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Famine Warnings: Alarming Hunger Crisis Demands Quick Action

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Drought and conflict are combining to potentially create another summer of famine threatening the lives of millions.

The United States warned last week that East Africa, which suffered from famine and drought last year, may be in for another crisis. Low rainfall amounts are harming food production by farmers in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. The U.S. Famine Early Warning System says, “Poor rains would likely negatively affect food security in a region still recovering from a devastating drought and famine in 2011.”

A child in Somalia eats specialised fortified food to treat malnutrition (WFP/Susannah Nicol)

The U.S. just pledged $50 million in aid for drought-hit areas. It is clear though that more donations from the entire international community will be needed. The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the largest food aid agency, is currently experiencing huge funding shortages in East Africa. WFP said in a report last week that its 12 month shortfall for the region is $408 million.

WFP revealed this week that “assessment findings in Buhoodle, Somalia, indicate very high levels of food insecurity.” Somalia has been hardest hit by the hunger crisis since last year. But so too are its neighbors which have taken in many Somali refugees, as well as contending with hunger among its own population.

In Kenya, WFP warns of rising food prices and that over two million people will need aid. A WFP report said, “Vulnerability is still high in parts of Kenya after two to three successive failed seasons. For farmers in marginal agricultural areas, it is the fourth consecutive poor harvest.”

Refugee camps in Ethiopia, where many Somalis fled after famine struck last year, also revealed that about 24 percent of the population have borderline or poor food consumption.

A drought emergency has been taking place for months in the Sahel region of Africa. This region includes the countries of Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

The greatest danger lies ahead between the traditional harvests. The U.S. states, “In areas of the Sahel most affected by poor crop production, high cereal prices, or conflict, some very poor and poor households will require targeted emergency assistance during the peak lean season (July-Sept.) to meet minimum food needs and prevent increases in already high background levels of acute malnutrition.”

Food Crisis in the Sahel Region of Africa. This map shows food security projections for July-September 2012. Without enough intervention the hunger crisis could quickly descend into the emergency and famine stages. (USAID FEWSNET)

If strong action is not taken now, famine looms. The World Food Programme is pleading for help to avoid such a disaster in the Sahel. The agency said in a report that “additional resources are urgently required, given long lead times and the upcoming rainy season hampering access. Significant shortfalls in cereals of approximately 124,900 mt could seriously constrain WFP’s crisis response in all affected countries.”

Following a U.S. donation late last month WFP needs about $300 million for its relief activities throughout the Sahel.

In Afghanistan, the massive hunger crisis has had severe repercussions. While U.S. Food for Peace donations have helped reduce the impact of a drought last year, a protracted relief and recovery operation to help Afghans remains only 10 percent funded. WFP says that “a lack of resources is significantly hampering the organization’s ability to implement relief and recovery assistance.”

There are positive signs, such as Canada and the U.S. making donations to help start a biscuit factory in Kabul. This helps increase food production in Afghanistan, benefiting farmers, schools, and shops. The biscuits are a part of WFP’s nationwide school feeding programs.

More food security projects like this are needed within Afghanistan. Until hunger and malnutrition are dealt a significant blow, the country will not achieve peace or development.

In South Sudan, the World Food Programme “faces a significant financial shortfall of US $145 million.” The country is reeling from conflict with Sudan as well as internal fighting in the Jonglei state between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes. Drought has ruined crop production and around 4.7 million people are facing hunger. Should conflict escalate, famine could strike South Sudan.

In Yemen, the fight against hunger is key for the country to build internal stability and develop. The country has suffered the last two years through political unrest and fighting in the South between Al Qaeda and the government. The World Food Programme says that 22 percent of the population now suffers from severe hunger. WFP though is short nearly 50 percent of its funding requirement to help Yemen fight hunger.

The growing hunger crisis is going to require the U.S. to build up its Food for Peace program, which is critical for saving lives and improving global stability.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week, “the United States has provided almost $1 billion in humanitarian assistance that has saved countless lives from malnutrition, starvation, and disease. And our sustained commitment has demonstrated the best of America, helping to undermine the extremist narrative of terrorist groups like al-Shabaab in Somalia.”

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.
  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Mauritania is near the Atlantic Ocean. The close proximity to this ocean means that solar energy can be employed in order to develop fresh water from desalination plant operations. Clearly, the desalination and solar energy technologies can help to produce fresh water for agricultural use.

  • Bhavana

    “People are dying everyday due to hunger and malnutrition. I would like to suggest a short film “”Chicken a la Carte”” which shows the forgotten portion of the society. The film is about the hunger and poverty brought about by Globalization.

    To watch the documentary online visit Culture Unplugged.