Institute Insights: January 2019


Displaced Person (IDP) living at the M'Poko camp at the airport of Bangui on 19 June 2014. UN Photo / Catianne Tijerina

From the Director

Happy New Year, everyone! This year, a leading focus of both Bread for the World and Bread Institute will be maternal/child nutrition. We are excited about the opportunity to engage more of Bread’s activists in efforts to speed up progress. As Institute Insights readers know, ending malnutrition among pregnant women and children, especially those younger than 2, is critical to our overall mission of ending hunger.

The Institute’s focus on root causes leads us to include in this issue articles on climate change, armed conflict, and racial inequity.

New Year’s brings us one year closer to 2030, the date set to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 193 countries, including the United States, that adopted them. The SDGs are interconnected—progress on one depends on progress on others. That said, Bread primarily approaches the SDGs through Goal 2, ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.

The world has a growing body of evidence and hands-on “best practices” to add to the knowledge of human nutritional and health needs that science and medicine have given us. We can make rapid progress if national decision makers choose to make nutrition a high priority.

Last month I attended IFPRI and FAO’s conference on Accelerating the End of Hunger and Malnutrition. It was held in Bangkok, which was a very long way to go but well worth the trip. Both the city of Bangkok and the country of Thailand were reminders to all who attended the conference of the dramatic progress that can be achieved in just one generation. In 1990, 43 percent of the population were undernourished. In 2016, less than 10 percent of the population suffer from hunger. Similarly, stunting rates among children under the age of 5 have declined significantly, from 25 percent in 1990 to less than 10.5 percent in 2016, according to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report.

Thailand’s approach to dealing with hunger is instructive. According to IFPRI’s analysis, Thailand adopted a comprehensive strategy starting in the 1960s that included public investments in agriculture. During the decades that followed, the country continued to pursue pro-poor economic growth policies, and it also added an integrated community-based approach to improving nutrition and health. Strong leadership and sustained government commitment were central to Thailand's success. It was great to see government officials, including country focal points from the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, sharing their experiences, challenges, and lessons learned.

The Bangkok conference was a celebration of progress but also a sobering discussion of the challenges that lie ahead. Rising hunger over the last three years has been a reminder that there is a lot to do to achieve SDG 2, but the conference highlighted new opportunities, new technologies, and new ways of working. I was struck that the conversation about hunger has shifted from talking only about agricultural yields to a much more nuanced discussion of the triple burden of malnutrition and the role played by food systems.

Looming over the three days of the conference was the world news, filled with updates on climate change and an increasing number of armed conflicts. As highlighted in our 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, these two human-created problems are the most important causes of hunger today. Despite the frightening pace of climate change, decisions made by people still have significant ability to limit the damage and help those who are affected most. And, of course, it has always been within human power to end conflict, however little progress we seem to have made.

Given the importance of good governance and government leadership to scaling up action, we must continue to build and reinforce the political will to finish the job of ending malnutrition. Bread for the World Institute is your source of information and inspiration as we all work toward a day when no one endures chronic hunger.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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A group of health professionals advise South Sudanese mothers at a treatment center for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Saving Lives with Humanitarian Assistance

By Jordan Teague

The world’s attention has, rightfully, recently been focused on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Despite ongoing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen, 15.9 million people—more than half the population—are facing severe, acute food insecurity.

The official definitions of the various stages of hunger emergency include criteria such as the percentage of households that have lost livelihood assets (for example, sheep and goats), how many people have trouble accessing enough food, and the extent of increases in malnutrition rates and mortality rates. The latest available data classify more than 63,000 people in Yemen as at “Catastrophe” level, meaning that at least one in five households “have an extreme lack of food and other basic needs” and “starvation, death, and destitution are evident.”

Sadly, Yemen is not the only country where people are on the verge of starvation. Humanitarian officials project that 5.2 million people in South Sudan, nearly half the population, will face severe, acute food insecurity early in 2019. This includes 36,000 people facing immediate risk of starvation. South Sudan has been engulfed in armed conflict for five years now. Afghanistan is also now at grave risk of a hunger emergency. In addition to conflict and instability, severe drought in Afghanistan has affected farmers’ livelihoods and ability to produce food. In early 2019, 10.6 million people, 47 percent of all rural residents, are expected to face severe, acute food insecurity.

