With the COVID-19 pandemic causing global economic downturns, food insecurity and unemployment, many communities in developing countries have turned to small-scale farming and home gardening as a solution. When the pandemic took full effect in March 2020, an upward trend in gardening around the world followed. In developing countries where access to food was dangerously inhibited by the pandemic’s economic effects, embracing small-scale gardening became crucial. To navigate a food crisis, residents of various developing countries embraced gardening and its many benefits, plotting gardens wherever they could find land. In addition to helping communities survive a food crisis by staving off hunger and providing necessary nutrients, gardening also supports struggling local economies and improves mental health. Gardening is helping people survive a pandemic and has taken root to assist communities to cope with the crisis.

3 Places Where Gardening is Helping People

    1. Palestine: In Palestine, the recent farming initiative began when a municipality near Bethlehem reacted to surging unemployment and poverty rates by distributing various herb and vegetable seedlings for residents to plant in their yards. By June 2020, some produce was already ripe for picking. Noting the success of this effort, the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry distributed over one million seedlings and the Applied Research Institute in Bethlehem (ARIJ) contributed 40,000 seedlings. Residents that lack land are encouraged to move their gardening efforts to the roof and the ARIJ is instructing them on how to construct gardens with easily attainable equipment like water pipes. The ARIJ has also brought these gardening initiatives to refugee camps, helping them build planting boxes and even greenhouses so crops can be grown all year. By increasing home gardens, residents have been able to better sustain themselves and benefit from the satisfaction of harvesting from their own gardens.
    2. Lebanon: Prior to the pandemic, the Lebanese economy was already struggling and the added hardship of COVID-19 led to empty supermarket shelves. Since 2019, Lebanon’s currency has decreased in value by 80% and poverty has risen to over 50%. Following a massive explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, that destroyed Lebanon’s largest port, imports, which make up the majority of Lebanon’s food supply, are even harder to come by. However, similar to Palestine, officials have urged residents to take up gardening as a means to survive. Residents are utilizing plentiful family land or backyard spaces to plant vegetables and raise chicken and sheep and many are freezing food to prepare for a tough winter. In March 2020, the Ghaletna initiative was created to connect people to their land by teaching farming techniques and helping disperse surplus yield to families most in need. Beyond supplementing Lebanon’s food stocks, these gardens provide residents with a sense of comfort knowing that they no longer have to rely solely on imports. Likewise, this transition is prompting Lebanese people to embrace traditional, local foods.
    3. South Africa: In South Africa, gardening is helping people as well. A local farming initiative is not only helping its community by providing produce but is also helping the area’s economic recovery.  In the Uitenhage region, a small-scale farming effort called the Lima Gardening Initiative began when three men with no gardening or farming experience bought a plot of land just as lockdown took effect. Gardening efforts began with spinach, cabbage and beetroot but has expanded since March and locals are now able to purchase produce at affordable prices. In addition to supplying the community with easily accessible food, a primary goal of the Initiative is to encourage youth participation and change the idea that gardening is for the elderly. Once the produce is harvestable, the Initiative plans to employ the youth and help correct rising unemployment. Additionally, the group hopes to use the profit they attain from selling produce at affordable prices to open a soup kitchen and further give back to the community. Through these efforts, the Lima Gardening Initiative is helping a South African community adjust to the economic effects of the pandemic.

    Although these farming initiatives began out of necessity, people in Palestine, Lebanon, South Africa and other countries around the world are learning the benefits of gardening. Beyond coming into use in a time of economic crisis and food shortage, residential and small-scale gardening is helping to support local economies, employing those in need and providing gardeners with a sense of satisfaction and a safe haven.

    –  Angelica Smyrnios
    Photo: Flickr

Food Crisis in Cuba

Many strides have been made in recent years to help poverty-stricken Cubans receive the basic necessities for life, but with a strenuous historical background and strict governmental policies, citizens are still in a fight for food. Missionaries and aid from other countries are currently offering assistance to help end the food crisis in Cuba.

