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Lent Reflection 4: Transformed in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 4: Transformed in the Wilderness

“They ate the crops of the land” (Joshua 5:12)

Read

  • Joshua 5:9-12
  • Psalm 32
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
  • Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Reflect

The reading from Joshua for this week is brief, but it recounts the time the Hebrews, who left Egypt under God’s care, had so longed to see: the end of their exodus and the beginning of their life in the Promised Land of Canaan. No longer would their food rain down from the heavens; now, they would be fed by their own produce:

The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year (Joshua 5:12).

Certainly, the people’s entrance into the Promised Land is not the end of their dependence on God. Their food may no longer miraculously fall from the sky, but a new miracle springs from the land God created and is nurtured by farmers who embody God’s creative care. Settling in Canaan is just the beginning of the story of God’s people — not the end.

But there is a transformation in the now-settled people, evident in the difference between manna from heaven and “the crops of the land.” In the common language of today’s world, we might call this the difference between charity and self-sufficiency.

The church has been involved in responding to human need, especially hunger, since its very beginning. The sacrament of Holy Communion began as a full meal in the Christian community, particularly for those who otherwise might not have been able to feed themselves. By the second and third centuries, care for people who were hungry or poor was so central to the church’s identity that bishops, whose roles included managing the church’s social ministries, were sometimes called “lovers of the poor.”

Feeding people who hunger is still crucial to the church’s identity. Our latest survey data show that well over 70% of ELCA congregations participate in direct-feeding ministries. Early numbers indicate that over 95% of congregations participate in some form of response to hunger. Feeding ministries can be crucial lifelines for the more than 38 million people in the United States who are uncertain of their next meal. During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with sudden job loss and supply chain shortages, feeding ministries such as these swiftly adapted to meet the exploding need. This was critical support, particularly for those neighbors unable to access social safety-net programs such as SNAP or the federal stimulus payments.

Feeding ministries stand at the forefront of hunger work, providing opportunities for neighbors to build relationships and for communities to draw together toward effective solutions. But ending hunger requires more. As theologian Samuel Torvend has written, “In addition to charitable response is discerning why people … are suffering in the first place. And that moves us from charitable giving … into asking the larger question, which is, ‘Why is there injustice? What is it within the larger system in which people live that produces this kind of suffering?’”

Behind the long lines at food pantries and the pallets of goods at food banks lies the reality that ending hunger will require more than food. There are some times when we must focus our efforts together on meeting immediate need. But at all times, the church is called to something more.

The church’s work in hunger responds not only to a problem but to a promise. We know by faith that hunger is not what God intends, that the One who created and sustains us is leading us to a future in which all will be fed, as surely as God led our ancestors through the desert to the Promised Land. The response of the church is rooted in the larger witness of faith holding that the systems and conditions that create scarcity are wrong, and that we can still create a life of security and sufficiency, even on this side of the fullness of God’s reign.

In Pueblo County, Colo., Posada accompanies neighbors who experience homelessness as they work together toward this vision. With support from ELCA World Hunger, Posada aspires to provide for the immediate needs of people who lack stable housing while enabling them to address the problems that have led to their situation. Daniel is one of many people Posada has worked with to secure housing. Assisted by Posada, Daniel was able to transition from a long-term care facility to stable housing that he can call his own. Posada continues to work with him so that he can pay for utilities.

Posada helps neighbors meet their most immediate needs, connecting them to programs that offer funds for food and shelter. But the work doesn’t stop there; Posada works with neighbors to secure the housing, support and stability they will need to thrive in the future.

As Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, they were sustained by God’s gift of manna. This food from heaven satisfied their hunger and helped them survive their time in the wilderness. But God had more in store for them — not just an end to their hunger but a new life and hope, a future as a people renewed in their relationship to God, to each other and to a land
they could call their own. Eating their fill of manna was not the end but the means, allowing them to reach a place where they would thrive on “the crops of the land.”

Amid our own trial and challenge during a pandemic that stretched our food systems and charitable ministries to near-capacity, we might forget the vision that inspires the church’s hunger ministries in the first place. But during Lent, a season of self-reflection and renewal, the crossing over of the Hebrews from the wilderness to Gilgal, where they would become the nation Israel, reminds us of that vision. We cling to this promise that God will provide not just manna today but “crops of the land” tomorrow, granting us a new opportunity to build community and share in God’s journey toward a just world where all are fed.

This is the vision that inspires, motivates and shapes the many ways this church is active in the world, responding not just to the problem of hunger but to the promise of God for a future in which all who are weary — from journeying, from struggling, from working, from waiting — will find rest.

Ask

  1. What does “home” mean to you? What do you think it meant for the Israelites to settle in their new home and to eat the crops of their own land?
  2. How might uncertainty about housing impact other aspects of someone’s life?
  3. What might Posada’s ministry say about what it means to be the people of God? How does addressing housing insecurity reflect the church’s calling to be the people of God?
  4. Consider your community. What housing issues do you and your neighbors face? How might your congregation be part of addressing these issues?