In all these countries, and others, the situation would be much worse without humanitarian assistance in general and food assistance in particular. Aid specialists estimate that without food assistance, the number of people on the brink of starvation in Yemen would be three times higher than it is.

An ongoing problem during food insecurity crises, particularly in areas where open conflict continues, is gaining access to the places and people in greatest need. Currently in South Sudan, for example, humanitarian access is restricted in some areas because of insecurity for aid workers. In fact, 110 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since the conflict began. Relief efforts must sometimes stop or operate only sporadically, while other access problems are due to interference in relief operations by outside actors, such as illegal checkpoints, taxes, and/or rules and fines.

Once aid workers do reach the areas of greatest need, however, what are the main priorities to help the families most affected by hunger? The first task, of course, is to save lives. Every situation is a little bit different, but ensuring that all family members have enough to eat is critical to preventing the crisis from worsening. In some contexts, this means delivering food rations. In other places, there may be food available, but prices are high and large numbers of people cannot afford to buy what they need. Families in these situations may be given food vouchers or cash assistance.

Saving lives also requires a rapid expansion of efforts to treat acute malnutrition. All malnourished children must be identified and treated. Health workers, or sometimes community members trained to screen for acute malnutrition, identify the children who need treatment. Treatment can often be given on an outpatient basis, but severe cases require admission to a treatment center. Ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs) provide the right combination of energy, protein, and other nutrients that dangerously malnourished children need to survive and get well.

Other parts of achieving the top humanitarian priority—saving lives—are providing basic services and, particularly as efforts continue, supporting people’s efforts to earn a living. In Yemen, fighting has damaged or destroyed much of the water and sanitation infrastructure. As a result, more than 1.2 million people have had cholera. The impact of this serious illness is significantly worse because the war has also damaged hospitals, clinics, and the transportation routes needed to reach them. In many cases, it is dangerous for patients and their family members to travel to seek health care. One of the main priorities in Yemen is to treat cholera with oral rehydration salts or antibiotics and intravenous fluids and to administer cholera vaccines. In 2017, South Sudan suffered a cholera epidemic as well.

Once people have access to food and those suffering from acute malnutrition or serious illnesses have received treatment, it is nearly as urgent to restore families’ purchasing power. This will enable markets to function, which, in turn, can help the national economy begin to recover. Yemen’s economy is on the verge of collapse, with skyrocketing food prices, severe currency depreciation, the destruction of people’s livelihoods, high unemployment, and non-payment of government workers’ salaries. Humanitarian assistance can help by providing cash assistance so that people can purchase basic goods in the markets.

The United Nations recently projected that 132 million people around the world will need humanitarian assistance in 2019. It launched an appeal for $21.9 billion to fund essential humanitarian response. Sufficient effective humanitarian assistance is, quite simply, required to save the lives of millions of young children and others vulnerable to malnutrition and disease, and to lay a foundation for tens of millions of people to begin rebuilding their lives.

Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

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West African (Guinea) farmers. Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Will Climate Change Make Ending Hunger Impossible?

By Michele Learner

Until the past few years, many people in the United States, including many anti-hunger advocates, did not necessarily think of climate change as either a very immediate problem, or a problem that would prevent ending global hunger. This is partly because until recently, there was less scientific evidence. Evidence of the fast pace of climate change used to be particularly scant, but now, data from new reports show consistently that climate change is taking place more quickly than previous reports had projected.

Lack of evidence, however, is not the only reason that people may wonder why climate change seems to have “become a problem” rather suddenly. One of the most significant factors will sound familiar to many advocates: climate change is a justice issue. Simply put, the nations—and their decision makers—that are primarily driving climate change, and are therefore most able to influence it, are not the nations or people that suffered from its effects first or will suffer most.

