Senators Bob Corker and Chris Coons (D-De.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Friday visited the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda, where more than 270,000 people reside after fleeing war-torn South Sudan.
The senators witnessed firsthand one of the countries hardest hit by the current global food crisis in which 20 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at risk of starvation. They sought to elevate international attention on the historic and desperate nature of the humanitarian situation while also making a plea for other donor countries to join the U.S. in meeting the unprecedented need. The senators also called out governments and non-state actors who are blocking delivery of aid and reiterated support for long-needed reforms of U.S. international food aid programs.
“Last week, we witnessed firsthand the immense suffering caused by the current global food crisis, a situation that is purely man-made, with corrupt governments and armed groups committing savage violence and pushing millions of people to the brink of starvation,” said Senator Corker. “The conflicts in East Africa and the massive refugee flows that have been created make getting life-sustaining food to those in need an urgent priority that only grows by the day. Senator Coons and I will continue to press for using existing U.S. food aid resources more efficiently to reach millions more people each year.”
“It is difficult not to be moved by what Senator Corker and I have witnessed this past week,” said Senator Coons. “We saw men, women, and children forced to flee from famine and brutality in South Sudan to the world's largest refugee camp in Uganda. The people we met face severe, life-threatening hunger, and their government is not helping. Senator Corker and I intend to do our part to shine a spotlight on these crises, to call for maintaining U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance, and to ensure U.S. foreign assistance is more effective and efficient through food aid reform. As a world leader responding to humanitarian emergencies, the U.S. government can and should make a significant positive impact.”
In March, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the unprecedented state of global humanitarian affairs with a focus on the expanding food crisis affecting in the Middle East and Africa and how the U.S. and the world should respond. In general, Senators Corker and Coons would like to see reforms similar to those included in the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2015, which include:
- Cost-Effective Procurement: Current law requires 100 percent of food aid commodities be produced in the United States. Corker-Coons reforms would lift this requirement and allow both U.S. and locally or regionally procured (LRP) commodities, vouchers, and debit cards to be used—whichever is the most cost effective option, allowing the U.S. to feed more people, more quickly and at a lower cost.
- Cargo Flexibility: Current law requires 50 percent of donated food aid to be shipped on American-flagged vessels. According to USAID, Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a study by Cornell University, removing the cargo preference requirement will save an estimated $50 million per year and speed delivery to a larger population.
- Eliminate Monetization: Current law requires 15 percent of all U.S. donated food to be sold first by aid organizations, producing cash that then funds development projects. GAO has warned this process – known as “monetization” – is “inefficient and can cause adverse market impacts” in recipient countries. GAO also found monetization loses an average of 25 cents on every taxpayer dollar spent. According to USAID, eliminating monetization could feed an additional 800,000 people and free up an estimated $30 million per year.
Last year, the senators supported a first-time authorization for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP) that became law as part of The Global Food Security Act. USAID had increasingly relied on EFSP to avoid constraints that would prevent delivery of emergency food aid through the Food for Peace Program. EFSP can be a model for overall food aid reform, moving the U.S. toward a system that guarantees U.S. farmers’ involvement in the program while allowing for greater flexibility to reach people in need without wasting millions in unnecessary overhead.