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Africa sinks deeper into despair as famine worsens
Cat : International Conferences
Date : 2006-05-23 13:16:53                      Reader : 1271
Humanity have three in common: water , energy, and feeding . This saying by prophet Mohamed peace be upon him, must be applied in a way that all should have these three items in common. Those who have must give those who do not.


USA TODAY.COM Tues. 23/5/2006

Africa sinks deeper into despair as famine worsens


By Rob Crilly,
Hussein Abdi carries a gnarled wooden walking stick - a symbol of his wealth and influence. Abdi, 57, is still a respected elder among his tribe in this remote corner of northern Kenya. But his wealth lies rotting at his feet.

Abdi’s herd of 60 cattle, which marked him as a man of means in a pastoral community little changed in centuries, has been reduced to five by a three-year drought. Fresh carcasses lie around his simple homestead of skin-roofed huts. Scattered among them are the sun-bleached bones of the first to die.

While much-needed rains recently arrived in this part of Africa, aid agencies such as Britain’s Oxfam say people like Abdi may not quickly recover. It could take him years to rebuild his herd.

His plight is familiar to many people across the Horn of Africa and, according to the United Nations, much of the continent. While the problem isn’t new, famine no longer is a cyclical event that hits a specific region. Each year, the continent is a little less able to feed itself. And drought isn’t the only or even the major cause of the famines.

Much of the continent is suffering after a succession of droughts, worsened by overpopulation, conflict and the devastation caused by HIV and AIDS.

Situation critical

As a result, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that this year 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti need emergency food aid to stave off hunger. In all, 36 of Africa’s 53 countries need help to feed their populations. The U.N. estimates that nearly 5% of the 877.5 million people on the continent - about 40 million - need urgent assistance.

Africa is suffering on a greater scale, says the WFP’s Peter Smerdon, because the region-wide shortage of food and water comes after years of localized shortages have stretched populations to the breaking point. "Populations have a whole range of problems to deal with," he says. "Often drought is the final straw."

Africa’s problems vary by region, but the result often is the same: famine.

• Rapid population growth throughout the continent has stretched the region’s already limited food resources and placed a greater strain on the land, says Todd Benson, a research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

• In countries such as Kenya, overpopulation has pushed people into uninhabited areas. Farmers clear forests for crops or cut down trees for fuel. The result is creeping desertification and the loss of precious topsoil.

• A December report on Africa by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says conflict is at the root of hunger in countries such as Sudan and Uganda. It says millions of people have been forced to leave their traditional farming communities to seek protection in camps run by humanitarian agencies. There, they often rely on handouts to survive.

• The World Food Program cites disease - particularly HIV - as a leading reason for declining productivity in southern Africa. Infection rates of more than 20% have mowed down a generation of people who once would have been the breadwinners. The impact on food production has been devastating.

In the past, there may have been a single country in a decade that became the poster child for hunger - for example, the Nigerian area known as Biafra in the 1960s and Ethiopia in the 1980s. Now, a new country or region is added to a growing roster of desperation on the continent nearly every year.

Last year it was Niger, in West Africa, where locusts combined with drought forced millions to the brink of famine. Three million there - more than 25% of the population - still need emergency aid.

This year, nomadic herders close to Kenya’s border with Somalia have been added to the groups that face hunger and death.

Among them is Abdi, who has five children still living at home. He uses his stick to prod one of his dead animals and looks despairingly at the five surviving cattle.

There is no grass left after seasonal rains failed to come for the past three years. "I just have to keep them here, and there’s nothing to eat," he says. "Sometimes they even share the children’s food or (eat) the trees as there’s just nothing."

The drought has forced parents, including Abdi, to pull their children out of school because they can’t pay the tuition. "Every section of life, from the young to the old, is entirely affected," says Mohamed Mohamud Ali, project coordinator with the Arid Lands Development Focus Organization, a Kenyan government agency.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, last month appealed for $426 million to help drought victims in the Horn of Africa: Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. The U.N. says more than 40% of people in the region are undernourished and thousands have died because of complications from hunger.

Effects of political problems

In its most recent Africa Report published in December, The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization names political problems, such as civil strife and refugee movements, as primary factors in 15 of the countries affected by famine. Drought is named in 12.

For example, about 2.5 million people in Sudan’s western Darfur region have been forced to flee their homes as a result of civil war between farmers and nomads. Most live in refugee camps. As a result, farming in the region has ground to a halt. Many families are dependent on food aid.

Then there is the impact of HIV and AIDS. "It is a contributing factor, especially in southern Africa, to the inability of a lot of rural households to produce enough food to feed themselves," says Benson, of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "It decimates production systems."

The WFP estimates that 40% of Swaziland’s population ages 15-49 is infected with HIV. Most can’t work the fields or do other work to earn money to support their families or pay for treatment. That means infected people die relatively soon. So a country with a population of a little more than 1 million has to find food for about 80,000 AIDS orphans.

Africa’s problems will grow worse, Benson says, mainly because of explosive population growth. The U.N. says sub-Saharan Africa’s population was 751 million in 2005, double its 335 million in 1975. "You are not seeing the increases in agricultural productivity that would be necessary to meet the increased food demand that comes with population increases," he says.

In northern Kenya, thousands of nomads have set up makeshift settlements around towns and villages where they can at least receive water and food from aid agencies.

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