A Pinch in Australia Delivers a Punch to Hunger

Mariam Veiszadeh

Australians are feeling the pinch. The war in Ukraine has sent economic shockwaves through the global economy.

But what if that pinch was a gut punch?

That’s the reality for 50 million people worldwide on the brink of famine, including in Afghanistan, my country of birth.

The number of people feeling the body blow of acute hunger has tripled from 135 million to 345 million since 2019. Every night 811 million people go to bed hungry. Eight million children under five around the world could die from starvation.

The sheer numbers are impossible to comprehend. To understand the true horror you have to zoom in to the human level. Consider the experience of my family in Afghanistan.

Taliban rule threatens lives daily. We recently discovered the body of one of our extended family members who was abducted not long after the Taliban took over.

My family, facing grave danger, knew remaining meant they’d be at risk in several ways including not being able to access basic necessities. Death by Taliban or starvation – the odds are stacked against you.

My family were forced to flee to another country where things are slightly better. But not everyone can escape the rising tide of hunger.

As one of the world’s wealthiest nations, Australia can do more to help people meet their most fundamental human requirement: to eat.

That’s why I’ve joined Help Fight Famine, an alliance campaign of Australian humanitarian organisations, to ask Treasurer Jim Chalmers to invest $150m in saving lives.

We urgently need this emergency package from the Australian government in the October federal budget.

I know the government is doing its best to tighten the nation’s belt right now. But this is not the same old global hunger story.

It’s not a sum plucked out of the air.

Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe, supplying the world with sunflower, oil, barley, maize and fertilisers. The conflict has slashed exports to hunger hot spots.

In the Horn of Africa, farmers are staring down the barrel of a historic fifth failed rainy season.

Somalia’s 2011 food crisis in which 260,000 people died came after two failed rainy seasons.

Among these confronting statistics, it’s easy to lose sight of a simple truth: we are talking about people. Children, mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and sons. Some include people I know through my extended family.

This funding will save lives through practical action. For example, Plan International is delivering emergency food packages and school meals, preventing thousands of children from the lifelong consequences of severe malnutrition.

We can ensure this urgent help gets to the people who need it most by supporting non-government and local organisations which work with communities.

This is the Albanese government’s first major humanitarian test.

It’s our duty as a good global citizen to defend millions from the hunger gut punch. A relative pinch in the federal budget can go a long way in helping fight famine.

Mariam Veiszadeh is an Afghan-born Australian lawyer and spokeswoman for Help Fight Famine