Tag Archives: Drought

Remembering the Horn of Africa This Holiday Season

The UN World Food Programme and CARE team up to provide food to refugees who have fled Somalia (WFP/Mariko Hall). Both of these agencies are accepting donations for East Africa.

President Obama issued a statement last week thanking Americans who had donated to relief efforts in the Horn of Africa this year. He also cautioned that much more needs to be done to overcome the humanitarian tragedy of 2011.

Obama said, “As we enter the season of giving and renewal, more than 13.3 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance amid the worst drought the region has seen in 60 years. The heartbreaking accounts of lives lost and of those struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and the need to reach out to people in need.”

The U.S. has a great tradition of leading the fight against famine wherever it occurs. In 1946, just a year after World War II ended, the threat of massive famine loomed over the globe as food supplies were running low. In this case, the paths of the U.S., Somalia, and Ethiopia crossed briefly.

Herbert Hoover, who was appointed food ambassador during this crisis, first reviewed the food supply of as many nations as possible. In this report were listed Somaliland and Ethiopia. Hoover writes “of self-sufficient nations in Africa, we classified Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Somaliland, with a total population perhaps of 35,000,000 people.”

There were no reports of drought that year in East Africa. Of course, any country not in food deficit at that time was a huge relief with the impending worldwide famine. It was going to be enough of a challenge to meet the food needs of the war-devastated countries.

Whether or not there is a drought is all about luck. In 1946 there was luckily none in East Africa. This year a different story–a huge drought.

What does not depend on luck though is how well nations are prepared to deal with drought. Many actions can be taken by the international community to help build up the resilience of farmers in developing countries so that when drought does hit, it is not catastrophic. Food reserves can also be in place to prevent a year of setbacks from drought and keep a country moving toward food security.

So, this is one of the lessons of this year. Invest in farmers today to avoid the famine of tomorrow.

Article first published as Remembering the Horn of Africa this Holiday Season on Blogcritics.

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Afghanistan Hunger Crisis Deepens, Donors Not Responding

Fields of Dust: This should be a wheat field, but nothing has been harvested from here this year. The poorest farmers don’t have any irrigation systems for their fields and rely entirely on rain – which came late and sparse in the winter of 2010/2011. In the 14 provinces of Afghanistan affected by the drought, farmers have lost an average of 80 percent of the rain-fed harvest. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

The hunger crisis is dangerously escalating in Afghanistan. Drought has struck 14 provinces putting over two million people at risk of severe hunger and malnutrition. The response of international donors has been poor despite warnings being issued by aid agencies. Only 7% of the UN drought appeal has been funded to this point.

Earlier this fall Oxfam warned that in the 14 drought-affected provinces, “Many people in these areas were already suffering from chronic hunger. Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas told relief agencies in August that they would run out of food in less than two months.”

Today a joint statement from Oxfam and other aid agencies said the drought and food shortages are taking their toll in communities, “from the closure of schools, forced migration in order to find food and work and already vulnerable families forced deeper into debt in order to get through the winter.”

Manohar Shenoy, the Afghanistan country director for Oxfam says, “Time was already running short. With snow falling in the highlands, the situation for many people has now become critical.”

Many Afghan children had already lost their school feeding ration earlier this year when low funding for the UN World Food Programme forced cutbacks.

Shenoy says, “To survive, already vulnerable people are pushing themselves and their families to the extreme: sliding even deeper into debt and selling all rather than just some of their livestock. Meanwhile the chronic child labour problems in Afghanistan are being exacerbated, as younger children are being forced to work more, for less money. In the worst cases, destitute families are forced to marry off young girls and sell teenage sons to agents who then send them to work in cities. This not only causes anguish, but reverses important gains that Afghan society has made.”

Funding for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the lead agency in fighting hunger, has been low all year. WFP depends entirely on voluntary donations from the international community.

