More than 130 children died during a recent drought in Pakistan. Activists link the growing death toll to “long-term failures” in its healthcare and infrastructure. Most of those suffering from the drought belong to the Dalit caste. Referred to as ‘the scheduled class’, Dalits suffer the most discrimination in the region. As residents of the Tharparkar district, members of this caste bear the burden of drought conditions.

Most deaths occurred in the Thar Desert. The Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN) and other agencies fault the government for it delayed response. PDSN reports “animals started dying in the desert in October last year but the government did not act until reports of children dying in the Mithi Taluka hospital.”

Hospital reports indicate 38 children dying of malnutrition in the hospital in December. Before the drought, Oxfam forecasted the consequences of a continued food insecurity. 57% of children under five face stunted growth.

Persisting food insecurity, coupled with this drought, led to the dramatic rise in deaths. Dependent on food subsidies and animal fodder, residents live in constant food insecurity. Syed Qaim Ali Shah currently serves as the minister of Sindh. The chief minister routinely provides food every August. Yet this year, relief did not arrive until November. Currently, he leads an investigation into this delayed delivery.

“Elected representatives must be held responsible for not reporting to the chief minister,” remarks Javed Jabbar, leader of a nongovernmental organization in Tharparkar.

Failure to act on early warning signs continues the pattern of neglecting the Thar Desert and Dalit people. The drought in this region highlights existing structural inequities. For instance, advocates cite poor health services and limited roads to the more developed regions in Pakistan.

The establishment of Nawabshah Medical College promised a rise in female doctors, yet very few decide to work in less developed regions. Jabbar asserts medical professionals should sign a bond, agreeing to serve difficult regions. Referring to maternal and infant health as “the root cause of this crisis,” Jabbar believes women need incentives to serve Tharparkar.

“Missing public policy action and persistent economic inequalities are the main causes of malnutrition, which – if not addressed – may aggravate the situation in future in the entire province,” remarks Dr. Akram, a pediatrician in the region.

As the region is isolated and neglected, activists cannot know the death count with certainty. Dr. Sono Khangarani of the PDSN estimates the a number as high as 190. “The poorest of the poor” die, reports the Dr. Khangarani. Many parents cannot afford the health services or travel the distance to hospitals and as a result, he predicts a much higher death rate.

The “environmental uncertainty” threatens the food security of residents, but limited healthcare services threaten their lives. Interventionists need to invest in long-term development, as opposed to simply crisis relief.

– Ellery Spahr

Sources: BBC, Guardian
Photo: Aamir Qureshi

Situated on the Red Sea, Eritrea is one of the youngest independent countries in the world, but it is also one of the poorest. Eritrea has had to deal with being a small, seriously poor country with many socio-economic problems since it won independence from Ethiopia after 30 years of war in 1993. Like many African nations, the Eritrean economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture with around 60% of its population relying on agricultural activities, like livestock and crop production or fishing, for food and income. In 2003, Eritrea had an annual per capita income of $150 and as a result was ranked at 155 out of 175 countries on the Human Development Index. Food insecurity and poverty are extremely widespread and are increasing; nearly half of their food has to be imported even with adequate rainfall.

More than 50% of the entire country was below the poverty line, and 44% of children under the age of five were underweight between 1990 and 2001. Around 2 million Eritrean people, a large amount of the population, are experiencing economic hardship. The low productivity of their livestock enterprises and crops extremely harm rural households, the most affected by poverty. Nearly two-thirds of all the households in Eritrea lack food security.

Some of the worst droughts in Eritrea’s history threatened the lives of over a third of the population from 2002-2004. Large quantities of livestock perished or were sold fairly cheaply to pay for food and crop production greatly fell by about 25%. Malnutrition levels are very high in Eritrea and the rural people do not have much access to social services like healthcare and purification systems for clean drinking water. Many women are the heads of their households and have to produce food and care for their children. These types of households are largely disadvantaged because they rely greatly on the help of male relatives and neighbors who may not always be available when they are needed.

The mandatory military service and armed conflicts take many men away from their families and villages and this plays a large role on the severity of poverty in the country. The border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia left tens of thousands of people killed and although a peace deal was agreed upon, there are still tensions between the disputed territories. There have been more people condemned to poverty than have been lifted out of poverty from the war in Eritrea, but the government has been working toward diplomatic solutions with Ethiopia. After Ethiopia sent in troops to Eritrea in March 2012, Eritrea remained peaceful and announced that it would not retaliate, rather it would use the proper diplomatic channels to resolve the issue and eventually bring economic growth to both countries.

