Throughout history, Africa has been ravaged by drought and famine, both of which have essentially become integral parts of everyday living on the continent. Harvests have been ruined and people and livestock have been left without food and water. But drought alone is not why Africans suffer regularly from famine and widespread malnutrition.
Most African countries are not self-sufficient in terms of food and rely heavily on imports as well as having the income to pay for them. Other factors at work include armed conflict, corruption and the mismanagement of food supplies, climate change, environmental degradation and trade policies that are detrimental to agricultural production. Not to mention the long-term economic effects of HIV.
Food security has been a major problem in Africa, and the continent has always been considered one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources. But despite its natural wealth and the massive aid flow to the region, it is still shockingly poor. Nearly half of the population in Africa is undernourished and more than 30 percent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. Experts have contended that the aforementioned factors have worked together to bring about deadly periods of starvation and stagnation in Africa in the face of seemingly growing economies in some countries.
UN figures show that over the past 30 years, several developing countries have reduced the percentage of undernourished in the population from 37% to 18%. East and South Asia, where there have been massive increases in agricultural production and significant economic growth, have reduced the figure from 43% to 13%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of undernourished is more today than it was 35 years ago.
It is true that famine and starvation have long stalked the Hone of Africa. The most well-known crisis occurred in Ethiopia in 1984-85 which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Today, the continent faces one of the most devastating famines that has ever occurred. Although signs of the drought were apparent since last year, donor countries including the United States, Canada, Britain and those in Europe, have reacted very slowly in providing aid to help prevent the crisis.
Currently, the disaster is unfolding in South Sudan, Somalia, Northeast Nigeria and Yemen, the poorest Arab nation in the world. The UN has stated that it has been the largest humanitarian crisis with more than 20 million people at risk of starvation or death since the body was founded in 1945.It has been due to a deadly combination of drought, political unrest, poverty and the thousands fleeing from conflicts to neighbouring countries. More than seventy percent of those currently facing starvation and death are children.
Despite warnings by the UN of an impending crisis in Africa last July, donor countries are just waking up to the most serious global crisis of the last 30 years.Lulled into thinking that Ethiopia in 1985 was the last of the large-scale famines to affect many millions in Africa, has resulted in slow pledges of support from donor countries.
Millions of children’s lives are hanging in the balance in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia. Without a major infusion of money and food, they are at imminent risk of dying from hunger and starvation. Millions more will become stunted by severe malnutrition and will be too weak to attend school.
The situation has reached a deadly tipping point and is projected to worsen over the next six months unless there is a major response of food and money from the donor countries. Urgent action is needed to prevent a catastrophe. The time to act is now.
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