Pray

God of our wanderings and our settling, you guided your people through the wilderness with gifts of manna and water to sustain them. Be with us in our own times of uncertainty and fear. Send your Spirit among us, that your church may be a sign of welcome in the world. When we are comfortable, open our hearts to our neighbors’ discomfort. When we are uncomfortable, sustain us with hope and courage. Bless us, that we may be blessings to one another. In your name we pray, amen.

 

SEMANA 4: Transformados en el desierto

“El pueblo se alimentó de los frutos de la tierra” (Josué 5:12).
Lecturas: Josué 5:9-12; Salmo 32; 2 Corintios 5:16-21; Lucas 15:1-3, 11b-32.

La lectura de Josué para esta semana es breve, pero relata el tiempo que los hebreos, que salieron de Egipto bajo el cuidado de Dios, habían anhelado ver: el fin de su éxodo y el comienzo de su vida en la Tierra Prometida de Canaán. Su alimento ya no iba a llover más de los cielos; ahora iban a ser alimentados por sus propios productos:

Desde ese momento dejó de caer maná, y durante todo ese año el pueblo se alimentó de los frutos de la tierra (Josué 5:12).

Ciertamente, la entrada de la gente en la Tierra Prometida no es el fin de su dependencia de Dios. Tal vez su comida ya no cae milagrosamente del cielo, pero un nuevo milagro brota de la tierra que Dios creó y es cultivado por agricultores que encarnan el cuidado creativo de Dios. Establecerse en Canaán es sólo el comienzo de la historia del pueblo de Dios —no el final.

Pero hay una transformación en la gente ahora asentada, evidente en la diferencia entre el maná del cielo y “los frutos de la tierra”. En el lenguaje común del mundo de hoy, podríamos llamar a esto la diferencia entre caridad y autosuficiencia.

Desde sus inicios, la iglesia ha estado involucrada en responder a las necesidades humanas, especialmente al hambre. El sacramento de la Sagrada Comunión comenzó como una comida completa en la comunidad cristiana, particularmente para aquellos que de otra manera no habrían podido alimentarse. En los siglos II y III, el cuidado de las personas que tenían hambre o eran pobres era tan central para la identidad de la iglesia que los obispos, cuyos roles incluían la gestión de los ministerios sociales de la iglesia, a veces se llamaban “amantes de los pobres”.

Alimentar a las personas que tienen hambre sigue siendo crucial para la identidad de la iglesia. Los últimos datos de nuestra encuesta muestran que más del 70% de las congregaciones de la ELCA participan en ministerios de alimentación directa. Las primeras cifras indican que más del 95% de las congregaciones participan en alguna forma de respuesta al hambre. Los ministerios de alimentación pueden ser líneas de vida cruciales para los más de 38 millones de personas en los Estados Unidos que no están seguras de su próxima comida. Durante los primeros meses de la pandemia de COVID-19 en 2020, con la pérdida repentina de empleos y la escasez en la cadena de abastecimiento, los ministerios de alimentación como estos se adaptaron rápidamente para satisfacer la creciente necesidad. Este fue un apoyo crucial, particularmente para aquellos vecinos que no pueden acceder a programas de redes de seguridad social como SNAP o los pagos de estímulo federal.

Los ministerios de alimentación están a la vanguardia del trabajo contra el hambre, brindando oportunidades para que los vecinos construyan relaciones y para que las comunidades se unan a favor de soluciones efectivas. Pero acabar con el hambre requiere más. Como ha escrito el teólogo Samuel Torvend: “Además de la respuesta caritativa, es discernir por qué las personas … están sufriendo en primer lugar. Y eso nos mueve de las donaciones caritativas… a hacer la pregunta más amplia, que es: ‘¿Por qué hay injusticia? ¿Qué cosa dentro del sistema más amplio en el que la gente vive es lo que produce este tipo de sufrimiento?’”

Detrás de las largas filas en las despensas de alimentos y las paletas de mercancías en los bancos de alimentos se encuentra la realidad de que acabar con el hambre requerirá más que alimentos. Hay ocasiones en las que debemos centrar nuestros esfuerzos juntos en satisfacer las necesidades inmediatas. Pero en todo momento, la iglesia está llamada a hacer algo más.

El trabajo de la iglesia en relación con el hambre responde, no sólo a un problema, sino también a una promesa. Sabemos por fe que el hambre no es lo que Dios quiere, que Aquel que nos creó y nos sostiene nos está llevando a un futuro en el que todos serán alimentados, tan seguramente como cuando guiaba a nuestros antepasados a través del desierto hacia la Tierra Prometida. La respuesta de la iglesia está enraizada en el testimonio más amplio de la fe que sostiene que los sistemas y las condiciones que crean escasez son incorrectos, y que todavía podemos crear una vida de seguridad y suficiencia, incluso en este lado de la plenitud del reino de Dios.

En el condado de Pueblo, Colorado, Posada acompaña a los vecinos que experimentan la falta de vivienda mientras trabajan juntos por esta visión. Con el apoyo de ELCA World Hunger, Posada aspira a satisfacer las necesidades inmediatas de las personas que carecen de vivienda estable, al tiempo que les permite abordar los problemas que han causado su situación. Daniel es una de las muchas personas con las que Posada ha trabajado para asegurar una vivienda. Con la ayuda de Posada, Daniel pudo hacer la transición de un centro de atención a largo plazo a una vivienda estable que puede llamar suya. Posada continúa trabajando con él para que pueda pagar los servicios públicos.

