70 million people worldwide are currently facing famine; 20 million of this number are in East Africa and the Arabian peninsula. El niño is in part to blame for the drought in these areas, but other problems are making the effects of the food shortage even worse. Four countries that are in serious trouble are Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. International agencies are working hard to keep ahead of the famine by ramping up humanitarian efforts, some saying that we are facing the worst disaster since World War II. Climate stress is of course a large part of the problem, due to warming trends along with the past season’s poor rainfall, but poverty and governance issues also are at work in the crisis.
Fighting back famine in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen
On a recent episode of “To The Point” host Warren Olney discussed the issues with several experts, including Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times’s East Africa bureau chief; Elizabeth Bryant of the World Food Program; and Chris Funk of the USGS and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
In Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, there’s an acute shortage of food and clean water, but the UN has received just a fraction of the money needed for the relief or prevention of famine. Will the Trump Administration push for budget cuts rather than make donations?
Of great concern is that the United States is going to cut back on its international aid just as this crisis is developing. If the Trump administration does follow through with these cuts, programs will undoubtedly suffer since the USA has been the biggest contributor to United Nations food programs in the past. At the same time, the UN is already in need of billions of dollars, and they need the money now to respond to the life threatening conditions in the areas already experiencing famine along with those predicted to be facing famine in the coming months.
Based on the experiences of the last famine in Somalia, officials know that even more than food, which is clearly of paramount importance, clean water is urgently needed. The rainy season is over for now, and did not come close to meeting the averages. Low water levels lead to water contamination, and, along with malnutrition, makes the population – especially children – extremely vulnerable. Cholera has broken out because of these drought conditions. There are some practices, particularly in the north because of the nomadic lifestyle, that allow for more resilience and methods of coping, compared to the farmers in the south. Many there have lost their land and livestock. Because they have no resources, people are moving about looking for food and water, and gathering in make-shift camps, where the spread of disease becomes a greater risk.
Aside from the climate issues, war and political struggles make the situation more precarious. Factions fighting each other and rebels fighting government armies mean that food supplies cannot move freely even when there is food available. Often these fighters will hijack aid trucks and take the supplies for themselves, or block aid from getting through to those that need it. The fact that several aid workers were killed recently makes the delivery of food and water even more difficult.
In some areas where a food supply chain exists, cash is being given to families to allow them to buy their own food. In this way people can get aid fast and it will help support the local food producers. Even after the drought, it will be very difficult for the displaced to recover and provide a livelihood for their families.
Sources: To The Point March 30, 2017, Fighting back famine in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen; Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just 1 Famine, but 4 by Jeffrey Gettleman March 27, 2017; Famine Early Warning System Network, East Africa Special Report, February 3, 2017