Today is Blog Action Day 2011. It is also World Food Day. This year’s theme for Blog Action Day is Food. Bloggers all over the world are writing about this one theme, from their own unique perspective. To find out more, visit the Blog Action Day website. Read more of our Blog Action Day posts on Heifer Blog here.
When you have plenty, food is something to celebrate. For those who lack enough, however, it can be a daily struggle. Food security is defined by the World Health Organization as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” Before Heifer enters the picture, our project participants are food insecure. When you’re food insecure, you might have enough food to feed your family breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. You might have enough food for your children, but not yourself. You might have enough food five days a week, but not seven; or during the harvest months, but not the thin months.
Food insecurity is scary, and there are many factors that contribute to the situation. A significant factor that has been getting a lot of attention lately is the rising cost of food. That’s the theme for this year’s World Food Day: Food Prices–From Crisis to Stability. Today we are called to “look seriously at what causes swings in food prices, and do what needs to be done to reduce their impact on the weakest members of global society.”
Those weakest members of society? Those are Heifer’s participants. At least, that’s one way to describe them before they receive their gifts of training and livestock. Our work can play a big role in helping families protect themselves against the negative impacts of volatile food prices. Because when you’re empowered to grow much of the food your family needs, you’re way less reliant on the global–and even local–food economy. That’s just as true here in the United States, but it’s strikingly more significant in developing countries, which account for 98 percent of the world’s 925 million hungry people in 2010.
What do you think? What else can be done to reduce the impact of rising food costs on the poor and hungry?
Today is also Blog Action Day, which has the appropriate theme of Food this year. Stay tuned here on Heifer Blog for a series of posts by some of our own Heifer staff with their thoughts on food.
Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations posted a warning on the Horn of Africa crisis that speaks directly to Heifer staff, supporters, donors and potential partners: “Predictable, sustained support for rural economies and livelihoods is needed to avoid future crises.”
As world governments met today (Thursday) in Ethiopia for an international pledging conference aimed at winning more aid for the Horn of Africa, the FAO warned that efforts to keep farmers and pastoralists on their feet, prevent the crisis from worsening and speed progress toward recovery are not being adequately funded.
Heifer International is not an aid organization, our model to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth focuses on long-term solutions. The current drought and extreme hunger crisis in East Africa is not new. Though awareness has recently been raised through recent news coverage, including of visits from Jill Biden’s visit to refugee camps of Somalians and a promise of more U.S. aid, this same drought cycle has been battering the farmers and people of the region for more than a decade.
“The drought cycle in east Africa has been contracting sharply. Rains used to fail every nine or ten years. Then the cycle seemed to go down to five years. Now, it seems, the region faces drought every two or three years. The time for recovery—for rebuilding stocks of food and cattle—is ever shorter. And if the rains fail before the end of this year, an unimaginably dreadful catastrophe could ensue.”
Just two years later, the catastrophe is here. Will we hand out aid again and not dig deeper to long-term solutions that help people survive despite the drought? Will the images and stories fade until two years from now, when it all happens again, we’ll scramble to repeat the inadequate response?
Heifer’s camel projects in Kenya and Tanzania have already helped farmers and pastoralists recover from loss of cattle and near starvation on a small scale. We’re studying ways to expand our model in Kenya to Ethiopia and Somalia to address the long-term needs of the people in this area. But as the FAO warns, support, funding and dedication to long-term solutions are critical. Yes, refugees need aid now. Yes, they also need a sustainable solution to get them out of camps with no way to support themselves.
Would you be interested in supporting a long-term project using Heifer’s model? Please share your ideas, concerns, hopes for how we can work together in comments here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mid morning this morning I read what I consider the most deflating news yet about the crisis in the Horn of Africa: sacks of food aid meant for Somalis dying of starvation are being stolen and sold at nearby markets.
From the AP report: In Mogadishu markets, vast piles of food sacks are for sale with stamps on them from the World Food Program, the U.S. government aid arm USAID and the Japanese government. The AP found eight sites where aid food was being sold in bulk and numerous smaller stores. Among the items being sold were corn, grain, and Plumpy’nut – a specially fortified peanut butter designed for starving children.
An official in Mogadishu with extensive knowledge of the food trade said he believes a massive amount of aid is being stolen – perhaps up to half of aid deliveries – by unscrupulous businessmen. The percentage had been lower, he said, but in recent weeks the flood of aid into the capital with little or no controls has created a bonanza for businessmen.
Some families even told the AP that food handed out is taken back after photographers get their photos. The families have no choice to comply, they say, or face being kicked out of the refugee camps.
It sounds like a repeat of what happened in nearly 20 years ago. Despite the thefts, the World Food Program is continuing with distributing the food aid. To not do so would cause “many unnecessary deaths.”
