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

In February, the United Nations called on the international community to help prevent an impending hunger crisis in the Sahel region of Africa. In a departure from the usual one-year plans implemented in the past, the U.N. devised a three-year plan to address and ideally break the constant food crisis in the Sahel. Now in July, the UN is pleading with the international community to uphold its aid commitment to the region under this plan as funding falls drastically short of the intended target.

The Sahel region is composed of a belt of countries just South of the Sahara desert including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The region is frequently cited as one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions in the world; food insecurity seems to be a norm rather than the exception. In 2011 and 2012 the region experienced one of the most dangerous food crises yet, although severe repercussions were avoided due to a rallying effort by the international community to provide emergency aid to those most at-risk.

The U.N. is now expecting a potentially similar hunger crisis due to the population’s inability to deal with climate shocks as well as recent conflict and instability within the region and in neighboring countries. The three-year Sahel Humanitarian Response Plan drafted in February requires $2.2 billion to assist 20.2 million food insecure people in the region. For more pressing purposes, the U.N. asked for an immediate donation of $116 million of the $2.2 billion in order to begin assisting the 7.5 million in most desperate need.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, only $16 million of the requested $116 million has been donated to date. Due to this $100 million gap in funding the U.N. has had to tap into its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in order to address the hunger crisis. The U.N. Humanitarian Chief allocated $30.5 million of $75 million intended to boost emergency relief operations in Africa to seven countries of the Sahel region; countries on the Horn of Africa will receive the other $44.5 million. However, that still leaves emergency operations in the Sahel $69.5 million short.

In wake of the U.N.’s three-year response plan, USAID announced, as part of the international effort, the Resilience in the Sahel-Enhanced (RISE) initiative, which aims to build resilience to the unforgiving climate patterns in the region as part of a long-term effort to improve food security. According to USAID,$130 million was committed to the initiative for the first two years, which amounts to $65 million a year, only $3.5 million less than the $69.5 million still required for current emergency operations of the U.N. Sahel Humanitarian Response Plan.

– Erin Sullivan

Sources: All Africa, UNOCHA 1, UNOCHA 2, UNOCHA 3, FAO, USAID 1, USAID 2, UN 1, UN 2, UN 3, The Guardian, World Bank, USAID
The Guardian

On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.  Since then, the newly formed nation has been engulfed in internal conflicts, claiming the lives of up to 10,000 people.  The violence has caused over 870,000 South Sudanese to flea their homes, of which over 140,000 have escaped to neighboring countries.

The displacement has disrupted the nations already unstable agriculture sector. Markets have been disrupted as the food supply chain is broken and foreign investors try to avoid the conflict.  According to United Nations estimates, 3.7 million people were already facing food insecurity, but the new wave of violence that erupted in December of 2013 has raised this figure to almost 7 million. There is a major food crisis in South Sudan.

The timing of the conflict could not have been worse as local farmers are gearing up to plant their crops for the incoming season.  Constant relocation is forcing millions to rely on scarce food aid.  In some cities like Malakal, desperate populations have begun raiding aid supply stored in warehouses.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that if farmers miss the planting season, it would compound food insecurity issues for this year and 2015.

Farmers that remain tied to their land are facing a shortage of agriculture inputs such as seeds and tools to cultivate their crops.  The FAO is seeking $77 million to assist the Republic of South Sudan in implementing an emergency response plan.  Their aim is to deliver farming tools, seeds and fishing equipment to 545,000 households in some of the more war-torn states of the country.  The FAO has collected just 6 percent of its total donation goal.

To complicate matters further, migrant animal herds are now intermingling with displaced human populations and their livestock.  These unvaccinated animals have potential to transmit disease and cause further complications for public health and food safety initiatives.  To combat the collapse of the vaccine supply chain, the FAO is working to build capacity within local communities and deliver basic health support.

The UN mission in South Sudan is increasing its support with 266 peacekeepers being flown in on February 4, 2014.  In total, the UN has over 12,500 peacekeepers and 1,323 police on the ground.  The UN through the FAO and the World Food Program have teamed up with ACTED, OXFAM, Save the Children, Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps, and Joint Aid Management to provide much needed assistance throughout the country.