The History of Poverty in Cuba

During the 1950s, Cuba was a small, third-world island country that was not big enough to produce its own goods and did not have enough farms to support the hungry population. Further complicating things was an enormous income gap between the rich and the poor.

In 1959, the country underwent a revolution during which Prime Minister and President Fidel Castro came to power, changing the state of the island’s economy for the worse. At this point, Cuba still relied mainly on imports from other countries for food and supplies. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s main supplier of food, but after the Cold War, the communist nation was no longer able to support Cuba’s hungry population, which made things even worse for hungry citizens.

Being one of the only communist countries in the world, the government in Cuba still has a tight hold on its citizens. Many of these same issues still exist today, making it difficult for people in poverty to obtain substantial food in Cuba.

The Food Crisis in Cuba Today

In 2018, Cuba still does not have enough land to grow agriculture to feed its population and does not produce enough of its own products. It relies on importing up to 80 percent of its food, according to the World Food Programme. The average diet of a Cuban household lacks an adequate amount of vegetables and protein-rich foods needed to promote a healthy lifestyle. Around 36 percent of infants suffer from anemia because of the lack of a proper diet.

In 1959, the Cuban government instituted a food rationing system that is still in use today, making households pay high prices for foods only sold in government-run supermarkets. The rationing system ensures enough food for families to just survive.

Each family receives a rations book that they take to the grocery store, allowing them to buy a certain amount of rice, sugar, coffee, cooking oil and chicken, according to The Guardian. Because of unemployment and low paying jobs, this system has made it even more challenging for citizens in poverty to pay for food in Cuba.

In the past few years, the U.S. has lifted some of its various bans on Cuba and has restored peace with the Caribbean nation, which means that more U.S. citizens are entering the country for leisure and vacation. The increase in tourism has had a negative impact on the food scarcity problem, according to The New York Times, as the food is now used for tourists instead of hungry citizens and has made the price of food in Cuba rise.

The Good News About the Cuban Food Crisis

During his presidency, President Obama loosened the U.S. ban on trading with Cuba, which has provided the growth of trade with Cuba and allowed the island nation’s farmers to obtain better farming equipment. American trade officials hope to create a food import market that could be worth billions if the Cuban economy boosts, which would help end the food crisis in Cuba.

Because of the recent peace between Cuba and the United States, missionaries have entered the country in the hopes of helping with the food shortage problem. A Georgia Southern University student, sophomore Olivia Folds, participated in a mission trip in 2017 to assist with the food crisis in Cuba. Folds’ group was stationed in the city of Camaguey and each missionary was assigned a family where he or she made supply bags for the family in need.

These bags included clothes, shoes, toiletries and food that Cuban citizens were not able to get for themselves. Children received bags filled with basic necessities along with crayons and candy, which were small luxuries they were not used to, Folds told The Borgen Project. She also commented that, if any of the missionaries offered the families money, they were “supposed to only give them like $50,” because “the government only allows them certain amounts of money each month.”

The Cuban government is still attempting to improve the food shortage problem for its citizens. With a new president that stepped into power this year, new policies being put into place and missionaries being able to come into the country more often, Cuban citizens are slowly but surely on a path to better nutrition.

– McKenzie Hamby
Photo: Flickr

Five Facts About Development Projects in South SudanSouth Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, sits along one of civilization’s oldest landmarks: the Nile River. On July 9, 2011, South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan. Its path to stability and sustainability has not been easy.

The South Sudanese government originally planned to use its oil-rich regions to stabilize and grow the country’s economy, but due to disagreements with Sudan, oil production was shut down in 2012. Since then, civil war and rogue militias have ravaged the people of South Sudan, causing a humanitarian crisis. However, this has not slowed the success of aid in the nation. Here are five facts about development projects in South Sudan.

