When President Obama and other world leaders gather this week in Canada at the G-8 summit, they can make history. To do so they can draw some inspiration from the past. Hopefully, our leaders know their history.
Let’s go back in time to Ottawa, Canada on June 28th, 1946. Herbert Hoover, serving as a food ambassador for President Truman, had just finished touring the world, assessing with his team the post-World War II hunger crisis. Hoover made a speech in Ottawa, calling for an all-out effort to fight the child hunger that was ravaging nation after nation. Hoover said, “millions of mothers are today watching their children wilt before their eyes… We cannot have recovery of civilization in nations with a legacy of stunted bodies or distorted and embittered minds.”
After the war had ended, there were valiant efforts to help children, but not everyone could be reached. It was simply unacceptable. The fight against child hunger had to be relentless. Hoover’s speech set the stage for the creation of UNICEF, the Children’s Emergency Fund, a special organization dedicated to the needs of children.
Hoover and his team of food ambassadors knew what an extraordinary difference child feeding could make. Maurice Pate, one of Hoover’s assistants, described his observations of child feeding in Austria in 1946. Pate wrote, “those who benefit from the American Red Cross milk stations for infants and small children, are obviously in good health.” Pate added, “….the children are lively and appear to be normal in weight and health. However, this applies only to the relatively small fraction of children who are being aided.”
There had to be a more comprehensive, systematic approach to feeding children. The magnitude of the postwar hunger crisis demanded it to be so. This is why UNICEF came about. Pate would become the first director when operations kicked off in 1947. UNICEF would soon become so well known in its feeding efforts that some children believed a cup of milk also went by the name of UNICEF.
Today, the G-8 leaders would be wise to revisit the principles behind the founding of UNICEF, for we are in the midst of a global crisis with over 1 billion people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Conflict, drought, and high food prices have all contributed to this human tragedy. While this is going on, funding shortages are hurting the efforts of UNICEF, the World Food Programme and other aid organizations. What’s needed now is a coordinated global response to fight this hunger, especially to aid the most vulnerable of the population: children.
Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, has taken the lead by calling for child and maternal health to be a key issue at the summit. The charity Save the Children says the lives of millions of children and mothers are at stake when the leaders meet later this week. Save the Children is deeply concerned that G-8 won’t be bold enough to take on the current crisis.
Millions of children die each year because they do not receive proper nutrients in their critical first months. If they do survive, they can suffer lasting physical and mental damage. Mothers also need proper nutrition.
The G-8 needs to commit the necessary resources and leadership to fight child hunger, for child feeding and rehabilitation build the cornerstone for peace and stability around the globe. History tells us so-this was a major aspect of Europe’s postwar recovery. UNICEF left a legacy of making peace and progress in a troubled world with just a cup of food and milk for a child.
Originally published at History News Network