For anyone seeking to get involved in the food crisis in South Sudan, through volunteering and donations, please visit the World Food Program.

– Sunny Bhat

Sources: New York Times, UN News Center, BBC
Photo: WFT

Zimbabwe announced plans last Friday to import 150,000 tons of corn from South Africa in attempt to stave off the threat of mass starvation as poor crop yields and bad credit plunge the country into its worst food crisis in years.

A UN report found that at least 2.2 million Zimbabweans will require food assistance before the next harvest season to survive. Many people in rural areas are subsisting only on what wild fruit they can find.

Zimbabwe was once known as southern Africa’s breadbasket, but is now suffering low yields of its staple crop due to last year’s droughts, the late arrival and poor distribution of rainfall and an infestation of army worms. Economic collapses and poor planning by the government exacerbated the bad growing season, and Zimbabwe was able to produce only 800,000 of the 2.2 million tons of corn necessary to feed its population.

Scarcity has driven the price of corn up 20 percent since 2012, according to the to US-based Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET).

“Communities, especially rural ones, are facing a twin evil: food is scarce, and that tends to push prices up,” Innocent Makwiramiti, an economist and former executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, told reporters.

“The government has no money to import enough grain so that people can buy it at subsidized levels,” Makwiramiti said. “The hungry are therefore forced to buy from private sellers, who charge high prices.”

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation and resulting economic freefall, which many critics blame on President Robert Mugabe and his chaotic ascension to power, threaten the country’s ability to borrow to feed its citizens.

In the past, Zimbabwe has combated inflated food prices by importing grains on credit from neighboring countries like Zambia, many of whom are no longer willing to gamble that they will be paid back. In October, Zambia reversed its decision to give Zimbabwe 150,000 tons of corn on credit, instead requesting cash up front.

Zimbabwe managed to obtain only 14,000 tons.

Many Zimbabweans are angered by the response from President Mugabe and his ZANU PF party, who have acknowledged the food crisis and promised that “no Zimbabwean will die of hunger” but have yet to reveal any concrete plans to address food scarcity or the underlying economic problems ravaging the country.

In addition to a poor growing year and an economy in free fall, Zimbabwe’s food crisis has roots in Mugabe’s violent redistribution of land in 2000. Many white landowners fled the country as government forces seized their farms.

Instead of turning land over to Zimbabwe’s poor black farmers, as he had promised, Mugabe gifted properties to leaders of his ruling party, whom left much of it unattended and improperly cared for. Ironically, the farming surplus that Zambia has experienced, allowing them to sell corn to Zimbabwe, can be attributed at least in part to white farmers chased out of the country.

It will take time for Zimbabwe’s economy to rebound, but its people are dying now. The 150,000 tons of corn recently granted by South Africa will help some, but without money or credit, Zimbabwe and its citizens will be largely dependent on food aid from international organizations. Now is the time to get involved.

Sarah Morrison

Sources: All Africa, New Zimbabwe, New Zimbabwe, New York Times, World Food Programme
Photo: The Guardian

Haiti Hunger Crisis Earthquake Reconstruction
Last June, when reports abounded of the chronic hunger and food insecurity crisis that was ravaging Haiti, the world learned that 1.5 million people were in need of food assistance in the struggling nation, while another 6.7 million people were failing to meet their food needs on a regular basis.

Soon, images of broomstick-thin children with distended stomachs crossed the globe, while international donors and NGOs pledged additional donor dollars to the nation that was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Despite the international assistance, a staggering 67 percent of the population still has limited access to food, according to the government’s National Coordination of Food Security.

Much of the crisis stems from extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts which destroyed key crops last year. Worse still, scientists predict that more natural disasters are on their way due to climate change.

Klaus Eberwein, general director of the government’s Economic and Social Assistance Fund believes that the current hunger crisis is due to “decades of bad political decisions,” last year’s storms and drought, and the fact that hunger is not new to Haiti.

The country’s food insecurity issues also have to do with the fact that 80 percent of Haiti’s rice and half of all its food is imported now. With so much depending on imports, meals are becoming harder to obtain on a minimum wage, which is about $4.54 a day.