Posada ayuda a los vecinos a satisfacer sus necesidades más inmediatas, conectándolos con programas que ofrecen fondos para techo y comida. Pero el trabajo no se detiene ahí; Posada trabaja con los vecinos para asegurar la vivienda, el apoyo y la estabilidad que necesitarán para prosperar en el futuro.

Cuando Moisés y los hebreos salieron de Egipto fueron sustentados por el regalo de Dios llamado maná. Este alimento del cielo satisfizo su hambre y les ayudó a sobrevivir su tiempo en el desierto. Pero Dios tenía más cosas reservadas para ellos —no solo poner fin a su hambre, sino también una nueva vida y esperanza, un futuro como pueblo renovado en su relación con Dios, de los unos con los otros y con una tierra que podrían llamar suya. Comer maná hasta saciarse no era el fin sino el medio, lo que les permitía llegar a un lugar donde florecerían con “los frutos de la tierra”. En medio de nuestra propia prueba y desafío durante una pandemia que estiró a casi su capacidad nuestros sistemas alimentarios y ministerios caritativos, pudiéramos olvidar la visión que inspira los ministerios de hambre de la iglesia en primer lugar.

Pero, durante la Cuaresma, una temporada de autorreflexión y renovación, el paso de los hebreos desde el desierto hasta Gilgal, donde se convertirían en la nación de Israel, nos recuerda esa visión. Nos aferramos a esta promesa de que Dios proveerá no solo maná hoy, sino también “frutos de la tierra” mañana, otorgándonos una nueva oportunidad para construir comunidad y participar en la jornada de Dios hacia un mundo justo donde todos sean alimentados.

Esta es la visión que inspira, motiva y moldea las muchas formas en que esta iglesia está activa en el mundo, respondiendo no solamente al problema del hambre, sino también a la promesa de Dios para un futuro en el que todos los que están cansados —de la jornada, la lucha, el trabajo, la espera— encontrarán descanso.

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. ¿Qué significa “hogar” para usted? ¿Qué cree que significaba para los israelitas establecerse en su nuevo hogar y comer los frutos de su propia tierra?
  2. ¿Cómo podría la incertidumbre sobre la vivienda afectar otros aspectos de la vida de alguien?
  3. ¿De qué manera abordar la inseguridad de la vivienda refleja el llamado de la iglesia a ser el pueblo de Dios?
  4. Considere su comunidad. ¿Qué problemas de vivienda enfrentan usted y sus vecinos? ¿Cómo podría su congregación ser parte de la solución de estos temas?

Oración

Dios de nuestras andanzas y nuestro asentamiento, guiaste a tu pueblo a través del desierto con regalos de maná y agua para sustentarlos. Quédate con nosotros en nuestros propios tiempos de incertidumbre y temor. Envía tu Espíritu entre nosotros para que tu iglesia sea una señal de bienvenida en el mundo. Cuando estemos cómodos, abre nuestros corazones a la incomodidad de nuestros vecinos. Cuando nos sintamos incómodos, sostennos con esperanza y valor. Bendícenos, para que seamos bendiciones los unos para los otros. En tu nombre oramos, amén.

Conflict and Hunger Part I: How Will the War in Ukraine Affect Food Security?

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the immediate, deadly consequences are starkly visible in Western media – an as-yet uncounted number of dead soldiers and civilians, millions forced to flee from their homes and seek safety in other countries or regions, and the devastation of homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure. Less vivid but no less significant, are the long-term consequences the war will have for food security in Ukraine and around the globe.

While other causes of hunger, such as climate change, migration or economic poverty, may seem to receive more attention, the single biggest driver of food crises around the world is conflict. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote in 2021, “Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.” As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes nearly every year in its annual Global Report on Food Crises, conflict often leads to food crises[1] (especially when it occurs at the same time as climate events or economic downturns) and food crises can exacerbate conflict.

Food security depends on the adequacy of four things: food production, food access, food utilization and stability. In simpler terms:

  • Is enough food being produced or supplied?
  • Is the food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways?
  • Are people able to meet their nutritional needs with the food?
  • Is access to food reliable, even during crises?

Over a series of posts, we’ll take a brief dive into each of these. Follow the links to read more:

 

Reading through each of these posts will give a picture of some of the ways violent conflict impacts hunger, as well as some of the long-term effects that may come from the war in Ukraine. Even as we pray for and take action to support neighbors in Ukraine, we need to remember that this conflict could have devastating and far-reaching consequences that may not go away the moment a ceasefire agreement is signed. Our globalized food system, while so efficient and effective when operating well, also leaves each of us vulnerable to destabilizing shocks around the world.

This is one of the reasons why the complementary responses of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger through partners and companion churches are so important. Lutheran Disaster Response, working through companions in Eastern Europe, is helping to meet the most immediate needs created by the crisis, while also drawing on years of experience to plan long-term support for refugees, internally displaced persons, and other victims of the war.

