Into mid-2011, the world’s worst food crisis is being felt in East Africa, in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
Despite successive failed rains, the crisis has been criticized as avoidable and man-made. This is because the situation had been predicted many months before by an international early warning system. Both the international community and governments in the region have been accused of doing very little in the lead up to this crisis. In addition, high food prices have forced food out of the reach of many people, while conflict in Somalia has exacerbated the situation.
As the international organization Oxfam describes1: 12 million people are in dire need of food, clean water, and basic sanitation. Loss of life on a massive scale is a very real risk, and the crisis is set to worsen over the coming months, particularly for pastoralist communities.
Early warning systems had predicted this months earlier
As Inter Press Service (IPS) reported, despite the conflicts in the region,
Knowing about these things in advance is significant in terms of lives, costs and preparedness. The US government agency USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network had predicted the crisis in November 2010, noting that
As international humanitarian and development organization Oxfam explained, many (often simple) preventative actions could have been taken, assuming funds were available earlier:
But, as Oxfam notes in another article, donors and governments fail to deliver on East Africa aid effort:
But it is not just the international community. Various actors in the region also face criticism and question. For example, as the above IPS article had also noted, the effects of the drought were made worse by the Al Shabaab militia group in Somalia, which had blocked donor agencies from operating within its territories in 2009 — now the famine zones. Admittedly, the extremist group recently lifted its ban, as IPS also noted.
Another example is the governments of the affected countries as well as the African Union. Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumire, writing for Oxfam, noted that the African Union had complained about lack of funds6 because governments have not put enough money in. Although Kenya opened its borders for an influx of Somalian refugees, Kagumire criticized the response as lacking urgency and not being effective.
Somewhat predictably, media coverage seems spotty. At times there are detailed reports, often responding to government and other large international agency pushes to address the crises. Other times, the coverage vanishes from mainstream headlines and prime time viewing almost as soon as reporting has started.
On the morning of Sunday, July 31, during a review of British Sunday newspapers by the BBC, commentators noted how only one paper had a front page story about this crisis while almost all of them had something about a second Royal wedding. (It wasn’t necessarily ignoring Africa, either, as the also important story about the US debt crisis also barely featured on any papers headlines!)
And of course, most of the reporting has followed after the crisis has happened.
It is also interesting to note how quickly the international community mobilized against Libya8 with military and other actions, when far less people (in number) were affected.
Food and agriculture goes to the heart of our civilizations. Religions, cultures and even modern civilization have food and agriculture at their core. For an issue that goes to the heart of humanity it also has its ugly side.
This issue explores topics ranging from the global food crisis of 2008, to issues of food aid, world hunger, food dumping and wasteful agriculture such as growing tobacco, sugar, beef, and more.