Silke Buhr of WFP says, “What is really worrying is the fact that for 2012 alone, we will need about US$390 million of which we have so far received nothing. Given that it takes between three and six months from the moment of pledge until beneficiaries actually receive the food, we will almost certainly have pipeline breaks…in early 2012.”

Afghanistan is looking at not only a severe hunger winter but suffering through 2012 and even beyond. Two things have to happen. One is to fund current relief operations to gain control of the hunger situation facing the country. This interim aid needs to be followed by a comprehensive plan to build resiliency among Afghan communities so droughts do not take such a toll.

It’s critical to note that even before the drought took hold, Afghanistan was already facing a hunger crisis with over seven million people listed as “food insecure” and many others on the brink. Poverty and malnutrition rates were already high.

The drought has sunk an already hungry and malnourished population deeper into the pit of suffering. Of all the threats facing Afghanistan, it is hunger which has become the most powerful. Hunger, if left unchecked, will crush hopes for peace for the war-devastated country.

Farhana Faruqi Stocker, the managing director of Afghanaid, says, “The international community, the Afghan authorities and development organizations need to assess why millions of Afghans remain vulnerable to hunger and find long term and sustainable solutions to solve this problem.”

Article first published as Afghanistan Hunger Crisis Deepens, Donors Not Responding on Blogcritics.

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Drought and Hunger Strike Afghanistan

This year I have written several articles about the drought in Afghanistan and the resulting food shortages. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will be providing aid to over 2 million Afghans in the drought zone during the coming months. This is on top of WFP’s existing mission to feed over 7 million Afghans who are hungry and malnourished. WFP depends on voluntary donations but so far is low on funding for its Afghanistan mission. Here is a series of photos taken by Silke Buhr of WFP which shows one of the drought hit areas.

This should be a wheat field, but nothing has been harvested from here this year. The poorest farmers don’t have any irrigation systems for their fields and rely entirely on rain – which came late and sparse in the winter of 2010/2011. In the 14 provinces of Afghanistan affected by the drought, farmers have lost an average of 80 percent of the rain-fed harvest. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

“I don’t remember it ever being this bad,” says Murat, the leader of the Tartarchal village in Khoram Sarbagh, Samangan province. “13 of the 15 wells in the village have dried up. 400 families are relying on two wells. There is no fodder for our animals. We have nothing left to sell or trade for food.” (WFP/Silke Buhr)

In the isolated villages of the drought-affected areas, people have to walk for hours or days to find water and fodder for their livestock. Many have sold their animals – their main source of income. Assessments show that some 2.8 million people have been affected by the drought. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

Mazuri-Bibi is in her kitchen with her two children. Here entire food stocks are here: a bag of wheat from last year’s harvest, which will last her a month. She is a widow and there is no work for her in the village, so she relies on the charity of her fellow villagers to get by. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

There is still some greenery in Aybak City, the capital of the Samangan province, but water level of the Aybak River is noticeably low. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

Young men in the drought-affected villages are leaving home to look for work to support their families. With the crop failure, there is little need for agricultural labour this year, so they have to travel to cities or neighbouring countries to look for casual work. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

WFP is preparing an emergency operation to assist some 2.4 million people with food and cash vouchers to help them get through until the next harvest. Assistance will begin with general food distributions to help people get through the harsh winter months, and then transition into food for work projects in the spring that will help people improve their food security by improving farming infrastructure, such as irrigation systems. WFP needs US$ 117 million to implement these plans. (WFP/Silke Buhr)

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Is Anyone Paying Attention to Food Shortages in Afghanistan?

This a file photo of a girl during class in an accelerated learning center in Balkh Province in Northern Afghanistan. The province she lives in has now been struck by massive drought which is causing severe food shortages. The UN says the Balkh Province has one of the highest rates of "severe food insecurity." (Photo: Mats Lignell / Save the Children)

As drought and food shortages have struck Afghanistan, there are alarming reports of child malnutrition. A survey by the charity Oxfam Novib in two drought-affected provinces (Faryab and Saripul) showed global acute malnutrition (GAM) in nearly 14 percent of small children. The global emergency threshold number is 15 percent.