Together with Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA World Hunger accompanies communities around the world as they build resilience against these kinds of shocks. Supporting work in agriculture helps local farmers take steps to improve the productivity of their labors, which provides some security against interruptions in exports or rising prices. Working together with partners and companions in advocacy helps to ensure that social safety net programs are robust and effective in the event of a crisis. Support for healthcare workers, counselors, clinics and hospitals helps reduce vulnerability to disease and illness, care for neighbors dealing with trauma and build capacity to respond to future health crises. And by accompanying refugees and migrants around the world, we can be part of the work God is doing to foster the stability that’s needed to ensure long-term health and well-being wherever they are.

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

For more information on Lutheran Disaster Response’s ongoing efforts to provide support in Eastern Europe, visit https://blogs.elca.org/disasterresponse/situation-report-eastern-europe-crisis/.

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger and the author of The African American Challenge to Just War Theory (Palgrave, 2013).

 

[1] A food crisis occurs when there is a sharp rise in hunger or malnutrition within a geographic region. The World Food Programme uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification and the Cadre Harmonise (IPC/CH) to describe levels of acute food insecurity. The classification phases range from Phase 1 (none or minimal) to Phase 5 (Catastrophe/Famine.) More information on the phases can be found in WFP’s Global Report on Food Crises. Phase 3 represents a “crisis,” during which immediate action is needed to protect livelihoods and prevent worsening hunger.

Conflict and Hunger Part II: Food Production

This post is Part II of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The first key aspect of food security is food production, or put another way, is enough food being produced or supplied to meet human needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Violent conflict puts the entire food supply chain at risk. The immediate destruction or occupation of land and storage facilities can reduce the amount of land that is farmed and the amount of food crops harvested. The effects, though, are complex, as research into the recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq has found, since militaries can and do turn some of their energy to cultivating occupied land while local farmers also increase their production (or try to) to meet growing need.

Far more significant than control or destruction of land are the impacts on labor and inputs. Are there enough people to work a farm, and does the farm have enough supplies to keep operating? As people flee their homes in search of safety, farms are often left fallow, crops are left unharvested and livestock are left untended and vulnerable to death or theft, as has been the case in Nigeria, for example, amid the violence of the Fulani militia. Conflict can also make it hard for farmers to get shipments in or out, so obtaining seeds, new animals, machinery and other necessary supplies gets difficult and expensive, if not impossible.

This is a huge problem when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine. It’s no exaggeration to call Ukraine “the breadbasket of Europe.” Agriculture is about 9% of the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and Ukraine is a leading producer of wheat, corn, barley, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and soybeans. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide more than 30% of the world’s cereal[1] supplies. These cereals are essential staples for many countries around the world that rely on Ukraine’s exports – exports that are now at severe risk. As Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has pointed out, some cereal crops in Ukraine will be ready for harvest in June. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater risk that these crops won’t be harvested or shipped later this year.

That extends the crisis far beyond the borders of either Ukraine or Russia. Many of the countries dependent on importing Ukrainian grains do so because their own production can’t meet their needs. Some of these counties, such as Yemen (which imports about 700,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat each year), are already facing their own food crises. A shock like this could make famine more likely. On the other hand, because of our interconnected global food system and the widespread concern about the situation in Ukraine, we may see other producers step up to help fill the gaps through increased exports and reduced trade barriers. This, of course, doesn’t avoid other problems, as we’ll see in the next post on food access.

 

[1] “Cereals” includes a wide variety of grains used for foods, such as rye, barley, wheat, sorghum, maize or rice.

Conflict and Hunger Part III: Food Access

This post is Part III of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine.

Even if food is produced, conflict interrupts the transportation and infrastructure needed to get it in people’s hands. As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes, an estimated 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize ready to ship from Ukraine and Russia have been “frozen” out of the food supply chain, so they won’t get to the people who need them.

Even if food does get out to stores, food prices are rising rapidly, so consumers may not be able to afford them. The COVID-19 pandemic has already driven up the prices of staple foods, and these prices are likely to continue climbing. Because of the balance between demand and supply, these costs will rise even in countries that aren’t dependent on exports. The FAO estimates that food and feed prices could soar by up to 22%, depending on the movement of prices.

But couldn’t other countries simply ramp up production to fill the gap? Perhaps, but it’s not quite that simple. There are many benefits of a global food system. We have access to a wider variety of foods, often for lower prices, which is incredibly helpful for countries that are export-dependent. But this also means that a shock anywhere can lead to cascading shocks everywhere. In the case of the war in Ukraine, this means that the countries that could step up to fill the gap in food exports are also dependent on imported fuel. Because of the role Russia and Ukraine play in producing fuel, costs to run production facilities and transportation in other countries are also rising.

On top of all of this, within the countries directly affected by violence, conflict causes stores and markets to close and the loss of jobs. Also, because roads and bridges are overrun or destroyed, trucking and rail shipments can come to a halt in conflict areas, so, food can’t get to or from processing plants or stores for consumers within the country, and it can’t get to or out of ports for export, as we have already seen with some ports on the Black Sea closed. The loss of jobs, of course, reduces consumers’ ability to pay for the scarce supplies of food that may be available.

