In a world of conflict and finite resources, famine is certainly a large issue that plagues millions of people worldwide. Starvation is both a heavy and crippling topic that unfortunately impacts a great number of communities every year.
Last year the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) responded to this humanitarian crisis by providing around $1.4 billion in emergency food and nutrition assistance. Mathew Nims, the Acting Director for the Office of Food and Peace at USAID, has had a direct impact on providing countries like Yemen and Sudan with access to essential resources. Because of his efforts, Nims is a finalist for the National Security and International Affairs category for the Service to America Medals (SAMMIES). The SAMMIES is an esteemed awards program sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service that recognizes remarkable work done by career federal employees. This past week Matthew Nims sat down with Christopher Dorobek, for the Dorobek Insider, to discuss some of the work that he and his team do.
Nims’s work in food assistance goes all the way back to the year 2000, where he first started working on food and disaster programs in Indonesia, and he has been committed to this type of work ever since. Now, Nims is responsible for responding to the world’s most urgent calls. He and his team work tirelessly using satellite imagery and on the ground condition reports to track famine conditions.
This unique system, called the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), is designed to identify a combination of factors that affect food security. Nims believes that the greatest measure of success for his office is the number of lives they are able to save with their fast-acting systems. In the case of famine, Nims noted that this issue, can be manageable by monitoring their systems and acting in the early stages of an alert. “When we have cases of where famine is coming, we can say that through our assistance and through international assistance, we have averted large, widespread famine,” he said. Nims’ team is constantly checking feedback loops to improve their services, and they have even developed specific products that cater to the needs of famine victims. In the case of severe acute malnutrition, specialized foods have been developed to specifically address that particular issue. Nims and his office are also cognizant of a country’s existing markets and are working hard to bring in a voucher system or other cash resources to prevent economic disruption.
Nims emphasized that famine isn’t only a result of food shortages. The real issues of food security emerge around conflict. “When we have these conditions developing, it’s because some external factor is causing market degradation or crops not to grow,” Nims said.
The greatest determinant for famine is caused by what Nims described as the, “breakdown of the market system, the breakdown of trade, the breakdown of being able to move without fear, and the breakdown of the systems that allow host governments in the international community to help in these times of crisis.” He noted that the increase in large-scale conflict and strife in the world is connected to this growing issue.
However, Nims also noted that USAID’s assistance in these programs can actually increase security. “When we go out there, on behalf of the U.S. government, with many of our food bags and our programs that have USAID branding and logos, they know that the U.S. is trying to help them and that really does affect our national security,” he said.
Nims and his team face great challenges in their quest to ensure a stable food access network worldwide. This network of service (FEWS) is responsible for connecting society’s most vulnerable populations with lifesaving food resources. A big part of this network’s success is USAID’s dedication to understanding the unique situations that communities are in and establishing contact with locals to ensure that their needs are being met. They rely heavily on the help of local aid workers to institute the program.
The USAID Food for Peace Team is always striving to bring some stability into these various crisis situations and decrease tensions surrounding conditions that have led to the creation of hungry and vulnerable populations. Nims plays a leading role in helping achieve this mission. His passion for public service and food security is a driving force for change and although his leadership is commendable, he also enjoys just “being a part of the team.” Nims takes great pride in his team’s ability to deliver results and their network’s ability to follow up on the impact they’ve made with each respective community.