A study by the aid agency Medair showed GAM rates of 30 percent for children 6-59 months in the Badakhshan Province in northeast Afghanistan.  This is a high number of children threatened with such poor nutrition that they face lasting physical and mental damage.

The charity Save the Children is taking action by helping community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) in drought-ravaged northern Afghanistan. This includes providing the miracle peanut paste Plumpy’nut to save small children from the potentially deadly effect of malnutrition. Funding will be crucial to Save the Children so it can carry out this work.

Save the Children is also starting a cash-for-work program in Faryab and Saripul to help families struggling with high food prices and unemployment. The U.S. Food for Peace program is sponsoring this initiative. It could not come at a more critical time.

The United Nations says: “The drought has added burden to an already volatile and impoverished country with considerable challenges and unacceptably high rates of malnutrition.” The UN just issued an appeal for $142 million for drought relief. Even before this disaster began to strike, the UN was low on funding for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

The drought and resulting food shortages place even further strain on an already weakened country. The United Nations reports that “even in normal times Afghanistan has high malnutrition rates with 59% and 9% of under five (U5) children being stunted and wasted, respectively, and 72% of children 6-59 months, 48% of non-pregnant women and 18% of adult men being iron-deficient.”

This malnutrition rate among children is coupled with a lack of education. The UN states there is a “silent crisis of the 42% (5,000,000) children who are not in school due to poverty and vulnerability. More children will be affected by the drought.”

The country already has many street children who are forced to beg for food and other basics. The drought may very well increase the ranks of children forced into this kind of desperation.

What will come next, without robust intervention, will be a steady deterioration within Afghanistan. It is already under way. The charity CARE reports that in the provinces of Jawzjan and Balkh, 80 percent of farmland is unusable because of the drought. People are being forced from their homes in search of food and new jobs to support themselves.

World Vision, working in Ghor and Badghis provinces, finds that “the drought has already severely affected households in these regions where many water sources are running out, children started to get small jobs instead of going to school to improve their family income, while some households started to sell their assets to buy food.”

When food safety nets are not in place, one thing leads to another. Families get forced into desperate actions. If they sell assets to get food today, it also means fewer resources for their livelihood tomorrow. Children may drop out of school and thus sacrifice their future. This is what is happening in Afghanistan. When funding is low for aid agencies, it means there is nothing for the poor to fall back on.

The UN World Food Programme, for instance, had to severely cut back its school meals program because of low funding from the international community. So that is one less safety net in place.

The international community will need to act quickly to support aid agencies working to bring relief and long-term solution to Afghans.

The Afghan people will never be able to make progress if they are constantly fighting off one shock after another. It’s not until there is solid respite from shocks that real development can take place. This all starts in the area of food and nutrition. For without healthy children, there is no road to peace and progress in Afghanistan.

Article first published as Is Anyone Paying Attention to Food Shortages in Afghanistan? on Blogcritics.

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The Investment We Need to Make in Afghanistan

WFP's Food for Training Program in Afghanistan provides rations for street children at Aschiana Foundation Centers. Funding is needed by WFP and Aschiana to ensure these programs can be maintained and expanded to reach impoverished children. (photo courtesy WFP/Assadullah Azhari)

In my article Food and Hope for Street Children in Afghanistan, I talked about a promising collaboration between the UN World Food Programme and the Aschiana Foundation; the idea being food for Afghan children can give them an opportunity to get the education and the training they need to have a future. It’s the one chance Afghanistan has.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided photos of this initiative. It’s a life changer for street children, who live in poverty and are forced to beg just to get basics. With rations provided to them by WFP, they can concentrate on tutoring and training provided at Aschiana Foundation Centers.  It’s a safety net for the street children and their families.

Many an ill of a society can be fixed if children get the right nutrition and education. It’s vital we remember this now, when many people want to turn away from Afghanistan.