Ukrainians and Russians are both feeling this pinch, in part because of the invasion of Ukraine and in part because of the global response to the invasion. Obviously, within Ukraine, the disruption to daily lives, transportation, jobs and stores means that those who have stayed or been internally displaced within the country may have difficulty accessing basic goods, even if they do have the money to afford them. With many routes into city centers closed, too, this compounds the challenge of getting necessities to people who need them.

For Ukrainians forced to flee to other countries, humanitarian agencies and churches have stepped in alongside governments to meet some of the need, but in terms of access, it may be irregular for quite some time.

Russians, too, may experience obstacles to food access in the near future and long-term. Some have already. Sanctions are a middle road for international governments between, on the one hand, doing nothing and, on the other hand, engaging militarily in what would likely become a global war. Sanctions allow for pressure to be applied on Russia with minimal risk of escalating armed conflict. However, sanctions are also an indiscriminate tool, meaning their effects aren’t limited to just the people engaged in the war.

Research into the effects of US sanctions have found that “it is those living in poverty who are harshly affected” by sanctions. The effects are more pronounced when the sanctions are implemented by multiple countries, as we are seeing now with Russia. Unfortunately, while the seizure of yachts from oligarchs and the freezing of wealthy individuals’ bank accounts receive the most media attention, the impact of sanctions is most likely to be felt more sharply and for a longer time by average Russians, especially those who are already at or near poverty, as they lose jobs with foreign companies or domestic companies impacted by supply shortages.

Because of the lack of reliable information, it is difficult to say what the effect of sanctions has been on unemployment in Russia, but history suggests that average Russians will be significantly impacted. Likewise, as gas and fuel costs rise in the rest of the world, the people living paycheck-to-paycheck are most impacted, including here in the United States, as a higher percentage of their income goes to heat their homes, purchase goods or fill their tanks to drive to work.

This doesn’t mean that sanctions aren’t necessary or justified; but even necessary and justified actions have a cost.

Violent conflict causes immediate obstacles to food access for many people that go far beyond food production. It isn’t enough to have enough food being produced if people cannot afford it or if there aren’t outlets to get it from producers to consumers. These obstacles to access, including the collateral damage to food access within a sanctioned country such as Russia, ultimately impact the way people utilize the food that is available, as we will see in the next post on food utilization.

Conflict and Hunger Part IV: Food Utilization

This post is Part IV of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food utilization, or put another way, are people able to meet their nutritional needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

When it comes to food security, there is a difference between having enough calories and meeting your nutritional needs. An overabundance of calorie-dense food – especially processed and packaged foods that also contain high amounts of salt or sugar – does not necessarily contribute to food security, because part of food security means having the right kinds of food: nutritious, clean and safe. The availability of this food, the ability to safely store and prepare it, and our own confidence as consumers all play a role in food utilization.

Unfortunately, in a violent conflict, when much of the food system and society is unstable, these are the kinds of foods that tend to be less available. During a crisis, people often turn toward shelf-stable,  processed foods that are quick to prepare, easy to carry, readily available and inexpensive. We saw this in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia in 2020, where as much as half of the population turned to eating less overall or eating more highly processed foods to get through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the main concerns in the Ukraine conflict is the nutritional well-being of people displaced by violence within Ukraine and those who have fled the country as refugees. As people are displaced from their homes and local communities, their ability to procure safe, nutritious food is often hampered. In some cases, humanitarian aid can help make up the difference, but not everyone has access to this. We can surmise from recent reports that humanitarian agencies are facing significant obstacles in reaching people who are internally displaced within Ukraine.

The other aspect of food utilization to consider in a conflict is safe handling and storage of food. With attacks impacting both personal security of civilians as well as critical infrastructure that provides power for cooking and sanitation for clean water, conflict increases the risk of illnesses that come from contaminated food. Conflict also makes it harder for people to get treatment for diseases that can impact their nutrition and overall health, such as diarrhea, fevers, diabetes and, of course, COVID-19.

Here, too, the effects cascade to other populations. Host countries welcoming refugees can encounter obstacles in ensuring that everyone – including native residents – has enough food and that there is capacity in the healthcare system to meet the growing need. In addition, countries relying on exports from Ukraine and Russia may turn to less nutritious or less safe food available locally or in alternative markets.

With all of these interconnected systems, one of the most important aspects of food security is how stable and reliable the food system is. We turn to that in the next post on stability.

Conflict and Hunger Part V: Stability

This post is Part V of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is stability. Is access to food reliable, even during a crisis? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Stability, in short, means that food production, access, and utilization are reliable and resilient. Put another way, if we can eat today, how sure are we that we will be able to eat tomorrow?

There are two reasons this is important. First, instability and unpredictability change the way people behave. Farmers, for example, become more hesitant to trade, invest or diversify their work. For example, after the civil war in Mozambique in the 1980s and 1990s, farmers tended to focus on subsistence farming and reduced their participation in the market, meaning there was less food produced for other people to purchase and consume. Similarly, farmers may shift away from livestock or away from crop diversification, since doing so seems to pose less risk in the short-term, even if it may have longer-term negative effects.