Though the situation does not look promising for many rural families, Eritrea has traditional ways of protecting the rural poor communities. Wealthier families dispose of assets, like livestock and crops, and then make loans to their poorer relatives and neighbors during times of great stress. A community’s wealthier families will help households that are physically unable to cultivate their own land at different times of the agricultural cycle.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Geneva-Academy, IRIN News, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: WFP

Experts and residents residing in the southeastern Pakistan desert told Al Jazeera a “drought-induced famine” is affecting the lives of impoverished individuals in the region.

Ever since the famine story broke out, the Pakistani government has focused its attention in the region. According to Al Jazeera, the National Disaster Management Authority claims, “Tharparkar has seen the delivery of 3,582.3 tonnes of wheat (worth approximately $2.5m), 201 tonnes of rice, and 1,483.7 tonnes of emergency food packs and other food aid”.

But despite the government’s involvement in helping the famine-stricken region, the Pakistan Meteorological Department believes that there is no drought in Tharparkar in the first place. The department instead classifies it as a “socioeconomic disaster” despite the region being drier than usual this year.

On the other hand, the NGOs in Pakistan believe that the famine that killed over 100 children in Pakistan could have been avoided had the government decided to act sooner. According to the Guardian, Pakistani activists blame the government for failing to provide the region with healthcare and better infrastructure.

A local newspaper also told a similar story about the famine in southeastern Pakistan.

“The provincial government usually declares a state of drought in Thar by September or October when there is low rainfall during and after the monsoon season,” said the Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper.

Due to the low amount of rainfall last year in September, the government apparently pushed forward the declaration “and the provision of relief was thus delayed.”

Sources also told the newspaper that the local administration and health officials informed the chief minister that the conditions in the region were “normal during drought”.

According to local organizations that work with some of the poorest people in Pakistan, members of Dalit population are the ones mainly affected by the drought.

“Known in Pakistan as the scheduled class, Dalits suffer heavy discrimination under the caste system common across south Asia.”

The founder of Baanhn Beli, an NGO operating in Tharparkar since 1985, believes that representatives who were elected to represent the region should be held responsible for failing to properly report to the chief minister. He also believes that if the state invested in Tharparkar, most of the deaths caused by the famine would have not occurred.

It is clear that the officials are refusing to take full responsibility for the crisis in southeastern Pakistan. The international community, along with local humanitarian groups, is criticizing the state for failing to stop a preventable famine. They believe that the government should keep its promise and compensate the families of the victims for improperly handling the situation.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Tribune, The Guardian
Photo: India Times

Up until about 1990, Mongolia never faced any fears of living in poverty. Rural land specifically, and the large volume of land has been Mongolia’s source of food security and livelihood for centuries.

Mongolia owns approximately 838,853.13 square miles of land in which much of it is desert, but the arable land is quickly becoming depleted, polluted, or turned to desert.

Currently, 33% of people in Mongolia are poor, and over half of the country’s population is living in rural areas. This quickly happened after Mongolia’s large farms became private and hundreds of herders became unemployed and without government benefits.

Most of the rural poor live nomadic lifestyles, moving from area to area with their families in order to feed cattle and find food. Some families live in soums, or villages consisting of multiple families, and some rural families, particularly the nomads, live in tents known as ger. The benefit of living in soums is the ability to obtain some form of education, health services, and essential necessities.

Those living in rural areas rely on their animals for food and making money.

With much of the fertile land being utilized for feeding cattle, there has been a severe increase in land degradation. Mongolia has yet to find strengthening mechanisms for sustainable land management or a method to control desertification. Without these forms of protection, Mongolia is at an increasing risk of losing what little remains of one of their most needed natural resources: fertile land.

Desertification brings with it many struggles; drought and causing land to become irreparable are among the worst-case scenarios. With more and more of the land being overgrazed, little land will be left for agriculture, herding, and living. Mongolia is already naturally a very dry climate with little rainfall and plant growth, which is only worsened by the constant migration, over-cultivated land, and now competition for natural resources.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Scoop World
Photo: Stephane L

dry spell
February 2014 was the driest month in Singapore since 1869. Only seven brief sprinkles fell, giving the area an underwhelming .2 mm of rain. Malaysia has also felt the drought’s impact, as the state of Selangor and the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, have begun water rationing.

