Institute Insights: July 2017


Photo by Staff Sgt. Stacey Haga, courtesy of Flickr user DVIDSHUB.

From the Director

This summer, the near-famine conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria weigh heavily on the minds of anti-hunger activists wherever we may live.

Very recently, the United Nations declared that conditions in South Sudan no longer meet the technical definition of famine. This is clearly good news. In famine zones, at least 30 percent of young children have acute malnutrition. Severe acute malnutrition kills up to half of all children who develop it and leaves many survivors with lifelong health problems and/or disabilities. So even a small decrease in acute malnutrition rates means that more children will survive. On the other hand, conditions are still grim for more than 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East in the largest hunger emergency since World War II.

Speaking on June 21 at the High-Level Event on Famine Prevention and Response, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said, “What we do know is that humanitarian assistance works and can pull people back from famine.”

However, less than 40 percent of the $4.9 billion needed for emergency assistance has been received.  According to O’Brien, “We are already seeing the very real consequences of underfunding.” He pointed out that lack of resources in Yemen means that only 3.3 million out of 17 million people in need are receiving full assistance. In South Sudan, the number of people on the brink of famine (classified as “phase 4,” with “phase 5” being famine) has increased from 1 million to 1.7 million.

Humanitarian assistance has saved many lives, but of course it would be far better if famine conditions never arise in the first place. Achieving the 2030 Agenda, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, would mean an end not only to famine, but to many other serious human problems. This month, 44 countries will report on their progress at a gathering of world leaders. Bread for the World Institute and partner organizations all over the world will be watching both for encouraging signs of progress and for ways our own countries can make “course corrections” in efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

Detailed examples such as those we can expect to see in some of these progress reports are sometimes known as case studies. Case studies are a valuable way of seeing and assessing what happens in the real world when a new policy is put in place or an older one updated.

Often, a case study provides important information not only about whether or how well the policy does what it set out to accomplish, but about other, seemingly unrelated factors that change as well. Considering such “unintended consequences” is just as important as considering whether a policy met its objectives. In this issue, we see the impact on hunger and food security of an immigration policy in Texas.

Also this month, we continue our analysis of hunger and climate change. In the wake of the administration’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, we take a closer look at what the agreement actually says. What does it require, what will it accomplish, and are there valid arguments against U.S. participation? 

We often emphasize that the damage from climate change hits poor communities first and hardest. This is true in the United States as well as in developing countries. In this issue, we explore in more detail how climate change in the United States threatens the entire 2030 Agenda and also violates its principle of reaching the furthest behind first.  

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Yaretzi Calero holds the hand of Antonia who led a group from Michigan to Washington DC to demonstrate support for DAPA in front of the Supreme court. Photo by Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Anti-Sanctuary Policies Contribute to Hunger

By Cassie Davis

Sanctuary cities date back to the 1980s, when faith-based leaders and some local municipalities in the United States took in Central American refugees fleeing violence in their home countries. Today, sanctuary cities still exist, but the executive order currently in effect that withholds federal funds from “sanctuary jurisdictions” has given momentum to harmful state-level proposals that penalize sanctuary cities.

In some states, such proposals have become law. One such piece of legislation is Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), passed during the 85th Texas legislative session. It requires local law enforcement to comply with detention requests and allows them to ask individuals about their immigration status. It also allows the state to withhold state funds from sanctuary jurisdictions and even allows criminal charges to be brought against individual law enforcement officers who do not comply.

Texas is home to about 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, of whom an estimated 38 percent have at least one U.S. citizen child under 18. Anti-sanctuary policies in Texas, a critical border state, pit immigration enforcement actions against immigrant families’ access to food or resources to buy food. The impact on more than half a million children who live in undocumented immigrant households can and will be particularly devastating.

Undocumented parents frequently decide not to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits out of fear that they will come to the attention of the authorities and be deported. Their priority is to stay with their children and keep families together.

A recent report published by Save the Children calls food insecurity a “childhood ender.” According to the report, Texas currently has a child food insecurity rate of 25.6 percent. Parents forgoing SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs only increases this already alarmingly high rate. The culture of fear that the law and policies have created can harm both children’s physical health and their mental health.