The people whose farming and pastoralist livelihoods were disrupted early on, before most other signs of climate change were noticeable, were already among the poorest and most marginalized people on Earth. That helps explain why people with policymaking authority paid little attention for quite some time. These communities had always been poor, and farming had always been an uncertain way to make a living. Subsistence farmers knew that once every several years—how often depended on where they lived—the harvest was likely to be poor. They also expected an annual “hunger season,” lasting two to three months, when food supplies had nearly run out and the next harvest was not yet ready.

In hindsight, we know that weather patterns were shifting in vulnerable regions such as the Sahel, on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert, in the 1970s. Communities in several vulnerable areas—in addition to the Sahel, these include islands that are situated not far above sea level and the planet’s northernmost inhabited areas near the Arctic Circle—were well aware that the weather was different than in the past. Also in hindsight, we know that the cause was climate change.

It took several more years for this largely anecdotal evidence to reach academic researchers in scientific fields, who are primarily housed in research institutions in a few high-income countries. Climate change is a complex idea that required connecting bits of information from literally all over the world. Also, the notion that human activity could be changing the climate of the entire planet was unprecedented. At first, it seemed impossible—even to the few scientists who had access to and could interpret data from a wide enough range of sources to “see” it. Thus, there was a further delay before researchers could conceptualize climate change and identify its most significant causes. There is still a great deal that is not well understood, which is why continued research is essential.

In turn, this fairly small group of scientists and environmental activists knew about climate change long before most other people in high-income countries. In 1989, Bill McKibben of wrote one of the first works on the subject published in the United States. Many policymakers didn’t want to hear the message that a major threat to the entire planet had emerged and would worsen dramatically “on their watch” if they didn’t act. Industries worried that their profits would be affected by the changes needed to lower CO2 emissions, such as shifting away from fossil fuels, and didn’t want policymakers to hear the message either. As we know, some people still refuse to consider the evidence.

As mentioned, a central challenge to addressing climate change is the irony that the people with the power to change its trajectory are not the people who are already suffering from it, nor even the people who will suffer from it if policy change does not come soon.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, looks more closely at the implications of the justice aspects of climate change for ending hunger. The people living with chronic hunger do not have the power to slow or halt climate change. But that does not mean that climate change must inevitably lead to increasing levels of hunger or a more deeply entrenched hunger problem. The key is what those with influence choose to do.

In the 2017 Hunger Report, we talk about our previous commitments under the Paris Climate Accord and the importance of fulfilling them. We explain that the Paris Accord is not ambitious enough to limit climate change to what scientists consider an acceptable level, but meeting its provisions is nonetheless a critical step forward. We mention that complex policy questions about how to reduce emissions must be asked and answered.

While limiting climate change is critical to the planet’s future, the countries that are primarily driving climate change also have a responsibility to help vulnerable people build resilience to the changing conditions. Many effective strategies have been developed that now need additional resources to expand and be improved. One broad area for such strategies is climate-smart agriculture, often involving new techniques or processes. This could mean, for example, intercropping or biofortification. Social protection is also critically important to keep climate change from worsening hunger. Ways of providing social protection range from crop insurance and food for work projects to pensions for elders and meals for schoolchildren.

Finally, we must accept the fact that climate-induced migration will increase dramatically in the years to come, even in the best-case scenarios. People can’t live where there is no longer a way to produce food or earn a living.

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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Climate change is now being driven primarily by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The only way to prevent ever-rising global temperatures is to stop producing CO2 at the rate we do now. Photo: iStock

Climate Change: Is There Any Reason for Hope?

By Todd Post

If you’ve been following media coverage of climate change in the last few months, it’s hard not to be discouraged by all the bad news. The stronger and more frequent hurricanes and forest fires we’re experiencing in the United States are harbingers of climate change impacts that will worsen dramatically without a major shift in human behavior. But I will argue that there is hope, despite the undeniably alarming statistics and analysis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body made up of climate scientists from around the world, released a report in October 2018 warning that time is quickly running out to avert dire consequences of climate change. The report states that the world must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030, or it will be impossible to stop a range of grim projections from becoming reality. For more on the IPCC report, see “Climate Change: Facing the Facts, Moving Forward,” in the November 2018 issue.