Singapore relies heavily on Malaysia for its water supply, importing nearly 60% of its water from the region. Under a 1962 water agreement, Singapore imports most of its water from the Malay state of Johore. The agreement has caused tension between the two countries in the past, and Singapore has decided not to pursue a renewal of the agreement past its 2061 expiration.

Therefore, Singapore has increasingly focused on improving its water self-sufficiency. Currently, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources estimates that Singapore could potentially provide up to 55% of the country’s water needs. The government has increasingly emphasized building up desalination and recycled water technology while also pushing to increase the country’s water catchment area.

Unfortunately, Singapore’s current water supply does not stack up to the potential effects of the current drought. The National Environment Agency predicts the dry spell will continue into early March. With the poor weather set to continue in both Singapore and Malaysia, water consumption in the area must decrease accordingly.

Resultantly, the Singaporean government has started a public campaign urging water conservation. It has encouraged citizens to cut down on washing cars, irrigating plants and to be more conscious about switching off water faucets and fountains in between use.

Through increasing the water consciousness of its citizenry, Singapore hopes to effectively combat its water shortage.

As of yet, the drought in Singapore has not had a profound effect on the lives of Singaporeans. However, it has reaffirmed Singapore’s vulnerability to water shortages and droughts and demonstrated the need for water conservation initiatives within the city-state. If Singapore will achieve water-self sufficiency it must prepare itself to withstand episodes such as the current drought.

Martin Levy

Sources: Today Online, BBC News, NEA, Singapore Infopedia
Photo: Brohenson Files

Hunger in Chad
The country of Chad is approximately three times the size of California and has a population of 11.7 million people. The country has been struggling with an unstable government since its independence in 1960 and currently, one third of the children living in Chad are malnourished. 87% of the population living in rural areas is surviving on a US $1.25.

In Chad’s central and eastern areas, known as the Sahelian zone, childhood malnourishment is high and is a consistently severe problem. The resources in Chad are in extremely short supply, meaning that jobs and farming are scarce.  The International Medical Corps’ (IMC) has assessed and determined that hunger in Chad has officially reached “critical” levels, additionally finding that young girls are the most common victims of severe malnourishment.

Fish, wheat and Natron are major resources that are influenced by Lake Chad, but the great lake has shrunk in area over the past 40 years to a mere 10% of what it once was. As a result of this, the limited harvest of 2012 led to skyrocketing high costs of food.

More than 30 million people depend on Lake Chad for food and as a source of income, but the extreme droughts have eliminated most of the water and caused unsanitary conditions for those who lack any access to clean water.

Diarrhea and water-related illnesses have only added to malnutrition in children because they are unable to “retain vital nutrients in food.” IMC has determined that 26% of children under the age of five suffer from general acute malnourishment.

People living in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad form their livelihoods off of water as well, and the droughts have forced food insecurity upon approximately two thirds of the Chadian population alone.

Farm animals are dying and land resources are hard to come by due to the constant migrating of farmers to find suitable land conditions.

With frequent relocating comes strained relationships between the neighboring Lake Chad communities. Conflicts have risen due to the instability of each country’s economy and Chad has faced an onslaught of refugees straining the already minimal resources.

IMC is currently working to address the rising levels of hunger in Chad by educating the population on nutrition and providing assistance with health care. They are hoping by building awareness of malnutrition globally more people will recognize and aid the people of Chad.

Rebecca Felcon

Photo: The Australian
Info Please, World Food Programme, Action Against Hunger, International Medical Corps, Discover Magazine

Drought in Zimbabwe is reaching epic proportions as nearly one million people are at risk of food insecurity. According to the 2013 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC,) food insecurity levels will affect roughly 2.2 million Zimbabweans at the peak of hunger season between January and March in the upcoming year. Zimbabwe already suffers from high poverty rates as approximately 72 percent of citizens currently below the poverty line and nearly 14.7 percent of the population is HIV prevalent.