The famine and drought have taken their toll on the terrorist group al-Shabaab, which controls the regions experiencing the worst of the famine. Where there are no farmers, no agricultural yields, there are no shops and markets, and al-Shabaab’s “whole structure” collapsed, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Program at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
“There is a narrow window of opportunity right now if the international community were to engage local communities, local leaders [and] assist them, strengthen them while [al-Shabaab] is weak,” Pham said.
The World Food Program isn’t stopping its aid, and according to some, continuing to try to get aid into the region is the only way to continue to break down al-Shabaab’s hold on the region. Don’t give up hope for Somalia. Help here.
We understand that a famine affecting more than 12 million people isn’t something that can end quickly. But what we can’t understand is why the response to the situation in the Horn of Africa hasn’t garnered more attention or why the organizations providing emergency relief haven’t received more donations.
According to some reports, less than half the food, aid and money needed for Somalia and surrounding nations who are absorbing refugees fleeing drought, violence and famine, has been donated. That means children are dying, and parents are being forced to choose which of their children receive water and meager rations of food.
The Associated Press interviewed one mother, Wardo Mohamud Yusuf, forced to leave her 4-year-old son “to his God on the road.”
Parents fleeing the devastating famine on foot — sometimes with as many as seven children in tow — are having to make unimaginably cruel choices: Which children have the best chance to survive when food and water run low? Who should be left behind?
“I have never faced such a dilemma in my life,” Yusuf told The Associated Press. “Now I’m reliving the pain of abandoning my child. I wake up at night to think about him. I feel terrified whenever I see a son of his age.”
No one should have to make this kind of choice. There are ways to help. If you can do anything, please do.
Although news reports are pouring in about the disastrous famine swallowing southern Somalia, it’s difficult to imagine quite what it looks like. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai has a pretty good perspective, though, viewing the disaster from next door in Kenya.
Maathai claimed the Nobel in 2004 for her work with the Green Belt Movement, an organization dedicated to planting trees, improving the environment and empowering women to work and provide for themselves. She blames environmental degradation and failing government systems for the tens of thousands of deaths that have already happened and the starvation now affecting 12 million.
In an interview Wednesday on NPR’s Tell Me More, Maathai talked about the the very conspicuous damage to the environment in eastern Africa. Over many decades governments haven’t taken environmental issues seriously, and now everyone is paying the price, Maathai said. “We now see people dying, animals dying, the landscape completely devastated. This has not happened overnight.”
The weak government in Somalia has its hands full fending off al-Shabab, but it has other important work to attend to, Maathai said. Forests, mountains and rivers must be protected to prevent a repeat of the current disaster.
Of course, Maathai’s wisdom applies far beyond the famine zone. As she pointed out, protecting soil, air and water quality and promoting sustainable development are important things to do today to prevent disaster down the line. It’s a goal of Heifer’s work in Africa and around the world.
Read more about Maathai and her work in this story in Heifer’s World Ark magazine.
Nearly a month ago, we reminded you that a child dies every five seconds from hunger related causes. That’s about 25,000 children a day. More than 9 million a year.
In the last 90 days, more than 29,000 Somali children under the age of 5 have died. The cause? Famine. That means around 3 million children are dead from hunger or hunger related causes in three months. And with 640,000 Somali children labeled as “acutely malnourished,” more will die.
Children of Heifer recipients finish plates of beans at their home in west Africa
Are you mad yet? You should be. These deaths are preventable.
While Heifer focuses on sustainable development work and not relief and emergency aid, we support that work and know that it is of utmost importance right now. We’ve been covering the crisis in Somalia on this blog, and monitoring the situation every day as thousands of refugees are pouring into the neighboring African countries where we do work.
Millions of dollars have already been donated, but the U.N. says it will need “hundreds of millions more” to fight the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. The time to take action is now. Here’s how you can help.
Forecasters say up to 20 inches of rain is possible in isolated parts of Haiti as Tropical Storm Emily soaks a country prone to severe flooding. Residents near the capital of Port au Prince still suffering from a massive 2010 earthquake have few options.
“We can’t afford to do much,” said Francois Prophete, who was shoring up the corrugated-metal roof of his one-room cinder block home in the hills southeast of Port-au-Prince, according to an article this morning on msnbc.com.
According to the report on msnbc.com, rain in Port au Prince has been relatively light, but the Artibonite region has already seen damage, including at a cholera treatment center.
As Haitians continue to struggle for safe shelter after the earthquake with little progress toward rebuilding, please remember them and their many challenges. Know that Heifer is working to provide sustainable development solutions to families throughout the country. As yet another hurricane season opens in the Caribbean, damage from this early storm will no doubt create even greater need and a re-established sense of urgency for our work in Haiti.
