmoil, the plight of the world’s hungry people is getting much less attention in the media. And with hundreds of billions of dollars devoted to bailing out huge corporations, foreign assistance directed toward the poor will likely be a candidate for budget cuts.

We are feeling the stress at Catholic Relief Services. The increased cost of food and fuel, combined with the devaluation of the dollar, has made our work more challenging. We are calling upon the resiliency and creativity of our staff to strategically cut back in some areas and stretch our budget as far as we can. But there is one thing we will never sacrifice, and that is our mission: serving the poorest and most vulnerable people overseas.

We will continue to do what we have been doing. We’ll just have to do it smarter.

Throughout our 65-year history, the people of CRS have risen to the challenges before us. And we’ve learned how to do things better, more effectively and more efficiently.

It was 10 years ago that we faced a daunting task in responding to the devastation left by Hurricane Mitch, which tore through Central America, leaving 10,000 people dead, destroying crops and leveling houses. The need was overwhelming, and CRS was one of the first humanitarian agencies to respond.

It was in the wake of this tragedy that we refined the way we respond to disasters. We established a three-pronged approach. Our first focus is on saving lives and responding to immediate needs: providing food, water and shelter, as well as other basic necessities. But then we focus on development. The second prong is helping people rebuild their livelihoods and get back to work. The community’s involvement in their own recovery then becomes the third prong. Once the rebuilding is done, self-sustaining community organizations take over, preparing residents for future disasters so they will be more resilient and can act as their own first responders.

These were important lessons that we employed for subsequent emergencies, including the Indian Ocean tsunami. And it is this kind of insight, ingenuity and ability to adapt that will help us to get through this economic crisis and emerge as an even stronger, more efficient and more effective agency—better able to fulfill our mission. And we will do this in partnership with the American Catholic community, whose continued generosity we need and appreciate now more than ever.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett


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3 Responses to “Economic Crisis Magnifies Plight of World’s Hungry”

  1. francisco gomes de matos Says:

    Dear Ken( if I may),


    a mini-poem dedicated to CRS
    by Francisco Gomes de Matos
    a Catholic peace linguist from Recife,BRAZIL

    It´s a time of crisis,you say
    and some people seem to despair
    Remember,there is always a way:
    GOD is showing us here and there

    These are times of anxiety
    for people in East and West
    How can we act with propriety
    and know what is really best?

    By nurturing a sustained solidarity
    and helping all those in serious need
    Praying for a world of economic equality
    Thanking the Lord for those we can feed

  2. francisco gomes de matos Says:

    Dear Ken,

    Read your message with great spiritual
    benefit.Bless you for your strength.
    Thought I´d share a little poem,created upon
    reading your communication.
    I´m a Catholic peace linguist from Recife,
    Brazil.Retired from the local Federal
    University of Pernambuco.Currently President of the Board,Associação Brasil America
    Francisco Gomes de Matos,Emeritus Professor,
    Universidade Federal de Perambuco.

  3. Irene Mehlos Says:

    Dear Ken,

    I, too, found your letter to be a blessing today as I began to write an article for our parish weekend bulletin here in Merrill, WI.
    My intention was to promote our CRS Fair Trade Program. How timely it was to read your letter tapping into the fears so many of us are feeling that may affect our own decisions to give as well as our national willingness to provide foreign assistance. I hope that you won’t mind being quoted in large excerpts from your letter which ties into the way the CRS Fair Trade Program works as part of the three-pronged approach. It truly is a creative response that honors the human dignity of those in need as I have been amazed to see first hand as part of a CRS Coffee delegation to Nicaragua. That experience is reinforced by consistent
    messages in your monthly CRS briefings and Action Alerts. How encouraging to have such leadership in putting Catholic social teachings to work. God Bless CRS!


    Irene Mehlos
    St. Francis Xavier Parish, Merrill, WI

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