It is 2017. In this time and age of plenty, no one should be dying of starvation… Not when hundreds of tons of food waste ends up in landfills on a daily basis in the more fortunate parts of the world. But shockingly, millions of people today are facing one of the worst famines in history leading to an acute humanitarian crisis. Even as you are reading this, a child might be dying of hunger in some remote part of the world.
Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
Many areas of South Sudan are already facing famine while Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are also on the brink of a famine-like situation. According to the UN, around 20 million people face the risk of starvation, roughly 1.4 million children facing imminent risk of death due to hunger. That is a startling number, to say the least. These people are in urgent need of food and medical assistance because along with drought and famine, diseases are also spreading at an alarming rate.
What exactly is a famine?
A famine is a serious condition and is usually declared when all of the following criteria are met:
- When at least 20% households in a certain area face acute food shortage
- More than 30% of the population faces malnutrition
- The death rate due to starvation exceeds two persons per 10,000 daily.
So what is the rest of the world doing about this serious situation?
It is not as if there is any lack of donors or aid for the famine-affected populations. In fact, donations have increased six-fold in the last 20 years, but unfortunately, the crisis is much bigger than the aid available. And even in places where help has already reached, internal conflicts and wars make it extremely difficult for the humanitarian agencies to actually reach out to the people in need.
As World Food Program director of emergencies Denise Brown says, “We have never seen that (level of famine) before, and with all of these crises they are protracted situations and they require significant financing. The international community has got to find a way of stepping up to manage this situation until political solutions are found.”
What is the main cause of famine?
All these African countries we are talking about are prone to droughts due to their semi-arid climates. But then it is not just insufficient rainfall that has contributed to famine-like situations in these countries.
In South Sudan, the main cause of famine is not drought but years of internal conflicts and poor governance. The ongoing civil war has badly crippled the nation, severed its ties with neighboring countries, curtailed the crop production leading to soaring levels of inflation. Despite the South Sudanese government’s promise to give ‘unimpeded access’ to aid workers in the country, the harsh reality is that humanitarian convoys are being attacked and looted by government workers.
Similarly in Nigeria and Somalia, poor governance and internal conflicts have led to famines that are more ‘man-made’ than natural. Internal conflict has wreaked havoc in Somalia for nearly three decades, and the internationally-backed government has been mired in corruption and bickering.
The Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has wreaked havoc on the north-eastern part of Nigeria. Although the army has now pushed it out of most of the areas it had seized, some 2.4 million people have fled their homes and are unable to farm their land.
In Yemen, where condition is the most critical, children are dying from malnutrition and almost half the country’s population is in urgent need of food. This country is also facing internal conflict with the ethnic Houthi rebels.
What can be the solution to this problem?
International relief can obviously go a long way in providing relief to these people. As the current humanitarian crisis grows, the international community will continue to offer emergency relief, and it should. Each one of us can donate to agencies which are carrying out relief operations in famine-struck regions.
But to assume that financial aid is enough would be misleading. Rich nations have been donating funds to poorer nations since years but so far, nothing has proved to be a perfect solution to the menace called famine.
There is a reason behind this. Financial aid is only a temporary solution to the problem, just like applying Band-aid on a wound that keeps recurring. What happens when drought strikes again next year? What happens when another civil war starts in the country?
It is high time the world starts thinking of long term solutions… and to make people in the affected areas self-sufficient in agriculture would be one of them.
As Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation rightly said, “If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.”
Organizations such as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) are already providing small farmers with the opportunity to sell their crops to reliable buyers, providing them with steady capital. The WFP also teaches farmers sustainable practices that increase the value of their crops and boost national food security over time.
While it is true that this goal can’t be achieved overnight and the gravity of the current situation demands more drastic measures and immediate relief operations, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
How can I help?
Right now, people in Africa are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Listed below are a few links where you can go and make donation for them. Your little help could brighten their chances of survival…