On World Food Day this year, ten Red Cross Societies in Central Europe are pooling their efforts to bring world attention to the plight of millions of poor and malnourished Europeans, from the Baltic to the Adriatic. Red Cross Societies in Albania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro are voicing grave concern for those who are not protected by existing social welfare networks. The grim reality of severe poverty and its consequences is present, behind the growing economic indices in these countries, warns the Red Cross.
In 1999, Polish Red Cross started the Hunger Day Campaign, based on the original Finnish idea, using 16 October, the International Nourish and Fighting against Famine Day. In order to address the issue of poverty and hunger, Polish Red Cross undertook several actions - on one side activating local community and raising awareness about famine and on the other one, gaining funds to support vulnerable people.
Through the youth network established in the region, Polish Red Cross with the support of International Federation's Regional Youth Development Programme, based in Budapest, spread the idea of the campaign outside of its geographical borders. Therefore to date, ten countries within the region, implemented the Hunger Day campaign.
The Red Cross in Central Europe hopes to raise funds through this public awareness campaign, in order to buy food, which will be then supplied to schools, social institutions, hospitals and soup kitchens. With media support, each Red Cross Society is delivering its message about the seriousness of the situation in its home country.
"The Red Cross is more than a distributor of international humanitarian aid", said Djura Bugarski, Red Cross Branch Secretary from Serbia and Montenegro. It provides services and mobilizes communities in hard times. These days, in October, Red Cross young volunteers are in the streets trying to attract people's attention and involve them in solutions for the urgent humanitarian issues the problem of hungry people is one of the most acute".
This year's World Food Day focuses on grave food shortages in the developing world under the theme International Alliance against Hunger. In Albania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro, the Red Cross Societies are reminding people that poverty and hunger still exist in Central Europe and that, in the coming years, these vulnerabilities might worsen. A United Nations report published in October says that 31.6 % of the world's urban population lives in slums and 6.2% of them live in Europe. In the European Union (EU) the average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of the acceding states is just 40 per cent of current EU levels.
The Polish Ministry of the Economy reports that, in July 2003, the level of unemployment reached 17,6% of the population, inflicting more hardship on the 28% of people who are poor. "We cannot talk about proper nutrition without mentioning economic issues" says Dr. Jadwiga Hamuka from the Polish Association for Nutritional Science. "The rising poverty rate means that the child hunger problem is becoming particularly acute".
Poland is not alone. Red Cross Societies are warning that undernourishment among Central Europe's poor and socially vulnerable is symptomatic of a widening gap between rich and poor in all the post-Communist countries. "What unites 15 million South Africans, 2 million Polish children, 530,000 Latvian pensioners and a thousand schoolchildren from the Lithuanian district of Kazlu Ruda?" asks the Lithuanian Red Cross in their Hunger Day Appeal? The answer: hunger and poverty. According to the World Development indicators, one Lithuanian out of six lives in poverty. The Lithuanian Red Cross indicates that among the country's 3.5 million population there are some 2,000 homeless people.
Stunting and malnutrition have been found among 39 per cent of children in city suburbs in Albania. Some 21 per cent of Bulgaria's 1.4 million children live in poverty, and the State estimates that 52 per cent of its Roma children are undernourished.
National Societies have developped their own ideas on how to implement this campaign.
In Bulgaria, they organised "A Sandwich for a friend" activity, providing sandwiches to 60 children, bought or made by their classmates, and consequently raising the solidarity among in children, and also assuring free lunches for 3 poor children for the period of 1 year, finding donors to repond to this challenge.
In Latvia, there was an "Action in Supermarkets" to fundraise for soup kitchen, decrease stigmatization of the soup kitchen beneficiaries, establish new contacts with more (new) donors and raise funds to enlarge Red Cross soup kitchen in Riga and to establish a field kitchen.
In Lithuania, through the "Bread queen performance", the Red Cross aimed to raise awareness of elementary school children about hunger, as well as among school actors (director, teachers, parents) about hunger problem and activate them in this field. Other objectives were to improve the health status of vulnerable children by giving them vitamins, raise funds from children through performance fee, promote the image, activities and values of the Red Cross inside schools community.
This campaign is growing more and more every year, thanks to the believe that fighting hunger is possible through similar concrete actions and creating awareness!
Related links: International Federation's Regional Youth Development Programme IFRC Regional delegation for Central Europe:www.ifrccee.org