Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide, and Niall O’Dowd, founder of IrishCentral, Irish America magazine, and Irish Voice, spoke at “The Fight Against Hunger: The History and Future of the Irish Role in Humanitarian Assistance”, the first annual symposium co-hosted by Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and The Clinton Institute of the University College Dublin, earlier this week.
The conference, which took place at Fordham University in New York City on Monday, May 14, analyzed the role that Ireland has and will play in humanitarian assistance.
As speakers at the conference, O’Dowd and Arnold both voiced their opinions that Ireland, and its diaspora, can take a strategic leadership role in tackling world hunger. “We want Ireland to be to hunger what Norway is to peace,” said Arnold.
As a country that experienced the tragedy of famine 160 years ago, Ireland has a unique connection to hunger. Some two million people emigrated as a result of the famine in less than a decade, creating the large Irish diaspora that now exists in the United States and elsewhere.
“We are children of the famine just as much as we are of the diaspora,” O’Dowd said. “We must do much more on educating our own people [on the Irish famine] and sharing with the world what we went through.”
Ireland has already taken a key leadership role in driving forward innovative solutions to hunger. With the support of Irish Aid and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Concern Worldwide, and Dr. Steve Collins, Director of Valid International, pioneered what is now the international best practice for the treatment of malnutrition.
The community-based management of acute malnutrition model, known as ‘CMAM,’ was revolutionary because it moved away from treating malnutrition in centralized health care facilities, which often meant that mothers had to travel long distances with their children to access care. Instead, CMAM anchors the knowledge and skills to tackle malnutrition in communities by training volunteers to prevent, diagnose, and treat malnutrition in people’s homes.
The shift from health care facilities to CMAM meant that treatment for malnutrition was easier to access for mothers and their children. As a result, far more malnourished children who are in need of treatment are getting access to it before it’s too late. “CMAM is something that the Irish community should be very proud of,” said Arnold.
The Ireland-U.S. partnership around hunger continued in September 2010 when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin launched the 1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change the Future Call to Action campaign, which looks to improve nutrition during the during the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy to a child’s second birthday when irreversible physical and mental damage can occur if he or she is undernourished.
Concern has supported the campaign since its inception and will be co-hosting two events around this weekend’s G8 summit to ensure that members renew their commitments to food security and nutrition, particularly during the 1,000-day window.
However, with 55 million children suffering from acute malnutrition and one billion people suffering from food insecurity, there is still much more that needs to be done to ensure that generations are not lost or stunted because of a lack of food and nutrients. “We have never before had the knowledge, evidence, and political and grassroots support as we do now to make malnutrition history,” said Arnold.
With Ireland taking over the EU Presidency in 2013, it will be in a unique position to push the international community for larger collective efforts to tackle hunger and respond to predictable emergencies, like the food crisis that is now unfolding in the Sahel region of West Africa where 18 million people are now facing food insecurity as a result of drought and failed crops and rising food prices. “It is the right thing to do – morally, economically, and politically for Ireland to lead on hunger globally,” said Arnold.
Beyond the Irish Government, freeing mankind from hunger could also be something for the Irish people – both domestically and overseas – to rally around. “The story about Ireland is also about the people working to relieve the world of famine now, not just the economy,” said O’Dowd.
“This is something we could ask the diaspora to get more involved in and doing something noble. We are talking about famine. We are talking about diaspora. It’s time for the two come together.”
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