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Natural disasters stretch charitable relief resources

Debris covers the interior of a building with

Debris covers the interior of a building with a destroyed roof at the Palma Real Shopping Center in Humacao on Sept. 22, two days after Hurricane Maria devastated large areas of Puerto Rico. Credit: DENNIS M. RIVERA PICHARDO / Washington Post

Millions of people and communities around the globe have been devastated by recent hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters, with no immediate end to the suffering caused by this historic hurricane season in sight. While these events often draw an urgent response from the compassionate public, the unfortunate truth is those in storm-affected areas — especially in impoverished regions — will face the daunting task of rebuilding their homes and lives for months, and even years, after initial relief workers and aid shipments have come and gone.

Thousands of volunteer and non-governmental relief organizations find their resources significantly stretched as they seek to meet the demand for humanitarian aid during the initial response, and long after, to large-scale disasters.

Rise Against Hunger faces a potential shortage of 3 million ready-to-ship meals after responding to recent crises in the United States, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Saint Maarten, Sierra Leone and Southern African countries where food stocks have been depleted due to unprecedented hurricanes, monsoons and slow-onset disasters such as drought and famine caused by climate change.

Even once aid arrives, recovery doesn’t happen overnight. Many organizations are left to balance the need for immediate relief, while at the same time continuing to support communities as they rebuild from previous disasters like Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

As the world responds to more frequent crises, the projected state of global food security is concerning. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently released staggering statistics on the growing number of hungry people in the world due to climate change, conflict and slow economic growth — 38 million more than the previous year. When crises happen, everyday access to food, wages and market systems is destroyed. As the frequency and intensity of natural and manmade disasters increases, these issues are compounded and become lasting barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Despite these challenges, ending hunger is possible. Significant strides have been made over the last two decades during which time the total percentage of the world’s hungry population decreased from 24 percent to 11 percent. We are on a trajectory to end hunger, which led the United Nations to establish Sustainable Development Goal No. 2 to achieve food security, improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by the year 2030. However, we must get to work in order to reach this ambitious goal.

As World Food Day, October 16, approaches, and millions are suffering from the lack of basic survival necessities such as food and water, we have an opportunity to recognize the role of humanitarian assistance during times of crisis and to bring a conversation about ending hunger to the forefront of our collective vision.

Local meal-packing events are an easy way to replenish depleted supplies, provide much needed support to the world’s most vulnerable people, and advocate for the end of hunger. Educate your community on the ways we end hunger by nourishing lives, empowering communities, providing emergency relief and growing the movement to end hunger.

In these days, weeks and months after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — as well as mudslides, monsoons and manmade conflict around the world — let us be reminded that we all have a role to play in supporting those who have been devastated and putting them on a sustainable path to recovery.

Rod Brooks is the CEO of Rise Against Hunger, with nearly 20 years working in the nonprofit sector. He wrote this for