For immigrant communities, conflict began with the violence and hunger in their home countries that caused them to move to places such as Texas and other U.S. states, only to encounter discrimination and hunger here as well. Anti-sanctuary policies create and prolong conflict too. The only difference from immigrants’ home countries is that conflict is an indirect effect of policy rather than direct violence. The effects of these political conflicts at the federal and state levels are twofold: creating barriers to accessing food and other essential resources, and increasing fear of deportation.  

If the attack on sanctuary areas continues, many more undocumented immigrants across the nation will withdraw from nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP. Undocumented immigrants themselves are not eligible for these programs, but their citizen children are. In Texas, fears of deportation have increased over the past few months. The law has changed the way families live. For example, they may travel to church separately, avoid trips to the grocery store or food pantry for fear of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and increase their work hours to try to make up for the loss of nutrition assistance. 

Sanctuary cities are not just a political statement for local entities. They are a proven way for both Americans and immigrants to build stronger families and communities. Anti-sanctuary policies create environments that are less safe and less healthy for immigrants.

As in the 1980s, there is conflict in today’s Central America that is causing people to flee to the United States, and that frequently means Texas as a large border state. Instead of cutting off access to resources such as food and increasing fear with harsh anti-immigrant laws, both federal and state policymakers should embrace sanctuary cities. There is an urgent need for faith leaders and anti-hunger advocates to make clear to lawmakers the ramifications of anti-sanctuary policies and to propose alternatives that are in the best interests of families, particularly citizen children.

Cassie Davis is Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Crook Fellow. 

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Women Lead Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Rwanda. Photo courtesy of the Rwandan Government.

Step by Step Toward Ending Hunger and Poverty by 2030

By Cynthia Woodside

Countries around the world are clamoring to stand up and be counted on their progress toward meeting a set of global goals focused on developing human potential while preserving the world’s natural resources. Nearly every country in the world, 194 including the United States, endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. Countries have until 2030 to meet the 17 goals, which include ending hunger, eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and creating decent jobs and economic growth, along with promoting clean energy, air, and water.

The main mechanism for countries to report on their progress toward this 2030 Agenda is known as a Voluntary National Review (VNR). National governments present their VNRs at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) held each July in New York City. During the 2016 HLPF, the first meeting after the endorsement of the SDGs, 22 countries reported on their early steps. A year later, twice as many countries, 44, have volunteered to report on the progress made over the last 18 months and their remaining challenges. In both 2016 and 2017, the reporting countries include developing and industrialized nations.  

An annual report summarizes global progress. Individual countries follow a revolving schedule, with any given country’s progress reported every four years.

The United States has not yet volunteered to report at the HLPF, but it has started to identify the data that it will use to do so. The Office of the Chief Statistician in the federal Office of Management and Budget was able to design a mechanism to measure progress by reaching out to federal agencies to identify national data already being collected that can be used as indicators of progress. The U.S. Department of Justice also asked civil society for help in identifying both existing data and new data needed to measure  Goal 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions).

Bread for the World Institute shared an analysis of data sets with the Chief Statistician’s office. As its title indicates, "Measuring Progress on Hunger and Extreme Poverty" focuses on indicators for the goals on hunger, nutrition, and poverty. It was written by Lauren Toppenberg, Bread for the World Institute’s 2016 Crook fellow.

The data identified so far have been synthesized into a U.S. National Reporting Platform. The platform is open source, meaning that other countries can adopt its structure to track their own progress. Identifying the relevant U.S. data is an ongoing process.

Civil society groups participate in the HLPF along with government. They are encouraged to submit their own reports in addition to the formal VNR prepared by their national government. During the July meeting, various groupings of civil society hold their own smaller meetings on topics associated with the 2030 Agenda. Such “side events” might, for example, focus on how to achieve the goals in cities, or on how the private sector can help meet the goals.

