For Immediate Release

Office of Press Relations

Opinion Editorial

The Irish Times

There’s an old Irish ballad, written during the Great Hunger in 1848, about a starving child who asks his mother if he can eat three grains of corn, found in the pocket of an old jacket. “What has poor Ireland done,” he asks in the song, “that the world looks on and sees us starve, perishing one by one?”

“Ireland remembers,” U.S. President Joe Biden said last week in his address before the Oireachtas, “the painful hollows of great hunger” – hollows that the 205 million acutely hungry people around the world are feeling as we speak. And Ireland remembers that in the face of such calamity, other nations have a choice: to offer support, or to turn away.

So today, Ireland – a country of just five million people, whose GDP represents 0.2 per cent of the global economy – has emerged, as president Biden noted, as “a global leader in food security”. In my work leading the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I’ve seen first-hand the impact of that leadership, and of the friendship and collaboration between our two countries. Just last week, USAID and Irish Aid announced a new partnership to improve long-term food security in sub-Saharan Africa, which is being roiled by the effects of climate change.

Starting in Malawi, we’ll partner with agriculture companies and smallholder farmers to help them diversify their production with crops that are more nutritionally valuable, more profitable and better for the environment. These investments will help communities prepare for – or, hopefully, avert – the next food crisis.

For years, Ireland has been punching above its weight in the fight against global hunger. Irish Aid dedicates 20 percent of its budget to combating hunger and malnutrition. And now – as natural disasters have increased in frequency and intensity, health systems have been decimated by the pandemic, and extreme poverty has risen for the first time in decades – Ireland is one of the few nations that has significantly increased its overall aid budget in response. Since 2017, Ireland’s official development assistance increased from €743 million to €2.3 billion.

The increase comes at a time when many donors have redirected aid resources away from Africa and other development priorities to help with the devastation caused by Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. But Ireland is both answering the call to help Ukraine, generously welcoming 80,000 Ukrainian refugees, and increasing funding for growing development needs at the same time. Even when the costs associated with welcoming Ukrainian refugees are excluded, Ireland’s official development assistance is nearly double what it was just five years ago.

Ireland’s leadership has proven particularly essential over the past year, as Putin’s invasion disrupted global food systems, sending food prices skyrocketing and exacerbating a particularly dire crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. As we speak, communities in the Horn of Africa are living through their sixth failed rainy season in a row – their longest stretch of drought in recorded history. Fields have lain barren. Eleven million livestock that families had relied upon for food and income have died.

In my travels to parched northern Kenya last year, I met herders of sheep and goat, people whose entire herds had been wiped out by the drought. Mothers of emaciated children told me that the pastoralist community was seeing a spike in suicides among men, who had never done anything other than care for their flocks.

Last year, when the depths of this crisis were coming into view, the UN predicted that if the world did not act, then – after more than a decade in which the world had been free from famine – there would be multiple famines over the course of a single year.

In response, the United States announced that we would boost our investments in treating severe malnutrition by an unprecedented $200 million, or roughly €180 million – so that children on the verge of death from starvation would get not three grains of corn to eat but ready-to-use therapeutic food that provides the essential nutrients they need to recover. And we called on others around the world to donate a further €225 million.

Ireland stepped up to commit €50 million – which will help detect, prevent and treat wasting for up to 500,000 children. That means that through this single investment, Ireland is providing life-saving care to the equivalent of half the number of people who died in the Great Hunger.

And Ireland’s commitment inspired others to step up too. All told, countries and philanthropies wound up answering the call with nearly €271 million in new commitments.

But this fight is far from over. While famine has thus far been avoided – albeit narrowly – millions are still not getting the food they need. A few weeks ago, in one of his last interviews as World Food Programme executive director, David Beasley sounded the alarm.

“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical,” he said, warning that the agency now lacks the resources to reach the most vulnerable and likely will have to cut rations to the most vulnerable people. “We literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”

Ireland remembers the devastation that will result if the world fails to respond. As President Michael D. Higgins wrote last year when pictures emerged from the crisis, showing children with bellies distended from hunger and herds of livestock lying dead on the ground: “We as a nation – and the global community – cannot avert our gaze.”

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