A massive drought has struck parts of Afghanistan this year. Food shortages exist in many provinces. Food prices are high. Malnutrition is likely to get worse. The UN World Food Programme is facing a huge funding shortage despite the recent 40 million dollar donation by USAID. The international community needs to come together and invest in fighting hunger in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan drought crisis comes at the exact time Congress is proposing reducing international food aid, one of the most inexpensive foreign policy initiatives. Reducing Food for Peace and other hunger fighting programs will harm Afghanistan and other countries where development and peace are on the line.

Support for the World Food Programme, Aschiana Foundation, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Oxfam and others is vital at this stage. There should be no withdrawal of humanitarian aid from Afghanistan.

Article first published as The Investment We Need to Make in Afghanistan on Blogcritics.

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Food for Afghan Schoolchildren Runs Out as Drought Strikes

How can we expect to write the peace without basic food and education for Afghan children? Low funding for WFP has forced the reduction of school feeding programs in Afghanistan. (WFP/Ebadullah Ebadi)

As drought and high food prices have descended upon Afghanistan, safety nets have been taken away from children. Low funding for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) means 1.5 million Afghan children are no longer receiving a school feeding ration.

The situation is getting worse. WFP reports that the supply of fortified high energy biscuits for Afghan school children will run out by November. This will bring a halt to school feeding in Afghanistan and leave another 500,000 children without a school meal. A donation from India is expected to arrive in December, but this will allow for only a limited resumption of the program.

WFP depends entirely on voluntary donations by the international community. Since funding has run dry, all year they have been forced to reduce their school feeding and other food aid programs in Afghanistan.

While they have done this, drought conditions have set in around parts of the country causing food shortages. High food prices remain a threat to the entire impoverished Afghan population.

While hunger escalates in Afghanistan and around the world, the U.S. Congress is proposing reducing funding for the Food for Peace and other global hunger fighting programs.

Food is desperately needed right now in Afghanistan. The international community needs to support urgent food aid for the drought-affected areas. School feeding should be resumed at once and expanded where possible.

Afghanistan’s future cannot be built upon hunger, suffering, and a lack of education. Child feeding programs take on the utmost urgency as malnutrition and lack of education threaten an entire generation of Afghans.

Article first published as Food for Afghan Schoolchildren Runs Out as Drought Strikes on Blogcritics.

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Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country

October 7th marks the 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. And as if war has not been enough, famine is descending upon Afghans.

Drought has struck 14 provinces in Afghanistan. Crops have been ruined and food supplies are almost gone. The charity Oxfam says, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

As famine conditions have strengthened, funding for UN World Food Programme (WFP) has diminished. The UN food agency relies entirely on voluntary donations.

WFP was forced to cut school meals for hundreds of thousands of Afghan children earlier this year. In a country deeply mired in poverty, school meals are a lifeline the children desperately need.

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of hunger and malnutrition in the entire world. If this crisis, which is often ignored by policymakers, were given more attention many of Afghanistan’s ills could be remedied. For food is the foundation of peace, education and literacy, and maybe most of all hope. Hope and Afghanistan are two words not often associated.

There is talk of donor fatigue when it comes to Afghanistan and hunger relief in general, but this is nonsense. Food aid programs make up less than one tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget.

Congress has proposed reducing funding for the Food for Peace and other hunger fighting  programs. This is such a mistake when peace in Afghanistan and other parts of the world depend on fighting hunger.

After World War II, when a CARE package center was opened in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio people flocked there to buy food for hungry people overseas. The first one to do so was a former World War I infantryman.

The first World War saw immense human suffering from both warfare and the resulting famine, and this donor had compassion and first-hand understanding of their plight. Americans from that generation did not suffer from donor fatigue, and continued feeding the hungry during the war and afterwards. Following the Second World War millions more were saved, and Europe was rebuilt from the important foundation of food.

Today, we cannot forget about Afghanistan nor let the people suffer. On this 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, let’s work to win the peace. It can start with fighting hunger.

Article first published as Afghanistan 10 years later- Starvation Threatens War-Torn Country at Blogcritics.

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