May 09, 2012
Livestock lay dead during the East Africa famine last year. Photo by: Oxfam East Africa.
"We estimate that in 2012 there will be over a million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition—what’s important to know is that malnutrition can kill," UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Louis-Georges Arsenault, said in a press release. "We need more resources to really scale up our response before it becomes too late and too many lives are lost."
UNICEF is asking for $120 million in the region to stave off the crisis, but has received only half to date. Experts repeatedly stress that the time to act in these situations is before the hunger crisis grows acute.
Recently visiting Niger, the Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, and the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, released a joint statement warning, "the window of opportunity to save lives is narrowing by the day."
"In the Ouallam and Maradi regions [of Niger], we saw fathers and mothers struggling to feed their families in villages where hunger has already taken hold in advance of the traditional hunger season," the statement read. "The hungry poor—whether small-holder farmers or pastoralists—face a situation where savings are exhausted and there has been no opportunity to rebuild livestock herds."
As a last resort livestock is often sold for food money, leaving a family bereft of their livelihood.
General Counsel for humanitarian group CARE, Kent Alexander, recently described a visit to Niger in a blog entry he called, The Real Hunger Games, after the popular young adult novel set in a post-apocalyptic U.S.
"Young children presented formal requests in envelopes to the group of visitors from CARE. Their number one request? Not toys, not new clothes, and certainly not a trip to Disney World. Drinking water. Water! This was especially striking because Ayyawane was by far the most 'affluent' of the villages we visited," Alexander writes.
Just a year ago, similar drought conditions affected millions across East Africa. In Somalia, where the failed rains combined with conflict and government ineffectualness, the crisis rose to a famine, killing an estimated 30,000 children. A report released this January found that a delayed response by the international community cost thousands of lives in Somalia.
"We all bear responsibility for this dangerous delay that cost lives in East Africa and need to learn the lessons of the late response," Oxfam's Chief Executive, Barbara Stocking, candidly stated in a press release on the report. "It's shocking that the poorest people are still bearing the brunt of a failure to respond swiftly and decisively. We know that acting early saves lives but collective risk aversion meant aid agencies were reluctant to spend money until they were certain there was a crisis."
Drought is a regular occurrence both in the Sahel and East Africa, and communities have long-adapted to dry conditions. Yet some officials and scientists argue that recent droughts are worsening due to climate change, adding even more insecurity to some of the world's most vulnerable and poorest communities.
15 million facing food shortages in Africa's Sahel region
(03/29/2012) The UN announced yesterday that food security in the Sahel region is deteriorating, putting over 15 million people at risk. Ongoing drought combined with conflict, has pushed the region into a crisis. The situation appears eerily similar to last year when Somalia was hit by a devastating famine due to drought and political instability; the famine left an estimated 30,000 children dead.
Another food crisis looming in Africa: nearly 5 million South Sudanese lacking food
(02/08/2012) The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) have warned that South Sudan is facing a food crisis and that immediate action is needed to stave off a disaster. Currently 4.7 million people do not have enough to eat in South Sudan, while one million of these face severe food shortages. That number, however, could double if on-going conflict in the region continues and food prices continue rising, says the UN agencies.
Delayed response to Somalia famine cost thousands of lives
(01/18/2012) A hesitant response by the international community likely led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in last year's famine in East Africa finds a new report released by Oxfam and Save the Children. The report, entitled A Dangerous Delay, says that early warning systems worked in informing the international community about the likelihood of a dire food crisis in East Africa, however a "culture of risk aversion" led to months-long delays. By the time aid arrived it was already too late for many. The British government has estimated somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people perished in the famine, half of whom were likely children under five.
Global food prices set record in 2011
(01/16/2012) Last year saw the highest average food prices since recording began in 1990, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Food Price Index. The Food Price Index's average for the year was 228 points, 28 points higher than the past record set in 2008.
11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers
(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.