In Ukraine, one of the current concerns is that farmers may not fertilize their grain crops because of high prices and instability. That would lead to a drastic reduction in the wheat crop for 2022, which could cause further shortages and higher prices globally into 2023. Moreover, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that fertilizer costs are expected to rise globally, adding to the strain of farmers dependent on them. Russia and Belarus provide a large share of the world’s fertilizer, and their shipments have been significantly interrupted. (Of course, because causes and effects are complex, this situation might actually spawn the positive benefit of focusing attention on increased efficiency of chemical fertilizers and investment in alternative fertilizers that are less destructive to health and the environment, as IFPRI notes.)

The second reason stability is important is because conflict doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t bring an end to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 or other diseases. Nor does conflict make climate-related disasters take a hiatus. The most significant risk to food security in a region occurs when multiple shocks coincide.

This is, in part, what makes the food security situation for export-dependent countries so dire right now. In places like Yemen, which depend on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, the war comes on the heels of a locust swarm that devastated crops and continues to pose a threat to farmland. Moreover, some of the people dependent on exports from Ukraine are in areas facing their own conflict-related crises, such as Afghanistan.

When combined with existing poverty, rising prices, climate events and other conflicts, the shock to the global food system that the war in Ukraine represents could be severe. In the short- to medium-term, the FAO estimates that the conflict could lead to nearly 8 million more people around the world becoming hungry. This is in addition to the refugees and internally displaced people of Ukraine whose lives and livelihoods have been immediately impacted. That increase in hunger would come on the heels of significant growth in undernourishment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To sum it up, conflict destabilizes nearly every aspect of our global food system, which is partly why it is often named as the most significant driver of hunger around the world. For most of history, humans could assuage feelings of responsibility or even fear if a conflict emerged halfway around the globe. But our world today is far too connected to believe that borders, oceans or miles can insulate us. The globalized, interconnected food system that each of us is a part of demonstrates politically and economically what we have always known theologically, namely that the safety and well-being of all God’s creation matters, no matter how distant the people involved might seem to be.

The stability of the food system depends on many factors: farmers, workers, bakers, herders and processors who produce food; truck drivers, rail workers, loaders and grocers who make food available; health care workers who tend to nutritional well-being; employers who provide wages to workers so that they can be consumers; utility workers who keep infrastructure running to ensure the safety of food; construction and road workers who ensure there can be adequate transportation of food; and even policymakers who negotiate trade agreements and aid to ensure that the food system is inclusive.

To paraphrase the philosopher Jacques Derrida, when we eat, we never eat alone. We are eating the fruits of God’s creation made possible because of neighbors around the world. And as we eat, we are mindful that the stability of this system on which all of us depend to some extent, depends itself on the truths we are called to pursue: peace and justice.

So, to return to the first post in this series:

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

What can be done? Providing support to the work that has already begun by giving a gift to Lutheran Disaster Response is one way to help meet the growing need of Ukrainians, especially those who have been displaced by the conflict.

A next step after that is to consider ongoing support of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger. Some of the long-term consequences described in these posts may be reduced by working with local communities around the world to reduce vulnerability, increase capacity and build resilience against future shocks. This won’t be the last violent conflict; but by working together toward a just world where all are fed – and safe – we can take steps to help prevent the many destructive ripple effects that we may see this year. Supporting food producers; investing in stable, sufficient livelihoods for all people; increasing the capacity of communities to respond to crises; and building a just, sustainable and stable food system will go a long way to ending both hunger and conflict. As António Guterres wrote last year,

We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.

ELCA World Hunger and ELCA Advocacy Host “Public Charge” Webinar

 

Applying for citizenship or the right to extend your stay as an immigrant in the United States has never been the easiest process, but it’s about to get much harder for many families. This week, the United States Department of Homeland Security proposed a change in the way visas and green cards are handled. The proposed change would alter the definition of what constitutes a “public charge” and may have significant effects on our immigrant neighbors in the US.

What is a “public charge”?

Under current policies, immigrants seeking to come to or stay in the US and non-citizen residents must demonstrate that they are able to sustain themselves financially. The “public charge” rule is designed to exclude immigrants who are likely to become “public charges,” that is, who may have to rely on public assistance to support themselves and their families. Participation in certain programs is understood to be evidence that someone is likely to become (or already is) a “public charge.” Under the current policy, these programs include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, which provides a modest cash benefit to people in poverty), government-funded long-term institutional care, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI, which primarily goes to people with disabilities.)

What is the proposed change?

Under the proposed change in “public charge,” participation in many other programs will be included as negative marks against applications for admission into the US and for the extension or change in visas. If enacted, immigrants who have used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly food stamps), non-emergency Medicaid, and housing assistance (including Section 8) in the 36 months prior to application can be deemed a likely “public charge” and have their application denied. (This will be in effect after the rule is implemented. People who have used these programs prior to the rule change will not be affected.)

What will be the effects?

The consequences of the rule change could be vast. What is likely to happen is that immigrants who need the support of programs like SNAP, Medicaid, or Section 8 will not use them out of fear that it will hurt their chances at extending their visas or renewing their green card.

What is important to remember is the wide swath of residents this applies to. It’s sometimes easy for US citizens to forget the broad diversity of immigration statuses, including student visas, employment visas, and families with citizen children and non-citizen parents. Individuals and families in any of these groups potentially could be impacted by the change.

Who uses SNAP?

