'RED ALERT': World Hunger Fund gifts at 20-year low as Africa crisis looms

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Southern Baptists face a "red alert" crisis in their World Hunger Fund just as a massive drought/famine cycle threatens nearly 11 million people in the Horn of Africa, a Southern Baptist humanitarian leader announced July 25.

The situation is compounded by greatly increased needs around the world while giving to the World Hunger Fund has sharply declined, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

"We are now at a 'red alert' time for our human needs funding," Palmer said. "The overseas hunger relief fund is down to $4.1 million dollars -- enough to meet the needs of Southern Baptist international hunger projects for six months. These projects help the poorest of the poor, the most neglected and marginalized and some of the most lost people groups in the world. We are approaching a baseline where we are going to have to start denying funds to critical projects."

Southern Baptists donated $4.3 million to the World Hunger Fund in 2010, only 40 percent of what they gave during a 12-month span a decade earlier, according to numbers supplied by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The ERLC focuses on hunger awareness as a moral/social issue. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention distributes donations to the World Hunger Fund to IMB (80%) and NAMB (20%).

"Last year was the lowest donations to the World Hunger Fund have been in 20 years," Palmer said. "This is very disturbing, seeing the huge need of the crisis looming in the Horn of Africa. Our Southern Baptist avenue of seeing the lost, last and least be helped both physically and spiritually is about to dry up."

Recent news reports have heightened interest in the crisis in the Horn of Africa and neighboring countries in eastern Africa, where the United Nations estimates about 770,000 people have fled to refugee camps and about $1.3 billion will be needed to address the crisis. The region suffers from long-term cycles of severe hunger, sharpened now by decades of failed crops, economic crises and climate changes.

The drought in the Horn is the worst since 1951, noted Abraham Shepherd, who with his wife Grace directs Baptist Global Response work in Northern Africa. He pointed to a USAID analysis that says the drought has driven up food prices and weakened livestock, thus increasing malnutrition, hunger and famine.

Hunger projects in the Horn and eastern Africa have totaled more than $250,000 just in the past two years, Palmer said.

"Southern Baptists, who care so deeply about people in need, have given very generously to the World Hunger Fund in years past," Palmer said. "They are able to give in confidence because every dollar donated to the World Hunger Fund is used 100 percent to help hungry people. Now it looks like the World Hunger Fund has become the best kept secret in Southern Baptist life. It's a secret that needs to get out for the sake of millions whose lives and destinies are threatened by hunger or starvation."

While World Hunger Sunday is scheduled in Southern Baptist churches for Oct. 9, the dual crises in Africa and the World Hunger Fund call for a daily response to people in desperate need today, Shepherd added.

"In Africa, thousands have fled as refugees or IDPs [internally-displaced people] and others await their fate," Shepherd said. "We can eat when we are hungry, but they cannot. Would you care to make a difference?"

The World Hunger Fund fights hunger in the United States as well as abroad, Palmer added.

"Twenty percent of the donations to the World Hunger Fund are used domestically through the North American Mission Board to feed people like the victims of the Alabama and Joplin tornados," Palmer said. "The remainder is used overseas through the International Mission Board.

"Southern Baptists who want to make a difference in world hunger can do that best by giving through their local church, designating it for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund," Palmer added. "You can encourage your church and fellow members to give. You also can give through your state Baptist convention. To help with hunger needs in the USA, you can give through the North American Mission Board, and for overseas needs, you can give through the International Mission Board."


Mark Kelly is senior writer and assistant editor for Baptist Press. Donations designated for the Horn of Africa crisis can be made through the International Mission Board at www.imb.org. Resources for promoting the World Hunger Fund can be found at www.worldhungerfund.com. Baptist Global Response is on the web at gobgr.com.