As most of us are aware, climate change is now being driven primarily by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The only way to prevent ever-rising global temperatures is to stop producing CO2 at the rate we do now, which means replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind. The biggest producers of CO2 emissions are China, the United States, India, and European countries. Our country and other big CO2 producers must lead the way in reducing emissions if we expect other countries—particularly those that have contributed least to causing the problem—to be motivated to follow suit.

While everyone is affected by climate change, people living with poverty are affected more than others. This is true for the United States and for the world. Hundreds of millions of people in low-income countries who depend on farming or natural resources for their food are essentially at the mercy of the weather—which, as we know, is increasingly unpredictable due to climate change. This is why, as we explain in our 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, climate change is a leading cause of global hunger.

The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 was a major achievement: all countries pledged to cut CO2 emissions to keep global warming to a minimum. High-income countries also pledged to help finance projects in low-income countries to help build resilience—for example, by enabling people forced out of farming to develop other ways of earning a living. The flip side of universal participation, however, is that the Paris Accord is nonbinding.

In 2017, the United States declared its intention of pulling out of the accord. Unfortunately, the larger picture is even more discouraging: in 2018, nearly every country increased its CO2 emissions, and global CO2 emissions hit an all-time high. Clearly, we cannot address climate change effectively if the government of a country that contributes heavily to the problem denies that it even exists, nor if national governments act as though they believe that solutions have too high a price tag. So far, the problem of climate change denial has received more attention than the second, more nuanced obstacle: widely held beliefs, whether accurate or not, that “we,” “our country,” cannot afford to help solve the problem. Yet this obstacle must be overcome as well.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, covering the United States, appeared just weeks after the IPCC report. I joined a webinar organized by the Evangelical Environmental Network that featured the U.S. report’s lead author, climate scientist Dr. Katherine Hayhoe. While the findings of the U.S. national assessment confirmed those of the IPCC report, Hayhoe argues that there are reasons for hope. One of these reasons is the affirmative answer to “Can we afford it?”

It is not that meeting the U.S. commitment to the Paris Accord will not be expensive. It will cost anywhere from $1 trillion to $4 trillion. However, several facts put this figure in perspective. First, we are talking about an existential threat to our country and to the entire world. If we do not use our resources to avert what all our information indicates will be a catastrophe, it may not be overly dramatic to say that the world could become a place where wealth is a largely irrelevant concept.

Second, this amount is a one-time expenditure of somewhere between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. GDP for one year (GDP is currently about $20 trillion a year). Another way of saying this is that even at the maximum estimate of $4 trillion, we are talking about investing 5 percent of the GDP for a period of five years.

Third, we will save money—along with improving people’s quality of life—by cutting CO2 emissions. This could come, for example, from lower healthcare costs due to improved air quality or fewer hospitalizations from heat stroke. And fourth, we must consider opportunity costs. Hayhoe states that failing to reduce CO2 emissions will reduce the U.S. GDP by $200 billion a year by 2050, meaning that meeting our Paris Accord commitment will pay for itself.

This cost-benefit analysis is heartening. I will share my own reasons for hope in my next piece for Institute Insights.

Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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Ending hunger requires that we acknowledge the role of race and racism on both the systemic and the institutional levels. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Two Ways New Members of Congress Can Help End Hunger in Communities of Color

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

As Bread for the World Institute has said before, ending hunger requires that we acknowledge the role of race and racism on both the systemic and the institutional levels. Acknowledging this reality also requires us to correct our course by consistently applying a racial equity lens in all our work.

Racial equity, at its essence, means just and fair inclusion for communities of color. Just and fair inclusion provides targeted, specialized support that takes into account the continued impact of historical trauma that communities of color have survived and the current inequities that they face. The goal of this targeted support would be for communities of color to no longer encounter disparities with their white peers, resulting not only in attaining equal outcomes but in reaching optimal levels of nutrition and food security.

