Population Matters

A Bleak World Food Day

October 18th, 2011

October 16 was World Food Day, and with the famine spreading in the Horn of Africa, it was a bleak one.

This year, even setting aside that crisis for a moment, there is nothing to celebrate on World Food Day. With food prices just below record highs it is estimated that there are near 1 billion people around the world who are hungry. This means that tonight 1 in 7 people will be going to bed hungry.

The faces of the hunger crisis tend to be women and children. While women make up just over 50 percent of the world’s population they represent over 60 percent of the world’s hungry.  Nearly 150 million children in the developing world are underweight as a result of chronic hunger. According to UNICEF, 5 million children under the age of 5 die each year from under-nutrition.

High food prices are also impoverishing; the World Bank reports that rising food costs over the past year have pushed nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty.

The FAO is circulating an online petition on global hunger calling on people to get angry at the fact that around a billion people suffer from hunger.   Over 3 million people have signed the petition, but that public anger has yet to translate into public action on the kind of scale that’s needed to eradicate world hunger. Far too little is being done.

Unfortunately, the World Food Day the story is even bleaker than normal because of the famine in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years affecting more than 13.3 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia and killing tens of thousands. Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya are expected to recover once the rainy season comes this fall into December, but the situation in Somalia is bleak. The UN is warning that 750,000 people could die in the coming months. Currently a child dies in Somalia every 6 minutes.

Somalia is not only suffering from the worst drought in 60 years, but it is also dealing with decades of war and tribal conflict. According to USAID:

“Twenty ungoverned years have left the Somali people facing a daily reality of insecurity and conflict. This historic drought has pushed them beyond their capacity to cope, as degradation of agricultural and pastoral livelihoods, high food prices, violence, and control of resources by armed groups prevent millions from obtaining sufficient food and clean water. Even before the drought, over half a million Somalis had been living in refugee camps in the Horn, including in Kenya, where the world’s largest refugee camp has been expanding over the past 20 years.”

This intersection of drought and war has created a massive famine. The One Campaign has a great new video called “The F Word: Famine is the Real Obscenity” that makes this point that drought is an act of nature, but famine is man-made and it is time to put an end to famine. Sign the One Campaign’s petition to make sure the United States does it’s part to end famine by fully funding Feed the Future.

To keep up with projected population growth, the developing world will need to double its food production by 2050, and it will have to do so despite rising energy prices, climate change, and a growing shortage of arable land making it that much harder to fight famine. With this in mind let’s hope that we have more to celebrate on the next World Food Day.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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