  1. Development projects in South Sudan see long-term international aid. In 2014, the British government allocated 442 million pounds for the development of South Sudan. Instead of directly involving itself in the process, the government has allowed various international aid organizations to use the money to carry out their missions on its behalf. These organizations include the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Danish Refugee Council and the Norwegian Refugee Council. Over 60 percent of spending was allocated to providing food, medical supplies and material aid. The project is on track to end in 2020.

  2. The South Sudanese health services are overwhelmed and underfunded. According to the World Bank, the South Sudanese Ministry of Health is underfunded. As a result, the World Bank began a project in 2016 to help the South Sudanese government cope with its rising need to provide healthcare to its citizens, called the South Sudan Health Rapid Results Project. Funding has been set at $40 million. The project has succeeded in providing healthcare to South Sudanese citizens in the Upper Nile conflict area, an area that only a few development projects in South Sudan continue to work.

  3. Food security is in jeopardy. Food is in short supply in South Sudan, and the World Bank has attempted to alleviate the crisis with a food and agriculture project in 2016. The project is called Southern Sudan Emergency Food Crisis Response Project. Overall, this project has had mixed results when measured against its target goals. It has reached its target for farmers adopting new technologies to increase output and surpassed its goal of constructing new food storage facilities. However, less than half of the targeted families have been helped by their funding. Unfortunately, this project did not receive funding again in 2017, but the infrastructure it created and the new technologies introduced will help drive development in South Sudan for years to come.

  4. May 4, 2017, saw the approval of the South Sudan Emergency Food and Nutrition Project. The project was granted $50 million and is set to run until July 2019. Its goals are similar but more comprehensive than the previous food aid project. This time, more focus is being given to the re-engagement of farmers, which is exceedingly important for the stability of the country’s food supply. Using the infrastructure and technologies of the last project will help provide the basics for the beginning of this new development project in South Sudan. To compensate for the shortcomings of the last project, more funding has been given to focus on supplying food while the farmers begin to produce their new crops.

  5. South Sudan’s development has improved at the community level. USAID is providing support to South Sudan at the community level, focusing on the availability of safe and sanitary drinking water and the health and education of children. Manual water drills and pumps are being provided to villages around the country along with education on waterborne illnesses. To protect and educate children, USAID has implemented three programs. The first aims to protect the rights of children against child-labor and provide equal access to education for boys and girls. Encouraging nonviolent play is another implemented program that focuses on keeping children away from violence. Safe spaces for children are often hard to come by in war-ridden nations. With the third program, USAID seeks to provide more of these spaces for children to receive medical treatment away from conflict.

Conflict has displaced 2.2 million South Sudanese citizens. Fortunately, the world has not forgotten about its newest country. International aid will continue to help fund development projects in South Sudan, hopefully leading the nation and its people to a brighter better future.

– Nick DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About the Yemeni CrisisOne of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises is currently happening in Yemen, a desert country in the Middle East on the southern point of the Arabian Peninsula. 26 million people in the country are suffering through the conflict between Al Houthi and the Saudi-led coalition that has been going on since March 2015. These 10 facts about the Yemeni crisis highlight the struggles of Yemen‘s population.