This year Bread for the World Institute will participate in a side event entitled “Making Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships Work for the Sustainable Development Goals.” Bread will have an opportunity to talk about our role as a convener of civil society organizations promoting the 2030 Agenda domestically and internationally as well as our work to achieve the hunger and extreme poverty items in the United States. We will also learn more about the experiences of groups making similar efforts in other countries. 

Developing and winning near-universal adoption of the broad and ambitious goals in the 2030 Agenda was a major victory. But it was just the first step. The second step is the effort currently underway to develop ways to measure progress toward the goals. The third and by far the most challenging step is, of course, to achieve the goals.

We have every reason to work as diligently and effectively as possible to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, as we can see by the success of the Millennium Development Goals. These earlier goals, intended for developing countries, spurred tremendous progress between 2000 and 2015.

According to the United Nations Association, the achievements included decreasing by 22 percent the number of people living in extreme poverty; enabling 2.3 billion people to gain access to an improved drinking water source; averting 4.3 million deaths from malaria; reaching parity between the enrollment of girls and boys in school; and increasing overall school enrollment from 75 percent of children to 91 percent.

The rewards of reaching the 2030 Agenda will also be well worth the effort. People will be able to live in communities, states, countries, and a world where human potential is nurtured, the planet’s natural resources are protected, and conflict is replaced with peace.  

Cynthia Woodside is senior domestic policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.  

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ALIVE Food Bank Distribution in Alexandria, Va. Photo by Rick Reinhard for Bread for the World

Climate Change Hurts Low-Income Communities Most

By Marlysa Gamblin

Climate change affects the entire United States, but its impact is more damaging in low-income communities.

Why? The reasons are tied to conditions caused by climate change, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and more severe natural disasters. Low-income families are more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty or areas with poor housing conditions. Because they are struggling to make ends meet, they are more likely to live or work near environmental hazards, including mines, factories, or farmlands that use high levels of pesticides or other chemicals that are carcinogens.

Being low-income means that people are far more likely to be food insecure—and also to lack money to relocate their families after a natural disaster, insurance to repair damage to their homes, and adequate health care to treat the health conditions associated with poverty and food insecurity. During disasters and their aftermaths, low-income families are left behind and/or suffer most.

Climate science projects that rising sea levels will force millions of Americans to migrate away from their homes on the coasts, but low-income households usually don’t have the resources to start over again in a new place.

When it comes to extreme weather conditions, low-income people and people of color are at greatest risk because they are more likely to live and work in vulnerable areas. For example, during the California drought, communities living in tribal, rural, and farming areas—primarily low-income households of color—were the most vulnerable to shortages of essential water resources. On top of this, the drought left low-income agricultural workers jobless, with no other means of supporting their families. During the drought, these communities suffered very high unemployment rates that made them even more vulnerable to food insecurity.

Sudden natural disasters and other extreme weather events pose threats to people as well as to possessions such as homes and cars.  A report from the Center for American Progress shows that low-income households have fewer resources to prepare for and then recover from these emergencies. Many are worse off than before, even after the authorities appear to consider the recovery complete.

Another factor is the reality of living in poor quality housing, which is less structurally sound and less able to protect people. Studies have also shown that the housing assistance generally provided after extreme weather events generally favors middle-class victims and homeowners, leaving low-income families in very grim conditions.

The best option is to address climate change head on, limiting the damage it causes. Relocating entire communities is not feasible because it is not only expensive, but unrealistic as a long-term solution. There is already a shortage of 5 million affordable housing units. If low-income people migrate to other areas, these shortages would only increase, in some cases dramatically. Finally, moving people away from the coasts does nothing to prevent further literal erosion of the United States in the future.

Local, state, and federal governments, as well as the international community, need to set goals that will slow climate change—and then work to achieve these goals. The world took a big step in the right direction when the Paris Climate Accord was adopted in December 2015. Unfortunately, the U.S. government announced in June that it will withdraw from the Paris Accord. This places even more responsibility on the shoulders of local and state governments to make available the resources needed to protect their people from the effects of climate change and to put in place sustainable, responsible consumer practices that do not further worsen climate change. A number of U.S. cities have declared their intention to continue participating in the Paris Accord even if the federal government does not.