To make matters worse, Haiti has lost almost all of its forest as poor Haitians continue to chop down trees to make charcoal. Consequently, the loss of trees does not help to contain heavy rainfall or to yield crop-producing soil.

One of the organizations that continues to help stem the widespread hunger is USAID, which has provided over $38 million for emergency and development food assistance in Haiti. This past month, the organization launched a four-year food security program to improve nutrition and access to locally produced foods for the most vulnerable households in Haiti. The project, the Kore Lavi Program, is part of the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiatives Feed the Future and Title II.

The program supports the Haitian government in establishing a voucher-based safety-net system to increase poor household’s access to food and prevent malnutrition in children under 2 years of age. It is expected to reach 250,000 households by providing food vouchers, improving maternal and child health and nutrition knowledge, strengthening links between households and health systems, and improving the quality of health and nutrition services. Additionally, it aims to develop a national database system within the Government of Haiti’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor to target vulnerable households.

The goal is to change the harsh reality of the statistic that two in three Haitians currently face hunger as the country’s woes continue to mount.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: USAID AP
Photo: TIME


Earlier this month the House of Representatives narrowly passed a highly contested Farm Bill. A new farm bill is passed every five years or so and the current bill is set to expire in September 2013. If the bill expires without a new bill in place then legislation reverts to a 1949 law, which could mean significant price increases.

This is the first farm bill since 1973 that has not included a food stamp program component. Historically, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) was an important component of the bill because it linked urban nutrition concerns with rural farming policy concerns and garnered support for the farm bill. This split has caused quite an outcry from numerous organizations and politicians.

The bill also halts the implementation of increased food safety and calls for more study of the new safety program. Those involved with food safety expressed concern and displeasure about the barriers to the new program which would result in the FDA having increased control over safe food production.

The bill passed 216 to 208 with no Democrats voting for it and 12 Republicans voting against it. Many are criticizing the bill as being detrimental to America’s standards of nutrition. 532 farm organizations, including America’s biggest farm lobby, requested that the bill not be split. Interestingly, the split has displeased groups on both sides of the issue. While the Democrats are focused on the loss of food stamp funding, conservative organizations argue that it still contains too much government involvement and funding for certain farming sectors that would raise costs.

A pledge has been made that a food stamp bill will be embarked upon next but it is clear that heavy cuts in assistance funding are still intended. In contrast to the House farm bill the Senate bill still contains the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as a primary component. It is not clear what kind of compromise can be reached between the radically different versions of the farm bill. However, it seems certain to negatively impact the more than 47 million poor Americans who rely on the food stamps for basic sustenance.

– Zoë Meroney

Sources: Reuters, NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, USA Today
Photo: Business Week

It often goes unreported, with other countries in the Middle East garnering all the headlines, but since the Arab Spring in 2011 poverty levels have been increasing dramatically in the small nation of Yemen. As a result, roughly one fifth of the country’s population, 5 million people, are suffering through a severe food crisis. This number includes one million acutely malnourished children. According to a World Food Programme (WFP) report, half of the children in Yemen under the age of 5 have had their growth stunted.

With only 3% of Yemen’s land being arable and the rising poverty levels preventing people from buying imported food, the situation is only going to worsen. Currently, WFP operates an emergency program in the country with a budget of $250 million. But with the increased shortages this year, the program needs an additional $80 million in order to complete extended operations.

The humanitarian crisis does not end with the food shortage. 6 million people in Yemen have no access to healthcare, and beyond the 5 million suffering severe food shortages an additional 5 million are in need of food aid. Additionally, 340,000 people have been displaced due to fighting since the Arab Spring, placing a further strain on aid efforts.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is an international initiative aiming to provide assistance to one third of the population of Yemen. In order to meet targets, like providing food to 7 million people, water to 3 million, and healthcare services for 4.2 million, agencies are seeking $716 million in aid money. Currently funding has provided less than half of that target. If funding goals can be reached, assistance can also be provided in education and protection services, possibly affecting half a million children.

With Yemen’s transition towards full democracy and general elections scheduled for 2014, it is crucial that the humanitarian situation be addressed. Otherwise, internal strife could ultimately derail the whole process.

