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Hunger, Need to Reduce Risk for Major Disasters Among Top Concerns for 2012

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NEW YORK – The number of children in poverty who are hungry could reach unparalleled levels in 2012 given the state of the global economy, Church World Service says in its annual New Year's assessment.

"Those numbers could be considerable and unparalleled, even in the so-called 'First World,'" said John L. McCullough, CWS executive director and CEO. The increase in hunger will put more pressure on humanitarian groups like CWS, necessitating not only further responses to fight hunger and poverty but requiring the humanitarian community to "to decry the failure of governments to provide an adequate social safety net," said the CWS head.

Various data released throughout 2011 indicated the increased levels of poverty in the United States, including a government report that the number of people living in poverty in the U.S. increased to 46.2 million, the most in 50 years.

Meanwhile, global protests against the international economic system and unresponsive governments are likely to continue with the "ninety-nine percent movement making new allies as the gap with the top one percent continues to widen," Rev. McCullough said. "The U.S. is a country of great wealth existing alongside increasing socio-economic inequality and entrenched poverty."

If hunger remains the major global challenge in 2012, another top concern is trying to reduce the risk for major disasters. Marvin Parvez, who oversees CWS's regional programs in Asia and the Pacific, the site of CWS's most extensive programs, sees a more challenging and difficult year ahead when it comes to humanitarian aid work, at least in the Asia region. Given its size, "Asia gets the largest and the most disasters," Parvez said.

Among the possibilities for Asia in 2012: large-scale displacement and suffering because of Asia's high risk for epidemics; problems arising from flashpoint/conflict areas such as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea; and potential disasters befalling large urban areas, as happened in 2011 in Japan and New Zealand.

"After those disasters, we are more aware of disasters hitting mega cities, such as those in Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, India and China, where building codes are non-existent or are not followed," Parvez said. "We could really have a serious loss of lives and livelihoods."

Parvez's colleague in Asia, Takeshi Komino, who coordinated CWS's response to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, said that that event proved that "no nation is fully prepared for risk of disasters," adding that "early warning systems can only do so much."

So-called hydro-meteorological emergencies, such as floods, that have recently occurred in Cambodia, Laos, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam all are on the rise. That trend will require even more focused and coordinated local, national and global efforts to reduce the risk of disasters, Komino said.

Such problems also threaten other areas and require continued responses, noted Vitali Vorona, CWS regional coordinator in Europe, whose Belgrade-based program is focused in part on the problems caused by climate change, including drinking water supply, sanitation, sustainable agriculture, energy conservation and renewable energy.

"But also here food and nutrition security poses a major challenge," Vorona said of Europe. He noted that a CWS program in the nation of Georgia has emphasized farming, the development of fruit and vegetable driers and water and sanitation programs like eco-toilets, as well as the development of women's leadership and human rights.

In the realm of hunger and poverty worldwide and within the U.S., hunger is a key focus for CWS. The agency seeks to address both the immediate causes by ensuring proper nutrition to those who need it -- especially mothers and their children -- as well as the underlying causes of hunger, by improving community food systems and ensuring access to food.

"CWS considers itself to be a global organization in a world of one people," said McCullough. "Unfortunately, given the vast gaps in human development – including in the U.S. – we face tremendous challenges. We will, however, continue to play a vital role, side by side with those who are most in need."

In 2012, CWS will continue to concentrate on the Horn of Africa, which still is suffering from food insecurity, war, political unrest and a severe drought. While recent rains have alleviated some problems and allowed some farming communities to plant their fields in anticipation of a harvest in January or February, other areas still are dry, and nearly 10 million people still are in need of food assistance, according to the World Food Program. Moreover, the rains have caused numerous problems, with floods hitting refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia and hindering road access to areas of Somalia.

CWS continues its emergency food distributions through local partners in Kenya's Eastern Province. In Mwingi and Nzambani districts, for example, CWS is providing monthly rations of corn, beans, salt and cooking oil to more than 1,060 households, as well as climate-resilient seeds for food crops. Micronutrient supplements are also being provided to children to ensure them a proper start in life.

But Sammy Matua, a CWS staff member based in the agency’s East Africa regional office in Nairobi, noted that drought in 2012 will continue to pressure not just those living in rural areas but also those in urban settings.

"The question for us in the coming years is, 'How do you do development?' Drought will be with us for some time but we need to implement mitigation strategies so that it when it strikes severely next time, we will be less vulnerable – we'll be able to 'live the drought,' navigate around it, and reduce the vulnerabilities."

In Latin America, an ongoing concern as Haiti marks the second anniversary of the January 2010 earthquake will be to continue what Martin Coria, CWS Latin America regional coordinator, calls the continuing “empowering and dignifying response” in that Caribbean nation, with CWS emphasizing in its work building local capacity and developing sustainability.

“The ability of Haiti's leadership -- government, civil society, religious community, economic elite -- to agree upon concrete actions to bring justice for the Haitian poor, especially the most vulnerable, will be a key challenge during 2012,” Coria said.

CWS has fought hunger in the United States and around the world for more than 60 years. The agency sponsors 1,532 CWS CROP Hunger Walks each year in communities across the U.S., which raise millions of dollars for domestic and global hunger-fighting programs. CWS is a member of the international ACT Alliance of faith-based humanitarian assistance and development organizations.

Media Contact: Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526,