  1. The Yemeni crisis started because of weak governance that has plagued the country for decades. In 2014, President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was deposed by the Houthi rebels, and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been fighting them to restore the legitimate government.
  2. The conflict is dangerously affecting the availability of food in Yemen. As of 2017, the food crisis in Yemen could be considered a famine, according to the U.N.’s humanitarian chief. Many people have resorted to reducing the number of meals they eat and limiting portion sizes.
  3. 14 million people in Yemen do not have enough food or clean water, and seven million are at risk of dying of starvation.
  4. 385,000 children suffer from life-threatening malnutrition. 4.5 million citizens need nutritional aid and 3.3 million are considered malnourished. These rates are considered to be far above the emergency threshold.
  5. Schools and health facilities have been damaged or destroyed; exactly half of all health facilities are now closed in Yemen. Only 45 percent of health facilities are fully accessible, while 38 percent are only partially accessible and 17 percent are not functional. Many of the medical staff and teachers have left Yemen to avoid the conflict. At least two million children are not in school due to the Yemeni crisis.
  6. More than 40,000 people have been killed or injured due to warfare in the villages, losing their homes, their safety and healthcare. 3.1 million people have been forced out of their homes.
  7. Millions of people are living in overpopulated shelters or damaged homes, while 184,000 people have fled to other countries.
  8. Females are the most vulnerable people in the Yemeni crisis. Women and girls in Yemen are facing abuse, forced marriage, exploitation and violence. Violence against females has increased by more than 63 percent since 2015. About 2.6 million females are now at risk.
  9. The restrictions on commercial trade prevent the delivery of supplies of food, medicine and other essentials. Fortunately, Action Against Hunger has mobile nutrition teams working in Yemen to provide health care, nutrition, water sanitation and food.
  10. Organizations need financial support to help those struggling with the Yemeni crisis. The government funding that has been given to organizations is being used to increase food security and fight cholera, an infectious disease that leads to dehydration and often death caused by contaminated food and water.

Chloe Turner

Photo: Flickr

A food crisis in Somalia has its citizens on the brink of another famine. Waiting on international or government aid is a slow process, so Somalis are turning to each other for support. “Combining 21st-century social media with the age-old clan network, the bedrock of Somali society as well as its safety net,” as Ben Quinn from the Guardian puts it, communities of Somalis around the world are using WhatsApp to sponsor families affected by food insecurity.

Humanitarian organizations like the U.N. have warned that 6.2 million Somalis are on the verge of famine, but foreign aid has been slow coming. Saad Ali Shire, the foreign minister of the Republic of Somaliland, says that Somalia needs immediate aid in the form of life-saving supplies in the next two to three weeks to avoid a declared famine.

Aid organizations are trying to prevent a repeat of the famine that killed 260,000 Somalis between 2010 and 2012. Britain’s Department for International Development gave £100 million to Somalia, but the money only covers a small fraction of the need.

With the response to the food crisis in Somalia lagging, networks around the world are turning to social media to support people in need of life-saving aid. Users of WhatsApp are forming groups and pooling their resources to sponsor Somali families. The groups figure out how much aid they can provide based on the formula that says families can survive on $60 per month.

The group then deposits money into a Dahabshiil bank account. Dahabshiil is an African international funds transfer company that started in 1970. The company was initially set up so that migrants from countries in East Africa could send money back to their family and friends still living there. Dahabshiil now allows groups like the Somali clans to transfer funds during crises in addition to offering banking services to the World Bank, Oxfam, the U.N. and Save the Children.

After WhatsApp groups deposit money into a Dahabshiil account, they nominate a five-person committee to withdraw the money and buy supplies for families — usually powdered milk, rice and water.

The network is growing every day, and members are primarily of the Somali diaspora. Forty-five thousand people in Canada identify their ethnic origin as Somali, and tens of thousands of people in Minnesota are also a part of the Somali network addressing the food crisis in Somalia.

The WhatsApp network is a tremendous start, but some smaller Somali groups are struggling to provide aid of their own resources and are turning to aid agencies for financial support. While prominent humanitarian organizations are doing their best to give aid, the process is slow-moving in a time of urgent need.

How to donate: Ocha, World Vision, MSF, Concern, WFP.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr

Southern Africa_Food
Particular regions of southern Africa are currently grappling with food crises caused by record-setting droughts. On top of this, a new crop-eater is singling out these vulnerable areas. In doing so, the crop-eater’s presence causes concern for a new food crisis in southern Africa.

The pest is called a “fall armyworm,” though it is far more caterpillar-like than that of a worm. The first report of an infestation came from South Africa’s agricultural department in early February, when they noted its arrival and unfamiliarity.