– David M. Wilson

Sources: The Examiner, World Food Programme, Irin News
Sources: BBC

Food Crisis in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is now facing a food crisis nearly four months after a coup overthrew the government and proclaimed the leader of the Seleka rebel coalition, Michel Djotodia, as president. More than 60,000 people are suffering from severe food shortages, and 200,000 have been forced to flee their homes due to instability in the region.

Food shortages are nothing new for the country, as last year the United Nations claimed that upwards of 800,000 people, nearly 20% of the country’s population, experienced some level of food crisis. However, the current shortages have the potential to be much more severe as the fighting has severely impacted the country’s agriculture, with many families losing food stocks, seeds, and livestock.

Due to the new government administration, and ongoing political turmoil following the coup, access for humanitarian agencies throughout the country has been restricted, especially in some of the hardest-hit rural areas. Yet before this can change, security throughout the country must improve. This lack of security has further led to the closing of health centers and schools due to safety concerns. Nearly a million children are out of school as a result of these closures, and a significant percentage of those have missed nearly a full school year due to the ongoing conflict.

Funding for humanitarian work is an ongoing issue. Current donations account for only about 43% of the $125 million in aid that the UN estimates are needed in the Central African Republic. The Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, said, “The current humanitarian crisis is the worst in the country’s history. It is urgent that the international community provides funds quickly to help and to save lives. The world can’t turn a blind eye on the crisis here. The country is bordered by six of the most fragile African nations—there is a high risk of destabilization throughout Central Africa.”

– David Wilson

Sources: WFP, The Examiner, Action Against America

In the words of the director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project, Danielle Nierenberg: “Nearly one billion people go to bed hungry each night, a number that is unacceptably high.” According to the Washington-based independent research institute, nearly one billion people worldwide, many of them children, have micronutrient deficiency, a condition that lowers their ability to learn or have a productive life.

Each year, there are 250 million to 500 million children with vitamin A deficiency that causes them to become blind and die within 12 months of losing their sight. Malnutrition contributes to the death of 500 million children under that age of five every year, and in Africa a child dies every six seconds from hunger.

All of this suffering takes place while roughly 1.3 billion tons of food — a third of the total amount produced for human consumption — is lost or wasted each year. Only within the United States, food retailers, food services, and households waste an estimated 40 million tons of food each year. This amount is the equivalent of what is needed to alleviate world hunger for an estimated 1 billion hungry people.

Along with the food crisis, the problem of illiteracy is still a highly pressing issue. Even though the amount of people whom are unable to read has decreased from 1 billion in the 1990’s, there are still over 792 million people who are unable to move out of poverty as a result of their poor education.

Matthew Jackoski

Source: YouTube
Photo: Spy Ghana


Madagascar has been facing a locust plague the past couple of years, and the problem is only getting worse. The Food and Agriculture Organization for the UN (FAO) has begun a campaign for $22 million to combat this plague. The FAO estimates that by September, locusts will infest more than two-thirds of the country. This plague has serious implications for food security and nutrition in Madagascar. Nearly 13 million people’s food security will be impacted by this plague, and nine million of those people are directly dependent on agriculture for food and income.

“If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert extended crisis,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO.

To have any hope of saving the crops of 2013 there will need to be preventative measures taken, starting as early as July. FAO argues that the funding must be given by July as well as not cut to a smaller amount or there will be no hope for Madagascar. In 2003-2005 when the Sahel region experienced a locust plague it cost almost $570 million to repair the damages. Furthermore it only costs $3.3 million a year to take preventative measures against locust.

The FAO will lead aerial control operations with the money funded. These operations will identify and eliminate locust populations. If these populations of locust are not identified and destroyed they will continue to breed and produce more swarms. This could lead to several years of prolonged locust plagues. In Madagascar crops that have been affected are averaging a loss of 40 to 70 percent of their crops, with reports of 100 percent loss of land. The locusts have already caused the loss of a quarter of Madagascar’s rice production this year. This will severely affect food security because rice is the main staple of food in Madagascar. The FAO must receive full funding on this project if there is any hope of saving Madagascar from a debilitating locust plague.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: FAO, AlertNet, UPI
Photo: UN News Centre