Zimbabwe relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, which has since plummeted since last season’s drought.  As the need for food increases, maize, a primary source of food in Zimbabwe, continues to rise in price making it more difficult on a population who already lives on less than a $1 a day. Making matters worse, the World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced that their initial plan of providing support for 1.8 million people will be drastically reduced.

“We’d been hoping to have scaled up our seasonal relief operations to reach 1.8 million people in the coming months with distributions of food aid, in some areas, cash transfers. Despite generous contributions from donors such as (United States,) (United Kingdom,) Japan, Australia, ECHO and the central Emergency Relief Fund (UN CERF), it’s now looking like all this will not be possible because of a shortage of funds. In fact, we’ve had to cut rations for one million of our beneficiaries in recent months and there are likely to be deeper cuts as from next month,” said WFP in a statement to the media.

Of the $86 million funding dispersed by the previous listed countries, only half of it has been implemented into relief intervention. “Rising food prices are making matters worse — in some areas, they are as much as double what they were last year,” says WFP communications manager Tomson Phiri.

These rising prices in the market are heavily affecting food security and although WFP is short on funding, they are hoping to raise another $60 million over the next 6 months in an effort to implement relief and recovery operations.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: World Food Programme, World Food Programme, Zimeye
Photo: The Telegraph

kenya hunger cycle
A 2011 drought caused an immense famine that affected over 4 million impoverished citizens in Kenya. It was estimated that half a million children, pregnant and breast-feeding women suffered from “acute malnutrition” due to a shortfall of indispensable resources.

Though the 2011 famine has subsided, rural populations are still very susceptible to scarceness of resources. Recent reports surfaced that “four million” Kenyans in urban areas and over 1 million people in rural Kenya are expected to experience shortages.

Kenya has, moreover, experienced tremendous GDP growth. Since 2004, the GDP has been increasing annually at a rate of 5%.  Kenya’s adult life expectancy increased from 54 in 2004 to 60 in 2012.

Kenya’s rapid economic expansion and burgeoning “agricultural sector” have, furthermore, been celebrated. Regardless, the nation has been criticized for “unequal distribution of wealth” that has exacerbated the virulent spread of communicable and water-born diseases as well as food insecurity. The north-western county of Turkana has a startling 87.5% living below the poverty line, while the wealthy capital Nairobi’s has no more than 21%.

On average, 46% of the population is presently living in poverty. Sadly, food insecurity has disproportionately affected adolescents. For example, stunted growth has been observed in about 30% of children, while 20% of children are consistently emaciated.

Global Aid associations have, moreover, made attempts to alleviate juvenile hunger but face obstacles.  Instability of feeding programs have been damaging to Kenyan education initiatives, resulting in 15,000 children from the Turkana region withdrawing from schools. Nancy Laibunu, a Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research policy maker, argued that food insecurity in poorer families pushes them to make harsh choices between food or sacrificing access to educational opportunities and vital healthcare.

The World Food Programme, a poverty relief organization involved in the lives of more than 97 million impoverished people in 80 countries, discontinued efforts in Turkana because of it’s “inaccessibility.” The province lacked sufficient finances to construct a suitable road or rail network that allowed the secure transport of food aid.

United States officials recommended a number of ways to tackle Kenya’s food insecurities. Zhuileta Willibrand, of the United States Department of Agriculture, proposed that Kenya embrace genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  However, in November of 2013, Kenya banned the importation of GMO’s since the administrative officials considered it disadvantageous to the well-being of the public.

They contended that a “lack of sufficient information” about the “impact of such foods” on a person’s physical condition was enough to prohibit their cultivation.

Kenya’s former Public Health Minister, Beth Mugo, was directed by former President Kibaki to make a scientifically founded decision. On the other hand however, Kenya’s National Bio-safety Authority holds the authority of permitting GMO’s. They oversee the application of advancing bio-technology in “the cultivation” of genetically modified produce.

In May of 2013, Romano Kiome, the Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, lifted the ban, calling it an “ill-advised” decision, thus calming the apprehension Kenyan scientists fostered.  They expressed concern that the law was potentially holding back scientific “progress” that could help boost food production and lessen production deficits.

Kenya needs to figure out the proper means to solve their food production problems, especially since 5 million are anticipated to have inadequate amounts of food according to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. As it stands, Kenya’s growing population and “urbanization” most likely provoked the nation’s hunger problems.  The report prominently highlights “inadequate crop production,” something GMO’s and advanced farming techniques could supposedly correct. Millions of lives hang in the balance, relying on decisions that government makes.