With the new Congress beginning this month, newly-elected members have a fresh opportunity to prioritize ending hunger among communities of color. The levels of hunger and food insecurity are so much higher among people of color that reducing them would also make a significant contribution to reducing hunger and poverty rates for the United States as a whole, moving our country closer to achieving our 2030 goal.

Two ways new members of Congress can contribute to ending hunger among communities of color are to commit to applying a racial equity lens in their internal office practices and in the policies they develop and support.

Applying a racial equity lens in internal office practices. For years, advocates have been championing the importance of racial diversity on Capitol Hill. Diversity is not the same thing as racial equity—it is a byproduct of racial equity. Since racial equity means fair and equal outcomes for all groups in all ways, we would naturally see representation of different racial and ethnic groups (“diversity”) in situations of racial equity.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is a true leader in advocating for racial diversity on the Hill. Its recent report found that while about 40 percent of the people in the United States are people of color, only 14 percent of top staff in the House and 7 percent of top staff in the Senate are people of color.

Newly elected members have the opportunity to change this dynamic. They should commit to ensuring that their senior staff mirror the population of color in their district or state. The Joint Center has created a chart that publicly tracks racial and ethnic diversity among senior staff in all offices of newly-elected members in the U.S. House and Senate. This is a work in progress and the Joint Center requests corrections as needed. The chart also compares diversity in each member’s office with the percentage of people of color in his or her state (for senators) or congressional district (for representatives).

Of course, it is equally important for returning members of Congress to commit to racial equity in their internal office practices—if not more important, because returning members have leadership roles by virtue of seniority. Incumbents can improve the representation of senior staff of color by hiring them as positions become available. This means that progress toward racial diversity will most likely be slower for returning members than for new members who are hiring an entire staff, but it is attainable and it is important for them to make the effort. The Joint Center has a chart, also a work in progress, for new hires of returning members of Congress.

Applying a racial equity lens in policies. This essentially requires that policies become more targeted in their approaches and less universal or “one size fits all.” Policies should acknowledge the impact of historical trauma and structural racism that communities of color have endured and still face. Groups such as Race Forward, Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and Policy Link are leading examples of how to do this well. Both newly-elected and returning members of Congress can and should commit to applying a racial equity lens to the policies they support.

The Healthy Food Finance Initiative is a good starting point for members who want an example of using different strategies to build a policy that embodies racial equity. These strategies could include, for example, ensuring that low-income communities of color help in the creation of a program; ensuring that entrepreneurs of color have just and fair access to business opportunities and options to build assets; ensuring that people from low-income communities of color are prioritized for new job openings; and providing access to healthy food in areas that were previously “food deserts,” since these are disproportionately  communities of color. Members of Congress could use the Healthy Food Finance Initiative as a model to develop additional policies that directly and indirectly impact food security in communities of color.

Internal office practices and public policy initiatives are two important spheres where members of Congress can and should apply a racial equity lens. Each contributes to ending hunger and poverty in communities of color. For additional suggestions on how elected officials can prioritize communities of color, please read “Ending U.S. Hunger and Poverty by Focusing on Communities Where It’s Most Likely.”

Marlysa D. Gamblin is the domestic advisor for policy and programs, specific populations, with Bread for the World Institute.

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Cleveland is among the 10 most segregated cities in the United States—in fact, it is considered hyper-segregated. African Americans largely live on the east side of the city (red), while most whites live on the west side (blue). Source:

In Cleveland, Segregation Traps People of Color in the Poorest Area

Cleveland is among the 10 most segregated cities in the United States—in fact, it is considered hyper-segregated. African Americans largely live on the east side of the city (red), while most whites live on the west side (blue). Unfortunately, the areas that are densely populated by African Americans (red) are also the neighborhoods that are considered concentrated areas of poverty, areas with 20 percent or higher poverty rates. Source:

from our Resource Library

For Education

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

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Advocacy Summit

June 21, 2019


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