August 18, 2008 (The Times) by Tim Albone in Fendi Ajersai and Jack MalvernFood price rises push 14m to the brink of starvation
Rapidly rising global food costs have contributed to the worst hunger crisis in East Africa for eight years, with at least 14 million people at risk of malnutrition, aid agencies said yesterday.Have your say - Copy of Comments
In Ethiopia, the worst-affected country in the region, the Government said that 4.6 million people faced starvation, but aid agencies claimed that the true figure was closer to 10 million.
Drought has worsened food shortages, and Oxfam said that the number of acute malnutrition cases had reached its highest level since the droughts of 2000, when mortality rates peaked at more than six people per 10,000 per day. The official definition of a famine is more than four deaths per 10,000 per day.
Ethiopian farmers said that the crisis was caused by the absence of the Belg rains, which were due in February and March. “It’s really hard. People are eating whatever they can find,” said Gemeda Worena, 38, the tribal head of Fendi Ajersai, a village in southern Ethiopia where six children died in one week this month. “We hadn’t had rain for the last eight months. We had to buy water to save our lives, but now we have nothing.”
Mr Worena said that the price of maize had risen fourfold in the past year, a severe blow for villagers with what little money they had saved.
Surprisingly, when The Times visited the region, the fields were alive with maize and most afternoons a warm rain fell. “Here the problem is acute,” said Jean de Cambry, the emergency co-ordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in southern Ethiopia. “It is very surprising and very strange, because everything is so green. But food stocks at household level are empty or close to empty.”
The United Nations World Food Programme is providing emergency food assistance to 3.2 million people in Ethiopia and 900,000 people in northern Kenya, where poor rains and political violence have disrupted food production.
The programme is also feeding 707,000 people in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda, where erratic rainfall has prevented 90 per cent of the population from planting for the current growing season, and aims to give help to 115,000 people in Djibouti, just under a quarter of the tiny country’s population.
The UN says that 2.6 million people in Somalia are in need of food assistance as a result of drought, conflict, hyperinflation, and high food and fuel prices. The World Food Programme believes that the figure will rise to 3.5 million in December.
Chris Leather, a food security expert for Oxfam, said: “We haven’t seen such high rates of acute malnutrition, of above 20 per cent, in as many places as we’re seeing right now, since 2000.” He said that 3 per cent of those found to have acute malnutrition had a high risk of dying if there was no intervention.
In Fendi Ajersai, the haunting wails of women paying their respects to the dead have become more frequent in recent months. When The Times visited this month villagers were mourning the latest victim of the famine, Tariky Gamedo, a football-loving, 13-year-old boy.
“He was my brother,” cried Basha Dekeo, 25, as her father tried to hold her flailing arms, “He is gone.”
Mr Worena said: “We have lost six kids this week.”
Despite the recent rainfalls and the apparent lushness of the countryside, the future does not look much better. Next month the harvest takes place, but many expect it to be smaller than is needed. Planting has been done largely by hand because so much livestock died before the rains arrived. The animals that survived are so skinny that when they can work the pace is pitifully slow.
Accurate numbers of how many people have died of hunger are impossible to find, with the Ethiopian Government seemingly determined to cover up the true extent of the problem.
Access to areas affected by famine is strictly controlled, with journalists needing permits. At one feeding centre, government officials refused The Times permission to photograph or film it.
At a feeding centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières in the town of Senbeta Shalla, the severity of the problem was clear to see. More than a thousand people queued for food and medical aid, and many had stick-thin limbs and swollen bellies, their desperation clear to see.
“The rains failed, everybody lost their crops,” Gamtou Defso, 70, a farmer, said. “We are just eating anything we find on the ground. I am hungry and I feel really sick . . . We don’t have any food to eat.”
Mieke Staanssens, the field co-ordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “They don’t even have the energy to cry.”
The hunger crisis
8 out of 10 workers in Ethiopia are involved in agricultural activities
15 droughts in Ethiopia since 1965
50% of Ethiopia’s total goods and services are made up of agriculture
1 million people starved to death in the 1984-85 famine
Source: The International Food Policy Research Institute, The Red Cross,countrystudies.us
Every year, if not every day, the USA sends extraordinary amounts of aid to Africa. People forget that President Bush has given more aid than any leader in history. What the world needs to ask is WHY Africa's leaders STOP the flow of this aid to their starving people. THIS is where the story lies..
Kim, NY, USA
I support World Vision, it gets most money to the starving families. I support my church who has missionaries all over the world who also meet physical as well as spiritual needs.
Tina, Brighton, US
It makes no difference if you support Oxfam or Satan the devil, or God. No money on earth can save these people from themselves. They are their own worse enimies, the sectarian violence, while they fight no one grows food, so people starve to death. People have kids they can't feed.
Daphne Kenward, Cambridge, UK
Please tell us, the readers of your tragic article, what practical things we can do to help. Supporting Oxfam is obviously a great way to help but would it be possible to send a few planes loaded with food to help a few people?
Pam Lee, Brize Norton, U.K.