The fall armyworm does not originate in Africa and is instead proven to come from the Americas. Experts believe the invasion may have arrived on ships of maize imported from the Americas during the El Nino between 2015 and 2016. The same El Nino jumpstarted the droughts that southern Africa is still currently wrestling through.

Farmers have likened the infestation of this new, strange pest to “one of the 10 plagues in the Bible […] It’s widespread and seems to be spreading rapidly.”

Indeed, there are several problems caused by the fall armyworm that may induce a new food crisis in southern Africa.

The Dangers

  1. While the fall armyworm feeds off of a variety of crops, such as cotton, soybean and tobacco, it is primarily targeting southern Africa’s primary food staple — maize.
  2. An armyworm-infested crop is not noticeable until it’s too late. The pest conceals itself from farmers by digging straight into the stem of the maize. Up to three-quarters of the crop can be destroyed without visibility.
  3. The worm has spread to six countries in eight weeks. The armyworms eventually develop into moths that are capable of traveling long distances. Each moth can lay up to 2,000 eggs, and each egg has a rapid life cycle.
  4. The fall armyworms are invading right on the heels of a horrific drought. A food crisis in southern Africa on top of an already-existing food shortage could be catastrophic.

Currently, the fall armyworm has traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique. New reports are currently developing in Nigeria and Ghana. Unfortunately, the Americas—where the fall armyworm originates—first reported infestations in 1957 and have still been unable to find solutions to eradicate them. They are considered second only to the red locusts in terms of the amount of damage they are able to inflict.

The most farmers can do now is try to control the invasion through pesticides and careful watch for larva in the leaves of their crops.

In the meantime, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is holding an emergency meeting on this matter later this week in Zimbabwe.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

Venezuela_Food crisis
Venezuela, a country on the northern coast of South America, is well known for its lush forests and beautiful coastal view. Unfortunately, the breathtaking scenery does little for combating the growing concern of hunger in Venezuela.

Since Nicolás Maduro’s assumption of the Venezuelan presidency in 2013 after Hugo Chávez’s death, polls have found that 87 percent of citizens do not have enough income to provide food for their families.

Of their measly income, 72 percent is spent on food alone. To afford enough food to feed a family, the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis estimated a family would need the equivalent of 16 minimum-wage job salaries.

Inflation has also risen to over 180 percent since December 2015. This is partly because of a drop in oil prices that reduced Venezuelan foreign earnings by two-thirds. However, it also caused in part by the formation of Local Committees of Supplies and Protection (known locally as CLAP).

CLAP regulates when people can go shopping at the supermarket and even what they are allowed to buy based on the last digit of their identity card. For instance, if the identity card ends in a zero or one, a citizen might be able to buy groceries on Monday. They receive staples such as flour, pasta, and soap at a controlled price; the government controls even hunger in Venezuela.

These regulated shopping trips are not enough for struggling Venezuelans; lately, protests have become more widespread and even physically violent. In Cumaná, protestors marched on a supermarket, defying the grocery-shopping schedule implemented by the government, to empty the entire supermarket of food.

Riots like the one in Cumaná have occurred across Venezuela, with as many as 50 riots in the span of two weeks.

In addition to growing participation in supermarket riots, citizens have been calling for President Maduro’s resignation, blaming his socialist policies and exploitation of farmers for the current food crisis. Maduro’s response has been to blame bordering countries for hoarding food and bombing Venezuelan power plants.

Keep an eye on the Borgen Project for more information on hunger in Venezuela and developments in the Venezuelan food crisis.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr

What Causes Famine in Africa
What causes famine in Africa? Over 40 million African lives are threatened by famine and food crisis. A number of factors contribute to widespread and stubborn famine, such as extreme weather, weakening currencies and a failure to mobilize resources.

Although international aid is an imperative aspect of a country’s ability to cope, food aid alone will never solve the reoccurring problem.

“Food aid is focused on short-term emergencies and doesn’t address the causes of the crisis,” according to Poverties, an organization that provides social and economic research. “That’s why even if it’s badly needed in emergencies, a long-term plan is also vital.”