Failing to respond to climate change will only worsen the conditions of low-income communities in the United States, pushing many deeper into food insecurity and acting as a roadblock to achieving the 2030 Agenda goal of ending hunger and malnutrition.

Marlysa D. Gamblin is policy advisor for policies and programs, specific populations, at Bread for the World Institute. 

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Photo by Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

What Does the Paris Climate Accord Do?

By Stephen Mink

The Paris Climate Accord is a coordinated effort by virtually every country on Earth – 195 of them – to avert the worst of the damage caused by the planet’s changing climate. Adopted in December 2015, it is a groundbreaking agreement to work together to protect the planet we all depend on. As climate activists sometimes say, “There is no Planet B.”

A key feature of the Paris Accord is that every participating country has set its own voluntary targets to reduce carbon emissions. Combined, the various commitments will go a long way toward limiting Earth’s temperature increase to 2 degrees C. Climate scientists believe that this is the highest tenable evel of global warming before Earth would suffer catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

An equally important aspect of the Paris Accord is its goal that as time goes on, countries will set more ambitious emissions targets.  Some further reductions are necessary in order to fully meet the 2 degrees C. goal, but rather than emphasizing stringent limits on emissions from the start, the Paris Accord envisions that global progress toward the initial targets will create the buy-in and trust needed for countries to deepen their commitments.

Thus, the Paris Accord is a flexible approach to preventing the worst damage from climate change. Among other benefits, meeting the 2 degrees C. goal will prevent growing hunger, particularly among people in poor rural communities whose livelihoods depend on the sustainable use of natural resources for agriculture. For many, getting enough to eat depends on whether there is the right amount of rain at the right times.

There is no penalty for not reaching the “national determined contribution” (NDC) that each country announced when the Paris Accord was adopted. Nor are there any enforcement mechanisms.

The United States promised in its NDC to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 percent and 28 percent from its 2005 levels by 2025. It is important to know that the United States is not doing anything new to meet this commitment. The reductions needed to meet our NDC commitment are already required under existing U.S. law, including the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy Act, and the Energy Independence and Security Act. Thus, the U.S. Congress has approved the voluntary commitments made under the Paris Accord. The current administration is, however, weighing whether to propose legislative changes that could change the status of the NDC.

The second NDC commitment was that the United States would contribute to the financing of the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change. The initial commitment was for $3 billion, of which $1 billion was delivered under the previous U.S. administration.

Will participating in the Paris Accord cost American jobs? The president said when announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the accord that it would result in “as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” rising to 6.5 million industrial jobs by 2040.

But the authors of the study that he cited quickly distanced themselves from this claim, stating that it mischaracterizes the research to say that it’s an estimate of the impact of the Paris Accord. The analysis was in fact not about the specific U.S. Paris Accord commitments (the NDC) at all.  

Critics of the administration’s decision also say that leaving the Paris Accord is likely to cost U.S. jobs, not preserve them. This is because leaving the accord would mean abandoning the U.S. leadership role in developing sustainable energy technology and businesses – and the new and potential jobs that go with them. Already, for example, far more people are employed in the renewable energy field than in the coal sector.

Where do we stand now? Although the president’s announcement said that he would cease implementing the Paris Accord immediately, the administration intends to follow the formal withdrawal process. This can begin only once a country has been part of the agreement for three years. At that point, the United States would state in writing its intention to withdraw. The withdrawal would not go into effect until one year after this notification. This means that the earliest that the United States could no longer be part of the accord is November 2020—which is also, of course, the month of the next presidential election.

Meanwhile, will President Trump be able to negotiate a better deal as he suggested?   “We are getting out," he said, “but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair.” But this would mean persuading 194 other countries to change their commitments—and doing so right after he has abandoned the commitments made by the United States.

Stephen Mink, a longtime Bread member and a retired World Bank agriculture specialist, volunteers with Bread for the World Institute. 

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from our Resource Library

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  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

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