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Ending hunger is achievable, book says

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo courtesy of the Rev. Don Messer

At an Eldoret, Kenya, model farm, the Rev. Don Messer (right) learns how food is grown for HIV/AIDS patients and others.
Nov. 9, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Two decades ago, the horrors of famine were thrust upon the world through photographs of hollow-eyed, starving children in Ethiopia.

This year, the starving children can be found in Niger - and Malawi, Zimbabwe, and several other countries in southern Africa. Some 12 million people across the region are in urgent need of food aid, according to the United Nations' World Food Programme.

But the Rev. Don Messer, a United Methodist theologian at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, believes the problem of hunger can be solved, despite situations like those in Niger.

"You always have to address the issue of famine," he tells United Methodist News Service. What has not worked, however, is using "a quick fix for an immediate solution but without dealing with enduring malnutrition issues or food insecurity on a broad scale."

Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith, written and edited by Messer, along with former Senators Robert Dole, R-Kansas, and George McGovern, D-South Dakota, focuses on long-term solutions. The book was published this fall by Fortress Press.

"It's really a scandal morally and religiously that we should just accept the status quo of 850 million people chronically malnourished in the world," Messer says.

The three United Methodist authors believe the time is ripe, politically, to make world hunger a thing of the past. "Political leaders of the world have decided that we are going to eliminate hunger," Messer explains. "We'll no longer pretend that this cannot be done. It can be done."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Courtesy of the Rev. Don Messer

Robert Dole (left), the Rev. Donald Messer (center) and George McGovern launch their book at the National Press Club in Washington.
The book also "seeks to build a broad biblical, theological basis for feeding the hungry," to undergird the commitment to ending hunger, he says.

Enough hungry people exist to form their own continent. "If we lived in this part of the world, we might very well be the one of every five people who is hungry, one of four who lacks safe drinking water and one of three who lives on less than $1 a day," Messer writes in the book. "The probability of our being homeless, jobless and suffering from disease (is) quite high."

Hunger also impacts other problems in the world. He points to an increasing awareness that malnourished people don't respond well to drugs and that hunger must be addressed as part of the treatment for HIV/AIDS.

Messer will join McGovern to talk about that particular connection Nov. 15 at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D. They will speak as part of the United Methodist-related university's 2005 McGovern Center Conference, "Battling the Death Spiral: Hunger and HIV/AIDS."

HIV/AIDS also impacts food security issues. "In southern Africa, many regions are left with only the elderly and the young, since those adults who would normally be the most productive are too ill to work in the fields," the book reports. "By 2020, it is estimated that one-fifth of the agricultural labor force in southern Africa will have been lost to the disease."

As a boy in South Dakota, McGovern saw hunger during the Great Depression years, but never witnessed real starvation until he was stationed in war-ravaged Italy near the end of World War II. In 1960, President Kennedy named McGovern as the first director of U.S. Food for Peace. Later, in the U.S. Senate, he and Dole helped enlarge the food stamp and school lunch programs and launched the WIC program for needy mothers and their infants.

"Ending hunger requires two fundamental ingredients," McGovern writes. "In the short term, we must underwrite the direct distribution of food to those currently hungry and starving because of the disruption of war, internal upheaval, drought, floods, pestilence or AIDS.

"In the longer term, technical advisory and financial assistance must be provided to strengthen agricultural production and food distribution and to improve the quality of rural life on the farms and in the villages where most of the people of the globe reside. We also need to strengthen and protect our forests, fisheries, land, water and air."

Dole points to a "very proud history of bipartisanship in the war against hunger," including the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.

"I favor a universal school lunch program for several reasons," he writes. "First of all, from a purely humanitarian viewpoint, a universal school lunch program makes great sense for the United States. The greatest gift anyone can give is life, and we have it in our power not only to help 300 million children around the world survive but to give them a chance at a better life because of our kindness.

"Another wonderful benefit of a universal school lunch program is that it helps get these millions of hungry and disadvantaged children to school. The promise of a meal - in many cases, the promise of life - will bring children to school who otherwise would not or could not attend, and once the educators have them, great things become possible."

Ending Hunger Now is designed for study and dialogue, according to Messer. He said he hopes local churches will discuss issues raised by the book and "see the need for being advocates and lobbyists for the poor of the world."

The book's recommendations for doing "more than random acts of kindness" to help end hunger include:

  • Focusing specifically on assistance to women and children, who are most vulnerable to hunger and poverty.
  • Recognizing the contradictions of living the "good life" while others suffer in poverty.
  • Making a commitment to become personally involved in the fight to end hunger and linking that involvement to spiritual faith.
  • Linking with governments and nongovernmental organizations to bring about a hunger-free world.

Information about ordering Ending Hunger Now is available at, the publisher's Web site.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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Methodist authors release "Ending Hunger Now"

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Fortress Press

UMCOR: Africa Famine

World Food Programme: Southern Africa

Board of Church and Society

Hunger Theme Page