The situation is worsening in the two southern regions of Somalia affected by famine, as an insurgent group is preventing those who are trying to seek refuge in neighboring countries from escaping the area.
The Shabab is accused of stealing water during the worst drought in 60 years and diverting it to commercial farms, and the group has also long blocked Western aid organizations from working in their strongholds. The Shabab also called the famine declaration “an exaggeration,” and insisted that the Somalis in the camp are coming to it willfully because it creates a “sense of serenity and security.”
Meanwhile, tens of thousands are already dead and a half million children are on the brink of starvation. More are suffering from diseases like measles and cholera. A doctor treating the sick and malnourished said what he’s seeing is worse than the famine of 1992.
In addition, the United Nation’s humanitarian chief said yesterday that without a “massive increase in response” to the crisis in Somalia, “the famine will spread to five or six more regions.” They’ve also increased the amount needed to aid the 12.4 million people in crisis to $2.5 billion. You can see the breakdown of the funding status here.
It’s discouraging and horrifying news. But the Times article also points out that the U.N. has begun airlifting in emergency food, and that some members of the insurgent group have indicated they would allow aid to come in to their areas.
All hope is not lost for Somalia. While Heifer doesn’t work there, we urge you to take the time to consider what you can do to help. Keep up with what’s happening there, or donate to organizations who are on the ground providing aid.
Yesterday, the United Nations officially declared famine in two southern regions of Somalia, brought on by the worst drought there in 60 years.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden said that if action isn’t taken now, “famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia in two months due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.” (Read the entire AFP story on the announcement here.)
While Heifer has no projects in Somalia, about 78,000 Somalis have fled to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, where we do work. The influx has placed further strain on those countries, which are also dealing with drought.
We will continue to closely monitor the situation, and will update you on how our projects are faring as soon as we hear from our staff there.
However, about $1.6 billion is needed right now to help combat the crisis. There are a number of organizations already providing aid and relief in the Horn of Africa.
CNN posted this story that includes a number of ways you can help the relief efforts underway. Other organizations assisting in aid and relief can be found here.
We said this a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating: If you can’t spare money to donate, share news of this crisis with friends and family. Follow the organizations on the ground via Twitter and Facebook. Even these small actions can make a difference.
Below the photo is a news release from InterAction. The gist of it is this: in southern Somalia, drought has given way to famine and will be announced as such by the United Nations sometime today.
While Heifer does not have projects in Somalia, we do work in Kenya, which has been hit hard by the drought as well, particularly as Somalian refugees flood into Kenya seeking relief. In an email from Alex Kirui, our Kenya country director, I have learned our Kenya staff is currently assessing the drought situation in the pastoral parts of the country. We expect to hear back next week, but a bit of good news in the meantime regarding Heifer participants in Kenya is that our dairy project areas have not been affected by the drought, because the region has received normal rains. We will keep you posted on how our project participants are faring. In the meantime, I urge you to a) keep up with news coverage of this crisis, and b) give generously what you are able to organizations who are on the ground providing aid and relief.
We feel lucky to report that our dairy project participants have received enough rain.
Please continue reading to learn more about the drought-turned-famine in East Africa.
U.S. NGOs urge strong global response to East Africa crisis
WASHINGTON (July 19, 2011)—The United Nations is expected to officially declare famine in parts of southern Somalia tomorrow (Wednesday, July 20), marking a new phase in a crisis that has affected the East Africa region.
“Governments need to wake up to the severity of this crisis and meet critical funding needs. Severe malnutrition rates, acute hunger and alarming refugee flows demand an extraordinary international response,” said Samuel A. Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs.
At least 25 of InterAction’s members are responding to the crisis in East Africa, which has been hit by the worst drought in 60 years, spiraling food prices and ongoing conflict. More than 11 million people are at risk, according to U.N. estimates, and hundreds of thousands have fled Somalia to overcrowded refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The response by the humanitarian community has been hampered by complex security issues as well as legal restrictions in place to prevent donor funds from reaching extremist groups such as al-Shabaab, which controls much of southern Somalia.
Al-Shabaab has said it will allow international humanitarian groups access to affected areas, a promise it needs to keep if aid is to reach populations most in need.
“For aid to flow into southern Somalia at the levels required, al-Shabaab will have to cease its harassment of international aid agencies and staff, while the U.S. and other donor governments will have to trust the procedures of experienced aid organizations to ensure that aid reaches vulnerable people without diversion,” said Worthington.
The U.S. government has provided $383 million in fiscal year 2011, including emergency food, water and hygiene supplies.
“While the United States has been more generous than other nations, we need to do more. We appeal to U.S. lawmakers not to cut budgets that could affect millions affected by this crisis. It is the right thing to do,” said Worthington.