Connections to overcome inequality

The pandemic and its aftershocks require global cooperation. The U.S. could do more.

Buloze Bugonge of the Democratic Republic of Congo received food aid from an MCC partner amid rising prices during her recovery from an auto accident. — Kabamba Lwamba/MCC Buloze Bugonge of the Democratic Republic of Congo received food aid from an MCC partner amid rising prices during her recovery from an auto accident. — Kabamba Lwamba/MCC

The global economic downturn in 2020 caused food prices to surge amid public health and humanitarian challenges. The worst impacts are being felt in Africa and Asia. Women and children often are the most vulnerable.

Before the pandemic, the global effort to fight poverty was making progress. But in 2020, at least 88 million more people fell into extreme poverty due to violent conflicts, climate change and COVID-19.

The Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington office is encouraging Christians to talk with their legislators about ways to strengthen humanitarian aid, especially helping other countries to address the pandemic.

I was heartened when the Biden administration encouraged the World Trade Organization to allow an emergency waiver of intellectual property rules. Requiring pharmaceutical companies to share information would allow more affordable mass production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests.

Christians can ask their legislators to: 1) support the waiver; 2) authorize the use of reserve funds from the International Monetary Fund; and 3) forgive debt. All these actions can help developing countries afford testing and treatment options.

It’s not too much to ask. The U.S. government spends less than 1% of its budget on international humanitarian and poverty-focused development aid.

U.S. foreign aid should prioritize human need rather than military assistance.

Among those suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19 are smallholder farmers in Nigeria — people like Rhoda Gyang, a mother of five; and Ilisha Bot, a father of three. They could not plant or sell their produce due to pandemic lockdowns.

“The lockdown affected the timing for planting of my crops, especially carrots, which I used to plant around May and harvest in July before the soil absorbs much rainwater, which usually affects the yield,” Gyang said.

Gyang and Bot depend on the proceeds from dry-season farming to sustain their families during the rainy season.

Without profit from that crop, Gyang and Bot struggled to afford seed for the next planting season or to feed their families. An MCC partner has been helping them, but the impact of COVID-19 will continue to negatively impact their farming this year.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 27.3 million people are facing acute hunger. Militia and communal violence compounds the food problem.

Buloze Bugonge, a mother of five and a victim of militia violence, was displaced from South Kivu Province with her vulnerable household. Almost incapacitated by an auto crash, she received food aid in the form of maize flour, salt, beans and vegetable oil from Oasis de la Culture (Oasis of Culture), an MCC partner.

After she recovered, Oasis gave her tools, such as a hoe and a container for keeping seeds and food.

“Because of the food we are getting from our field through Oasis de la Culture, we now look like people who have life,” Bugonge said. “Prices of food had increased because of COVID.”

COVID-19 has revealed global inequalities and shown our connections. Increased global collaboration is essential to confront the pandemic and its aftershocks.

We acknowledge that “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

The poorest and most vulnerable, including displaced populations, migrants, people in fragile states and those affected by conflict, continue to bear the brunt of COVID-19 disproportionately.

Having insufficient access to health care, including COVID-19 vaccines, people in low- and middle-income countries have fewer resources to cope with the impacts of the pandemic.

We must make resources available to bring down the level of infection, which allows people to work or grow their own food.

It is our ethical responsibility to close the gap of vaccine inequality and defeat the pandemic worldwide.

As a ministry of Anabaptist churches, MCC works to reduce poverty, increase access to social services, prevent violent conflict, strengthen peacebuilding and improve access to food. As Christians, and as taxpayers, we must ask our public officials to do the same.

Charles Kwuelum is the senior legislative associate for the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

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