“For the third time in the past decade, drought has returned to the arid, western shoulder of Africa, bringing hunger to millions,” and “[a]id agencies are warning that if action is not taken now, the region known as the Sahel could slip into crisis,” the Associated Press reports. “Aid workers also worry that donors are suffering from ‘famine fatigue,’ as the looming West African crisis comes just six months after Somalia’s capital was declared a famine zone,” the news agency writes.
Food Security and Nutrition
Al Jazeera examines the consequences of Somalia’s ongoing famine, “the worst hunger crisis seen here for two decades.” Many Somalis fled their rural homes to Mogadishu to escape drought and conflict, but “the city has become the epicenter of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the news service reports, adding, “While new arrivals say that conditions in the capital are better than elsewhere in the country, they are atrocious by any other measure.” In the city, “[m]alnutrition rates are more than double the emergency threshold,” and many refugees face homelessness as camps become more crowded, Al Jazeera reports (Wander 1/19).
Psychological, organizational and budgetary factors contributed to why governments did not respond sooner to early famine warnings in the Horn of Africa, Hugo Slim, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford, says in this Guardian opinion piece. In a new report (.pdf), Save the Children and Oxfam “suggest that government officials were reluctant to call a crisis until there was a crisis”; that organizing “NGOs and U.N. agencies to agree the scale of a problem and then to act in concert is always going to be difficult”; and that, “[m]ore importantly, budgets are still divided too strictly between emergency and development funds,” he writes.
“Scientists and aid organizations gave the world plenty of time to prepare, but a late response by the world’s donor nations cost 50,000 to 100,000 lives during last year’s drought in the Horn of Africa region,” the Christian Science Monitor’s “Global News Blog” writes about a report (.pdf) released on Wednesday by Save the Children and Oxfam (Baldauf, 1/18). “The two agencies blame ‘a culture of risk aversion’ among donors and NGOs, which meant the specially-built early warning system, FEWSNET, worked but was ignored until it was too late,” GlobalPost’s “Africa Emerges” blog writes (McConnell, 1/18). “A food shortage had been predicted as early as August 2010, but most donors did not respond until famine was declared in parts of Somalia last July,” the Associated Press/New York Times notes (1/18).
“Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, arrived in Niger on Wednesday to see at first hand the extent of food shortages” in the country and announced the European Union (E.U.) “is doubling its humanitarian aid to the Sahel to nearly â‚¬95 million ($122 million) in response to the slow onset emergency in the region, where an estimated 300,000 children are affected by malnutrition annually,” the Guardian reports. Niger, a “vast landlocked country with an estimated 14.7 million people, most of whom live along a narrow border of arable land on its southern border, is bracing itself for a sharp rise in food insecurity in the ‘lean period,’ when food from the last harvest runs out,” the newspaper notes.
“The United States and Sudan traded accusations [on Tuesday] over the humanitarian situation in the [border] states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, embattled since the north and south of Sudan split into two nations last summer,” the New York Times reports (MacFarquhar, 1/17). U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Monday sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council warning that food security could decline to an emergency level and could result in famine if action is not taken by the government in Khartoum, according to VOA News (Besheer, 1/17). Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Rice said, “The proximate cause of the problem … is that the government of Sudan has deliberately denied access to international NGOs, the United Nations, and international humanitarian workers to the most affected populations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile” and called the situation “unconscionable and unacceptable,” according to a transcript (1/17).
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva on Tuesday announced the appointment of Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s Rome-based food agencies, to head the U.N. World Food Programme, the Associated Press/CBS News reports (1/17). “Cousin … will succeed Josette Sheeran, also of the United States, who has held the post since 2007,” Reuters notes.
Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s official in Somalia, on Sunday said “tens of thousands of people will have died over the last year” in the country’s famine, adding that the rates of malnutrition are “amazingly high,” BBC News reports. “He said a quarter of a million Somalis were still suffering from the famine,” and he “said malnutrition rates have begun to drop but the crisis was likely to continue for the next six or seven months,” the news service notes (1/15).
A U.S. Embassy statement on Saturday said the U.S. would provide nearly $1 billion to Bangladesh over the next five years “towards alleviating poverty and malnutrition, as well as family planning and the fight against infectious diseases,” Reuters reports. “The funds will also be used to support research in improving farm productivity and deal with the impact of climate change,” the news service writes, adding, “As of 2011, the U.S. government has provided over $5.7 billion in development assistance to Bangladesh” (Quadir, 1/14).
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on Thursday appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss rebuilding efforts in Haiti two years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Shah said, “[O]ver the last two years, we’ve seen real signs of hope. A number of things have worked. Partners and the Haitian government and Haitian leaders have done things differently so that today, … more people have access to clean water and safe sanitation in Port-au-Prince than the day before the earthquake,” according to the transcript.