April 16, 2013 by laurataylor
Hunger is one of the most visible signs of poverty. A child’s bloated belly or a grandfather’s withered arm are images which we too often see on the TV in a time of crisis and which stay with us for years to come. Tackling hunger is very much part of Tearfund’s business. We were set up in 1968 by UK churches who wanted to respond to the severe famine West Africa, and have provided emergency food supplies in countless crises since then. We also work alongside many churches around the world as they mobilise communities to find their own, more long term solutions to improve their food security and health, from sustainable farming to hygiene promotion, to speaking out against land grabs.
But, in a world where there is enough food for everyone, it is outrageous that one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. It is vital that the root causes of hunger are tackled which is why the IF campaign, which Tearfund is part of, is so important. Ahead of the G8 we are calling on leaders to fight land grabs, tax dodging and corruption and to ensure that promises of aid and climate finance are delivered and spent well. Thousands of our supporters have been joining this call for real change.
But it hasn’t escaped my notice that, as well as being the year where leaders can make decisions which will help to end extreme hunger around the world, 2013 may also be a year remembered for alarming increases in hunger in the UK. Reports of children returning to school malnourished due to the lack of free lunches over the holidays have really shocked us. As steady work becomes more difficult to find and delays and cuts in the provision of emergency assistance in our own country increase, the press have noticed that many churches have been stepping into the breach here as well as overseas.
Tearfund hosted a meeting in Parliament today and were joined by the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity who are behind many of the food banks which have been springing up across the country. Their aim is to step into the breach if a family hits a crisis and to provide a limited supply of food, provided by local people and businesses free of charge, until appropriate state or alternative provision can be arranged. As times get tougher, the numbers needing this kind of help are steadily increasing and their volunteers are doing amazing work.
Of course, as we know from our experience overseas, emergency aid like this is a vital sticking plaster, but inadequate on its own. Foodbanks are a crucial last port of call but can’t provide a sustainable solution for families or act as a replacement for the state. What is clear is that, in the UK as well as overseas, the church needs to go beyond emergency relief to build longer term resilience and to tackle the root causes of hunger – and in many cases it is.
Other organisations, like Christians Against Poverty (who I’m proud to say Tearfund helped to birth), provide debt counselling, and the Lighthouse Group, who Tearfund also partners with, are mentoring and counselling kids at risk of being excluded from school. These kind of initiatives help to people to take control of their own situation before crisis point is reached, to manage their resources and to develop skills which should equip them well for the long term and ensure that meals are not missed.
And churches and NGOs in the UK are also engaging with policy makers – from local authorities to the Prime Minister – to hold leaders to account for the way that they deal with those in most need. In Parliament today, Chris Mould, the Executive Chairman of Trussell Trust, quoted the prophet Jeremiah to remind the MPs and Lords there that their responsibility should be to defend the cause of the poor and the needy. He explained that many of the people who arrive in food banks are there because the wages they are earning are too low to support the whole family, or because they have fallen through a bureaucratic gap. There are policy changes that they could work for which could improve this situation.
The church and many others in society are doing great work, but let’s not rest on our laurels. While people are hungry we need to continue to meet their immediate needs, empower them to feed themselves and to work with them to tackle the injustices which keep them hungry. Let’s make 2013 a year to remember for the right reasons.