How Trump can stop the four famines

exp IYW Africa Yemen famine social_00002001
exp IYW Africa Yemen famine social_00002001

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Help famine victims in Africa, Yemen 01:13

Story highlights

  • Richard Fontaine: The response of other wealthy nations to famines in Yemen, South Sudan, Yemen, and Nigeria has been inconsistent
  • President Trump should use his unwavering media visibility to influence countries to give more aid, he writes

Richard Fontaine is president of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)In his first six months as President, Donald Trump has used his platforms to decry and cajole anything or anyone that stands in the way of his campaign promises -- or that he simply doesn't like. And he recognizes and praises the people and things he does. For better or worse, this has drawn attention to those who have been the subject of Trump's remarks.

Richard Fontaine
Now a worthy target is crying out for President Trump's extraordinary reach: The so-called "four famines" that currently afflict South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. The United States has been generous in providing resources to confront the spread of starvation in these countries; it's other wealthy countries who have fallen down on the job. And it's here that the President could rack up a win for his administration and for humanity.
    President Trump's megaphone is perhaps the loudest of any world leader in memory. With near 24/7 coverage of his statements and actions and tens of millions of social media followers, the President possesses the unique ability to illuminate a humanitarian catastrophe that garners few headlines at home or abroad -- and help save millions of lives.
    The numbers are staggering. The US ambassador to the UN has called the famines "the largest food security emergency since World War II."
    Beasley: Humanitarian aid is in U.S. interest
    Beasley: Humanitarian aid is in U.S. interest

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      Beasley: Humanitarian aid is in U.S. interest

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    Beasley: Humanitarian aid is in U.S. interest 05:54
    This year, emergency aid is required to save those who literally have nothing else. Some 20 million people are at risk of starvation. UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.4 million children face an imminent risk of death. The UN seeks nearly $5 billion to help halt the four famines; only half of the necessary funds have come in. At least $2.2 billion more is needed this year to stave off the worst.
    The moral case for helping is strong, but there are hard-headed security reasons to act as well. Food insecurity in Somalia, for example, has already driven a million refugees into countries like Kenya, threatening instability there. Famine increases migration, further destabilizes weak states, and opens the door to radical appeals from the likes of al-Shabab and the Islamic State.
    Ultimately, only a resolution of the civil wars in South Sudan and Yemen, and militant extremism in Nigeria and Somalia, will eliminate the risk of famine, but that is a long-term endeavor.
    Despite the Trump administration's general skepticism of foreign aid, the United States has largely answered the call. Washington has pledged nearly $1.2 billion for famine relief since November, including more than $300 million that President Trump announced after his meeting with Pope Francis in May. And Congress is set to add more. Given the stakes, America can and should do more.
    The response of our wealthy friends and allies has been highly uneven. Some, like Germany, Britain and Sweden, have given generously and disproportionately, while others, like Saudi Arabia, have failed to meet their pledges. Still other countries, like Russia, have yet to meaningfully get in the game.
    The private sector holds promise, and indeed reported donations are ticking up. Much corporate willingness to help alleviate famine, however, will turn on public awareness, and here a little work would go a long way. A recent International Rescue Committee poll, for instance, found that 85% of Americans have not heard of the spreading famines. Yet when briefed on them, 73% immediately labeled it a top global concern.
    It's clear that when the United States places high-level and sustained focus on a foreign policy priority, other countries respond. From Afghanistan to ISIS, tsunami relief to Haiti reconstruction, the world looks to Washington for leadership. And when a president conveys the gravity of an impending catastrophe to the American people and explains the country's role in averting it, they tend to support it.
    With 20 million lives and the stability of multiple countries hanging in the balance, surely famine relief deserves a robust American effort. The Trump administration should increase America's financial contribution and inspire corporations and individuals to donate.
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    The administration should challenge other wealthy countries to follow our lead, and publicly recognize those who do. It should explore creative ways of delivering aid to violence-wracked regions. And it should reflect on the fact that, in a world replete with intractable challenges, here is one where America's power and prosperity can be applied to truly transformative effect.
    Such an approach is tailor-made for a President and an administration with unprecedented communications reach. Coupled with America's own financial commitments, such an effort could literally save millions of lives and halt widening instability. In a divided country and jumbled world, foreign policy successes are difficult to come by. A victory against famine would not make a bad first year accomplishment.