Friday, May 16, 2008

Global Hunger

In the International Herald Tribune published May 6th, David Applefield, an American writer and media-trainer who lives in Paris and works in West Africa puts a real face on the global food crisis (a few excerpts below, you can read the entire story here):

"It isn't until you watch a hungry child eat at your kitchen table who has just arrived from one of the poorest nations in the world, Sierra Leone, that the reality of world hunger begins to strike home."

"This week, Ali Kamara, a skinny 15-year-old from Freetown with a life-threatening heart defect, arrived in France for what we hope will be life-saving open heart surgery - the replacement of an aortic valve severely damaged by a streptococcal infection."

"So when my kids asked him, what is your favorite food, he looked dumbfounded. Luxury was not in the alimentary selection, it was in the ability to have a hundred grams of broken rice each day."

"At his first breakfast in France, Ali turned away from the strangeness of a pain au chocolat. He was frightened of our dog and cat and perplexed by our battery of kitchen appliances."

"By the second day, he had taken on the joy of a chicken leg and helped himself to glasses of pineapple juice. And in the evening, he petted our dog Salsa, started to repeat simple sentences in French, and even became rapt at all the functions of an Ipod."

"The sad fact is that the Ali Kamara of a week ago is still more of the rule than the exception in the world today. As the price of rice continues to climb, Ali may return to Freetown with a repaired heart and a new lease, but he still may not be able to eat."

Reports indicate that worldwide, the cost of food has increased by about 40 percent since mid-2007, and the strain has led to food riots and protests in countries such as Somalia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Haiti. The World Bank has warned of food riots and unrest in 33 nations and world leaders are concerned the situation could spark political unrest. They have a reason to worry; Haiti's prime minister was fired following violent protests over rising food prices. And although we have yet to see a mob of hungry people overthrow a government, that is no longer such a far fetch scenario.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where more than 8 million people live on less than $2 a day should also be of particular concern. The food crisis could easily undermine the stabilization work the UN has done there and precipitate a new wave of boat people to U.S. shores. A CSIS report says:

“The riots and looting that took place this week underscore how fragile any poor country is when confronted by global trends that reverberate in the form of scarcity. Donor countries, which are scheduled to meet in Port au Prince on April 25 to discuss progress to date on development and poverty reduction, must focus on basics—getting adequate food to the neediest and ensuring that the World Food Program, whose Haiti appeal for $84 million remains unmet, can begin to relieve the crisis. (Today, only $12.4 million has been received to address Haiti’s food emergency.) Politics is not mob violence. President PrĂ©val has demanded calm, and the streets are quiet today. But unless the global community rises to the occasion and finds a way to meet immediate human needs, all the stability operations of the United Nations will not overcome the basic human instinct of fighting for food to survive.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has indicated that rising food and fuel prices would result in a significant reduction in emergency food aid. According to press reports in March 2008, USAID expects a $200 million shortfall in funding to meet emergency food aid needs. The Congressional Research Service, reports that for FY2008, Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for P.L. 480 food aid, the same as FY2007. For FY2009, the President’s budget again requested $1.2 billion. In six out of ten years since 1999, supplemental funding for P.L. 480 Title II food aid has been appropriated. Last year, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimated it would need $2.9 billion to cover 2008 food aid needs. Recent commodity, energy, and food cost increases have boosted this estimate to $3.4 billion. According to the WFP, the current price increases force the world’s poorest people to spend a larger proportion of their income on food.

And as if these were not bad enough news, the World Bank has this to add:

"The observed increase in food prices is not a temporary phenomenon, but likely to persist in the medium term. Food crop prices are expected to remain high in 2008 and 2009 and then begin to decline as supply and demand respond to high prices; however, they are likely to remain well above the 2004 levels through 2015 for most food crops. Forecasts of other major organizations (FAO, OECD, and USDA) that regularly monitor and project commodity prices are broadly consistent with these projections."

The hard life has just gotten harder. The tragedy is - there are more Ali Kamaras out there ... lucky enough to get a new lease in life only to find that living still means constantly subsisting in the shadow of hunger...

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