SNAP is one of the most reliable federal safety net programs for helping people facing food insecurity get through tough economic situations. About 11.7 percent of people in the US rely on SNAP, according to the US Census Bureau. Contrary to rhetoric that suggests people receiving public assistance don’t work, about 79 percent of households receiving SNAP in 2017 had at least one person working in the year they received benefits. By contrast, of the households which did not receive SNAP in 2017, about 86.1 percent had at least one worker. The difference is far from huge. Often, households rely on SNAP to supplemental insufficient income or to pay for food when there is no work, such as during seasonal down-times.

In terms of citizenship status, in 2017, 11.2 percent of native-born US citizens relied on SNAP, while 17.1 percent of foreign-born non-citizens received SNAP. It’s important to remember that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits, and most documented non-citizens working in the US pay taxes that fund SNAP.

Learn More

As people of faith, we are called to remember our own migration (Deuteronomy 10:19) and to treat other immigrants with the same concern we would show citizens: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). This proposed rule change will directly harm our neighbors as they work to build new lives in the US.

Join ELCA Advocacy and ELCA World Hunger for a webinar on Wednesday, September 26, at 3 PM ET/2 PM CT to:

  • Understand Public Charge and the repercussions of the proposed rule change for immigrants;
  • Hear why Lutherans are engaged on the issue; and
  • Learn how you/your ministry/congregation can submit public comments.

Register for the webinar here.

 

New Data on Poverty and Food Security Show Positive Trends, More Work to Do

 

 

Each year, the United States Census Bureau updates the statistics on poverty, health care coverage, and the median income for Americans. This research gives us not only a glimpse into how the country is faring in terms of economic opportunity for a given year but also a broad view of historical trends year-over-year.

Around the same time, the United States Department of Agriculture releases new data on food security in the United States. These data help us see how the country is faring in terms of access to healthy, safe food for Americans.

The data for 2016 were released last week and contained few surprises. Before getting into the numbers, though, here’s a few helpful notes on the Census reports. (Many thanks to the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of nonprofit organizations that hosts an annual webinar on the census data.)

  • The data are collected annually through two tools: the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American Community Survey (ACS). Both provide information on similar issues, but the ACS involves a much larger sample, making it possible to get statistics for smaller datasets. For example, you can use the ACS to find the rate of poverty in your state, county or congressional district.
  • The rate of poverty is calculated for the previous year based on the official poverty thresholds for households based on household size. Households with annual income below the thresholds are considered to be poor. This matters a great deal, since some means-based public support – SNAP, TANF, etc. – are based on the poverty thresholds. For 2016, the year measured by the CPS and ACS in the newest data, the thresholds are:
    • 1 person, average – $12,234
    • 1 person, below 65 years old – $12,486
    • 1 person, above 65 years old – $11,511
    • 2 people – $15,585
    • 3 people – $19,109
    • 4 people – $24,563
  • In addition to the official poverty rate, the Census Bureau provides data based on the “Supplemental Poverty Measure.” The Supplemental Poverty Measure has a few key differences that make it interesting. First, it includes forms of “income” that the official measure does not, for example, Social Security income, SNAP benefits, housing assistance and tax credits. It also makes adjustments in the poverty thresholds based on housing costs in a local geographic area. This makes the SPM fascinating, since it can be used to track the effect things like SNAP benefits, Social Security and medical out-of-pocket costs have on the rate of poverty in the US. For example, we can use the SPM to see what the rate of poverty might be without a program like SNAP. Or, we could use it to estimate what the rate of poverty would be if households had no medical out-of-pocket costs.
  • To be statistically significant, the poverty rate has to change by at least .2 or .3 percent. For example, a change in the poverty rate from 15.5% to 15.4% is not statistically significant. For median income, the change has to be about 1 percent to be significant. (Thanks Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities for his analysis here.)

Alright, enough notes. Here’s the numbers:

Food Security – 2016

  • 3 percent of Americans – about 15.6 million households – were food insecure at some point during the year. This is down, but not significantly, from 12.7 percent in 2015. It is a significant decline from 2014, though, when 14 percent of Americans reported experiencing food insecurity in 2014.
  • 9 percent of people in the US – about 6.1 million households – had very low food security in 2016, which means that their food intake was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted at some point during the year. This is essentially the same rate as 2015, when 5 percent of households reported low food security.
  • 5 percent of households with children experienced food insecurity in 2016. One interesting note here is that in 8.5 percent of households with children, only the adults were food-insecure. This may be due to the tendency of adults to reduce their own food intake and change their eating habits to ensure that children have enough to eat. Still, in 298,000 households, children, too, experienced disruptions in their food intake due to food insecurity.
  • As you can see in the graph below, the Great Recession caused spikes in food insecurity, which have since abated. But food insecurity still hasn’t declined to what it was before the recession.