Joseph Abay

Sources: UNICEF, NY Times, The Guardian, All AfricaAction Against Hunger, Capital Business, Red Cross, SciDev, SciDev, CNN, Business Daily Africa, NY Times, World Bank, Standard Digital News, All Africa, UNICEF, All Africa

Famine and drought are often considered one and the same. It is easy to think that where there is drought, there is certainly famine or that where there is famine, there must be drought. The truth of the matter is that the difference between a famine and a drought is huge. Famines and droughts are caused by various conditions and factors that sometimes have nothing to do with the other.

Drought may be defined in three ways. That is to say, there are three kinds of drought. Meteorological drought is a reduction in rainfall below a certain level that is scientifically considered to be a drought. This kind of drought may occur in the course of a season, month, or even day. If it rains less than a specific amount, over the specified amount of time, you have meteorological drought.

Hydrological drought may be caused by meteorological drought, but it need not necessarily be so. This kind of drought occurs when a body of water, such as a stream or lake, falls below a certain amount. For example, in a dry year, meteorological drought may lead to hydrological drought in a stream, when the stream runs much lower than it usually does. Likewise, hydrological drought may exist when the source of a stream is blocked or severed.

Agricultural drought occurs when there is a significant reduction in crop yield, such that it may fall to a certain level considered to be a drought. This kind of drought may be caused by meteorological and/or hydrological drought, but may just as easily stem from insufficient access to fertilizer or some other necessary ingredient to produce yield.

Famine, on the other hand, is caused by a decline in availability of and/or access to food often caused by one of the three kinds of drought. Where there is insufficient water to produce a staple crop, for example, or where there is insufficient fertilizer to produce the standard yield for a crop, drought may lead to and certainly cause famine. Yet, it is not necessarily the drought that causes such a famine.

For famine to occur, there must be insufficient availability of or access to food. Though there may be some kind of drought one year, adequate food management of the available crops may effectively prevent famine. This point highlights the importance of access to food. On that note, inadequate management of a drought may lead to famine because families with less purchasing power, say, are unable to gain access to the available foodstuffs.

Though famine often does follow drought, it is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship. Rather the difference between famine and drought lies in the complexity of this relationship and the conditions and factors that surround local circumstances, as well as government and community responses to drought. The difference between famine and drought is therefore dependent on what causes the drought and how communities handle their food supplies.

– Herman Watson

Sources: Preserve Articles, The Borgen Project, World Vision, Edward Carr
Photo: Business Insider

Ali Hamandu, a pastoralist in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, knows all too well the destruction a drought can bring. In the past five years of incredible drought in Ethiopia he has lost all of his livestock.

“I was previously a respected figure in my community for my wealth, having nearly a hundred heads of animals, including sheep, goats and cattle. All of a sudden I have nothing,” he explains. He now relies on food aid to support himself and his family.

Almost 14% of Ethiopia is made up of pastoralist communities. However, over the past five years of drought there has been a decline in the number of those who live as pastoralists due to climate change in Ethiopia. Many pastoralists have moved to urban life hoping to find jobs to provide food and water. Because pastoral life is so dependent on weather it is important to find solutions so pastoralists can continue their livelihood even with a changing climate.

The U.N. has been addressing this problem in Ethiopia by using money from the MDG-Fund to promote climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies into the government’s development plans, and policies. The “Enabling Pastoral Communities to Adapt to Climate Change and Restoring Rangeland Environments” is a UN joint program between the UNDP, FAO, and UNEP, has developed water facilities and activities that have helped 32,000 pastoralists in different regions of Ethiopia.

One of these activities is a program called “Jeldi Livestock Marketing Cooperative”, which Ali is now a member of. The Jeldi Cooperative is made up of 172 heads of households, many of whom are women. One of the main activities of the Jeldi Cooperative is buying sheep at low costs and fattening them up to be resold at a better price. Even though the Jeldi Cooperative is only a year old, it is making a profit for its members. It is one of three cooperatives in the area, and one of many in the entire country. Programs like this are what will help Ethiopians overcome climate change.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: AllAfrica, UNDP
Photo: UNDP