Welcome to globalisation- Food produced in these countries are sold to the highest bidder, usually a foreign buyer, which puts the prices beyond the Locals. Similarly, Tourist hotels pay double the price for seafood so much so that some locals have not eaten prawns although they live by by the sea!
Lakshman Dalpadado, Kotugoda, Sri Lanka
How can every every citizen of the world have access to food & water at all times?
This is the way the Elite's of the world need it, they need to be poorer starving people, they need there slaves still!
They tell the rich how much they can keep out the wages and leave the poor to starve!
Andrew, Hartlepool, England, GB
Well said all. How much does it cost to keep a person from starving to death? How much do we spend on booze, ipods, phones etc...
James, Stockport, UK,
In the light of Africa's experience, encouraging UK reliance on home grown produce is clear and dangerous nonesense.We need to ensure that world trade in food flourishes so we can buy it from where it is available and indeed cheapest.
Peter, London, England
Whenever we complain about the rising price of groceries, fuel etc we should remind ourselves what it really means to lack the bare essentials. We in the UK could do without Sky, eating out, drinking alchohol, holidays abroad etc. We should stop complaining and count our blessings..........
sophie smith, london, uk
Josh, London - hear hear. I keep saying exactly the same thing myself. To see the millions wasted on the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, for example - a spectacle bearing no relation to the sports that follow it - seems too me unthinkable in the face of such a gap between rich and poor.
Wow, it's like human compassion never existed when reading these comments.
Liberals and enviro-wackos decided that it would be a good thing for the environment if we burned corn-based ethanol in our cars instead of gasoline. So thanks to this stupid idea we are now growing corn to burn instead of growing it to eat. We should go back to growing corn to feed people.
Patrick C., Irvine, USA
To the extent the United States and Europe have contributed to this with biofuel subsidies and bans on genetically modified crops, we have committed a terrible crime.
Dennis Duggan, Charlotte, NC, USA
Have we become so de-sensitized to such horror that we can now shrug it off with "What else is new?" Take a reality check. How ever bad the governments of these countries are, surely the people should not be made to suffer to teach them a lesson?
Lee, Manchester, England
Just wait for Bob Geldof to appear before he returns home to his multimillion pound home each evening. If he really cared he would give all his money away.
Paul Davis, York, uk
instead of wasting money on yet another extravagant, pointless olympics - why doesnt britain do something useful with the money it will squander on 2012 and give it to the starving children of the world. that will be a much more useful and rewarding thing to do with the money,
I live in Nairobi and the short rains last October were very poor as well as the long rains from March to May..La Nina affected the entire region from 1999 to 2000, its the same again for the last year. We in Nairobi are currently experiencing Water Rationing! Its not just climate change..
ravi, nairobi, kenya
When I was at school in the 60s we raised money for famine relief. Nothing seems to have changed. Perhaps we should not be trying to live on land that cannot produce enough food to feed the population. In the natural world animals would move to where there is food or die.
Diana, Hull, England
Although there is clearly an element of higher cost in food production and delivery due to oil prices , the huge increases seem to suggest that suppliers are making a fortune out of the increased demand. Surely, essentials such as food and energy should have some sort of world price control
C.Wood, Camberley, UK
Does anyone realise that in Britain people scavenge for discarded food outside supermarkets. This is the extent that our welfare state has deteriorated to. This is the state that our governments economic policies have reduced our economy to. And it's happening right here in Britain now!
colin, wolverhampton, UK
Suffer the little Children..............................What would Christ think ? What does Christ think ?
ian payne, walsall,
The reason of all this mess is simply socialism, protectionism, and the prevalent elite attitudes that they know best what's in the people's interests instead of letting people choose for themselves. Stop all subsidies, open borders and reach free trade!!! That's the only way to feed the world!
Amir Weitmann, Jerusalem,
Much global food price inflation is a direct result of excessive money supply growth in the west. It may help if the Red Cross were to invite central bankers to tour the affected areas, for a first hand look at their achievements...
Pat, Coramandel, New Zealand
This is not a politically correct game, as we have millions in the UK including children living below the poverty line, who suffer hunger and coldness as part of normal life. All this talk about giving £billions to Africa whilst our own go hungry shows gross irresponsibility of goverment.
tanz, brighton, uk
Be honest. As much as it hurts to see the plight of Africa, the upteen trillions of pounds, dollars, francs & marks in aid have made no difference. Britain & Europe once shouldered the White Man's Burden, but were not wanted. Now, aid only benefits dictators & keeps the poor from revolting.
Bob Evans, Anaheim, California
We need to do something to help these starving people. Provide more food and better way for utilizing water and water resources.
Naleen Lal, Northern California,
When it was called Rhodesia, they were able to feed much of sub-Saharan Africa. Now, the country can't feed itself.
Jim, Memphis, USA
Every bank should have an OXFAM charity box where you can donate money for the starving of the world...so simple, so needed...Also, buy a stranger's meal for them - we do that in Florida - now and again.
anna, fl, usa,
So, what else is new?
Sam Young, Paris, France