Poverty

  • In 2016, 12.7 percent of Americans – about 40.6 million people – were living in poverty. This is a decline from 13.5 percent in 2015.
  • While still high, the new rate reflects the biggest two-year decline in poverty in nearly 50 years. 2.5 million Americans who experienced poverty in 2015 had incomes in 2016 that were above the poverty threshold (see above.) This is a tremendous positive change.
  • The number of children living in poverty continues to be high, though we did see a reduction in the number of children living in impoverished households from 2015 to 2016. In 2015, 14.5 million children were living in poverty. In 2016, the number dropped to 13.2 million.
  • The Supplemental Poverty Measure demonstrates the huge impact that government programs have had on the rate of poverty in the United States. For example, Social Security helped 26 million people from experiencing poverty. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reduced the number of people in poverty by almost 3.6 million.
  • Higher income may be part of the reason for the decline in poverty. For the second year, the median income for American households increased, to $59,039 in 2016. This is still lower than it was before the Great Recession ($59,992 in 2007), but it shows a positive trend, at least from 2014 to 2016.
  • Interestingly, this growth is not necessarily attributable to a growth in wages. Rather, the most likely reasons seem to be higher employment and the effects this has on household income. Wage growth, unfortunately, remains slow.

Altogether, the news from the US Census Bureau shows the positive effects of economic growth, as well as the importance of public programs like Social Security, SNAP, housing assistance and others. For a full report on the new data, see  https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty.html.

 

Hunger and Poverty by the Numbers

 

Synod assembly season is in full-swing in the ELCA, and many readers of this blog will be helping raise awareness about hunger and poverty among their fellow Lutherans in the coming weeks.  Outside of assemblies and events, we often are asked for statistics and facts about hunger and poverty for congregations and groups.  So, ELCA World Hunger’s education team has put together a presentation with stats on global and domestic hunger and poverty that you can share.

The stats in the slides are from the most up-to-date sources we have.  This will differ for each of the four areas: US hunger, US poverty, global hunger, and global poverty.  Each of the sources we used are listed in the second slide, so you can read more about the measurements.  Follow the link at the end to download the whole presentation.

Thank you for all you do to help your community learn more about hunger and poverty and how together we can work for a just world in which all are fed!

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How many people in the US were living in poverty in 2014?

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Food insecurity means lacking access to sufficient amounts of affordable, healthy foods to live an active life.  In the US, food insecurity tends to be “episodic,” which means that there may be times when people can’t access the food they need.  This may be because of seasonal work or insufficient benefits that run out before the end of the month.

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What percentage of people in different age groups experience poverty in the United States?

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Global hunger tends to be chronic, rather than episodic, which means that hunger is often a daily reality, leading to problems like malnutrition and stunting. The good news is, the number has fallen in the last 30 years.  The bad news is, it is still too high.

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How prevalent is undernourishment in different regions of the world?

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The World Bank has begun using a new standard for global extreme poverty – $1.90 per day. This line better reflects real costs of food, clothing, and shelter around the world.  Again, the number is falling, with the World Bank projecting that about 700 million people will be living in extreme poverty in 2015.  Hopeful, but there is more work to be done.

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To download the presentation, click here.

One Wheel, Many Spokes

Elyssa J. Salinas

 
One wheel with many spokes is how the Community Empowerment Project in Burundi acts – one project that supports many communities or “collines” as community members make their hope for the future a reality in the present. With support from ELCA World Hunger through its implementing partner, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), each colline focuses on a set of key issues related to the well-being of community members.  As the people take part in the activities, they develop the skills they will need to ensure long-term sustainability for themselves, their families and their neighbors.  These collines are “growing and growing” says Adela from the Musha colline the elected leader of the Musha colline’s self-help group. Her participation has helped her develop her own skills as she helps her fellow colline members. “As leader of the group, I have become more self-confident.” As a result of the program, Adela has seen an increase in food security and productivity. People in her town are now able to have meals three times a day instead of one, and they have extra funds for medical expenses and school.

Regina, a grandmother left homeless after the recent civil war in Burundi, is also a witness to the benefits of the project in Musha. With support from LWF, she received help she needed to build a new home and reclaim the swamp for agriculture. “I am able to get enough money to pay the school fees. I grow produce in the swamp – rice, bean and sweet potato,” she says.

Amina is from the Cendajura Commune and was a refugee during the later years of the civil war. In 2000, she left for Tanzania, traveling without food or water with her child until she got to a refugee camp. During the mobilization to return to Burundi, Amina moved from camp to camp, fearful of returning to a war-torn area. Amina is part of the Muslim community, but she thankful for the interreligious aid she is receiving in the form of a new house, “I am a Muslim, but I feel very well that it is Christians who help me.” She is slowly but surely gaining hope for her future as she is in conversation with LWF about a house for her family.

War, homelessness, and food production are not the only issues Burundians face, as community members in Mwiruzi well know. In this region, contaminated water has created a crisis.  As Oscar, a worker at the project site says, “For us, when there is a water shortage, we don’t have life. So we are fighting for life .” As with the activities at other collines, this project is community-initiated, and LWF is providing materials to aid in the building of wells and improved water systems.

Emile Nihende is a LWF facilitator, and is responsible for a colline where there are activities assisted by LWF. He spends only one weekend a month with his family and lives alongside the community he is helping. “I am here because I had the chance to be educated. Because I have been supported, now I want to share the fruits of this education with the community.” This perspective is key to the Community Empowerment Project’s sustainability.  As neighbors build their own skills and meet their needs together, the entire community can look toward long-term sustainable change together.