Programs such as The Purchase for Progress and World Food Program seek to develop local farming industries. Investing in agriculture prevents future food shortages and supports a local economy rather than only relieving famine in the short-term.

For international aid to be most effective, it is crucial that it arrives in a timely fashion in predictable amounts and is properly targeted. An earlier response to a crisis builds resilience in a community and is more cost-effective than waiting to treat seriously malnourished people. According to Mail and Guardian Africa, the continent needs at least $4.5 billion for emergency relief.

Across the Horn of Africa and South Sudan, a combination of war and severe drought create food insecurity.

“In war, food sometimes becomes a weapon,” according to World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger. “Soldiers will starve opponents into submission by seizing or destroying food and livestock and systematically wrecking local markets. Fields are often mined and water wells contaminated, forcing farmers to abandon their land.”

Continuous fighting hinders food aid; the areas that need it the most are the areas hardest to reach due to the security situation. Ethnic discrimination is a factor as well as the region being hit hard by AIDS. The disease causes those weakened by starvation to be unable to fight for survival.

Instability in the market causes food prices to fluctuate, making it difficult for the poor to have access to nutritious food consistently. These spikes in price hit children and the elderly the hardest.

With unrestricted access and thorough planning, international aid can drastically relieve food crisis. Providing resources and assistance to Africans can foster sustainable development strategies specific to the region and its weather as well as boost economic development, preventing famine in the future.

Emily Ednoff

Sources: Poverties, Mail & Guardian Africa, Deutsche Welle, World Food Programme
Photo: Flickr

somali hunger

Famine entails a widespread and extensive scarcity of food, attributed to a “triple failure” of food production, access to food and political response by governments and international donors.

According to the U.N.’s five-step scale of Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, famine (Stage 5) requires that “more than two people per 10,000 die each day, acute malnutrition rates are above 30 percent, all livestock is dead and there is less than 2,100 kilocalories of food and 4 liters of water available per person per day.”

By the time the U.N. declares a Stage 5 situation, there has already been massive loss of life. From 2010 to 2012, Somalia was gripped by a crippling famine that killed nearly 260,000 people. Half of these deaths were children under the age of five.

Somalia was devastated by a two-year drought, which caused reduced harvests, food inflation and a steep drop in labor demand and household incomes. The country had already been suffering from high levels of malnutrition and child mortality, but the drought skyrocketed numbers even further. It also killed off valuable livestock, the only assets many families possessed.

Learn what causes poverty.

But what turned a natural drought into a man-made catastrophe was the inability of Somalia’s government and donors to tackle the issue of chronic poverty. There was already a serious lack of development and investment in basic infrastructure. During the famine, healthcare professionals reacted too slowly and the government itself was in shambles.

Somalia has been entangled in a civil war for the past two decades, and the subsequent violence and upheaval have greatly contributed to the famine.

During the 2010 to 2012 famine, the Islamist group al-Shabaab was at war with the government. Another factor was that the United States—Somalia’s main source of food aid—had discontinued their supply of aid in 2009 to avoid providing food to al-Shabaab.

Since the civil war began, and after an inadequate U.S.-led intervention attempt, the West largely withdrew from Somalia’s affairs. Having failed to stabilize the state and provide the needy with food, a worrisome pattern emerged. Humanitarian aid and food relief were only brought into Somalia with the permission of local war lords or clans, who used violence to control access to resources.

The U.S. withdrawal of aid in 2009 also pressured international aid organizations to do the same, because they feared U.S. backlash should they continue to provide food or supplies.

The U.N. first declared famine in Somalia’s Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions—both controlled by al-Shabaab. The militant group denied that there were any food shortages whatsoever, forbade famine victims from fleeing the country and banned international aid agencies from operating within its territories.

