February 19, 2009

U.N. Official Details Importance of Foreign Aid

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“If you can change a simple meal, you can change a society,” Bettina Luescher, spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme said yesterday evening in Goldwin Smith Hall’s Kaufman Auditorium during a talk entitled “Global Food Crisis: A Hungry World and What We Can Do About It.” The lecture was funded by the FreeRice Initiative, a newly-established student organization dedicated to reducing world hunger.
For over 40 years, the WFP has been on the frontline of providing food to victims of wars and natural disasters. Annually, over 100 million people in 77 countries are cared for, according to Luescher.[img_assist|nid=35330|title=Hands outstretched|desc=Bettina Leuscher, spokesperson for the United Nations, speaks to students about the world food crisis in Kaufmann Auditorium yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
During the talk, Luescher, a former CNN investigative journalist and award-winning reporter, shared her experience as an aid worker in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Darfur.
In Afghanistan, the WFP offered extra rations of cooking oil to girls who would go to school.
The relief effort for the tsunami in Indonesia was one of the toughest aid operations in the world, she said, adding that donations came largely from people who empathized with tourists that were trapped while visiting the island of Southeast Asia.
She went on to contrast the “utter destruction” of the lives of the tsunami victims to that of the “normal life” of people in the West who lived thousands of miles away. While the tsunami was destructive, Luescher said, the aid was credited as being one of the best resolutions for the regional conflict at the time.
Darfur was the biggest humanitarian crisis, according to Luescher. Sometimes, she worked 18 to 20 hours a day making sure that aid reached the intended victims. Even so, the fate of the 3.5 million victims in the region was often compromised as over 100 truck drivers were attacked, threatened and sometimes killed on their way to deliver food to victims three weeks away from the drivers’ point of departure.
To avoid being killed, Luescher said, male refugees often sent their wives to run errands to save their own lives, even if it put their wives well-being in jeopardy. She encountered rape victims as young as 15 years who were traumatized and too ashamed to share their plight.
Despite being underfunded and uncertain about gaining access to the Gaza Strip, Luescher mentioned that she would soon be leaving to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
“[To date], we’ve fed 365,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territory [of] Gaza,” she added.
As for funding, the speaker highlighted that although Americans are the largest donors, the Saudis have recently been “incredibly generous.”
In a world where every seventh person is hungry, according to Luescher, the FreeRice Initiative has adapted a fundraising-online game that indirectly give money to the WFP, indirectly providing the needy with food. Last year the club donated 2.6 million grains of rice to curb hunger around the world. This year, in addition to the online game, the club is also organizing a four-fraternity member tournament that would raise money for the WFP.
Luescher confirmed that the game has directly benefited her program, adding that people in some nations are using the game to develop their command of the English language.
Faculty sponsor for the FreeRice Initiative, Prof. David Pizarro, psychology, commended the speaker saying, “It was wonderful to learn from someone who has firsthand experience about the people that are being helped.” He encouraged the general public to visit the club’s website and play the game.
Caroline Sheehan ’09 said that the lecture addressed a major problem — food justice — and she learned more about the WFP. Sheehan argued that in order to cut down on hunger around the world, one has to start with the basic building block — curbing hunger.
Rob Norback ’09, an executive member of the FreeRice Initiative, said he was appreciative of the turnout. Norback went on to mention that Luescher has been very helpful to his organization, and he looks forward to recruiting a lot more people and institutionalizing FreeRice Initiative so that the organization prospers after he and his fellow founders graduate.