The Obama administration responded by providing waivers to aid organizations to protect against prosecution. This shifted all blame of food aid blockages to al-Shabaab, which subsequently led to a sharp drop in public support for the group. Bereft of support and power, Al-Shabaab withdrew from the capital city of Mogadishu, which they had occupied since 2008.

The U.N. declared the Somali famine over in February 2012. However, the strain on al-Shabaab and similar organizations continues to grow as people demand more access to food aid. Ethiopia and Kenya have considered training Somali militia to fight al-Shabaab and other terrorist organizations, but this could prove to be a dangerous move in such a conflict-ridden country.

In the 21st century, the public has the ability to completely eradicate famine, and has done so on every continent except Africa. In order to fight famine successfully, a variety of steps must be taken. More funding must be invested in African food production to prevent droughts from completely annihilating crops. There must be more support for farmers and pastoralists to raise hardier crops with cheaper inputs and learn about risk management in the case of a disaster. More aid must also go to infrastructure investment and fortification of unstable markets.

Currently, emergency aid is vital to helping Somalians gain a foothold after this devastating famine. However, effort must also be made to examine the root causes, in order to prevent similar disasters from occurring in the future. The world was slow to act on warning signs this time, but with greater long-term investment, Somalia has the potential to deal with droughts and natural disasters effectively and without external aid.

– Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: Oxfam, SBS, Foreign Affairs, BBC
Photo: Flickr

famine in africa
Despite the great strides, development programs have made in feeding hungry people in Africa, many of the continent’s regions have experienced famine. Famine can have disastrous humanitarian consequences; according to Mother Jones, the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa killed 29,000 Somali children in its first three months. Even food crises that are not officially famines can cause significant loss of life. Aid agencies must understand famine’s causes to address potential future famines in Africa.

The U.N. defines a food crisis as famine when 20 percent of households have food shortages, 30 percent of people have acute malnutrition, and more than two people per 10,000 die per day from food-related causes. Since 2000, the U.N. has declared famines in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. The ongoing food crisis in South Sudan, which has already caused suffering, could soon become a famine.

Africa also has many instances of food insecurity, making its countries more susceptible to future famines. In 2013, the World Food Program found that the East African nations of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia had undernourishment rates of over 35 percent, the highest in the world.

What has made famines and other food crises in Africa so common? Droughts play a role because they reduce crop production and kill livestock all over affected regions. In 2011, the Horn of Africa experienced abnormally low rainfall, leading to food shortages and an eventual famine. This year, Kenya’s Capital News Network reports similarly bad weather patterns across East Africa.

Droughts are not the only contributing factors to famine in Africa, however. Violence and political instability made it difficult for NGOs and aid agencies to distribute food in affected areas. Mother Jones reports that clashes between the Somali transitional government and the extremist al-Shabab militia prevented many groups from reaching people in the 2011 famine. Al-Shabab itself expelled aid agencies from Somalia, worsening the crisis. Capital News estimates that the famine killed 250,000.

Today, South Sudan shows similar signs of potential famine. Low rainfall combined with an ongoing civil conflict means that people, especially refugees, will have reduced access to food. Already, 3.5 million South Sudanese citizens struggle with dying crops and livestock, malnutrition and food shortages.

The food crisis in South Sudan is not yet a famine, but the lack of an official label may worsen existing conditions. According to The Guardian, studies on the Horn of Africa famine found that more people died from undernourishment before the crisis was declared a famine. Without the official famine designation, the media did not cover the crisis as much, there was less public outcry for support, and governments did not appropriately scale up funding.

Only when the Horn of Africa crisis became a famine did aid providers start to become more effective. To properly distribute food aid and prevent future deaths from the recent South Sudan shortage, the international community will need to act quickly and urgently. The threat of famine in Africa will continue, but with a strong early-reaction network the world can help prevent it. If the world can come together and get support for aid before crises become famines, millions could be saved.

Ted Rappleye

Sources: United Nations, Mother Jones, World Food Programme, Capital News Network, The Guardian
Photo: Mother Jones