Feeling Hungry?

Food prices are going up. A weekly grocery shop is more expensive than it used to be, and most shoppers are more discerning in finding bargains than a few years ago. Purse strings have been pulled tighter and we are all counting the cost of the ongoing effects of the financial crisis.

But we are not starving. We are not facing a famine.

Unlike almost 10 million people in East Africa.

Along with food price hikes related to fuel prices rising and increasing occurrences of drought and unpredictable rains, countries in the Horn of Africa are facing a severe food crisis.

Not only is food scarce, drought is killing off livestock, a source of food and income for many pastoralist communities in Kenya, Ethiopia and parts of Somalia, but the cost of food is going up and the value of selling livestock is going down. Some communities have lost land to tourism and large-scale agriculture, and now with impeding famine, will suffer greatly.

Imagine someone taking away your job, your only source of income, removing all the shops from your area and destroying any ability you have to grow your own food. Famine is a total lack of resources to feed yourself and your family, with the only option to depend and rely on others to provide for you.

These East African countries are facing this food crisis. We who have an abundance of food need to respond.

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Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 7:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Broken Promises?

As Obama waves farewell to the UK after his fleeting visit and heads to the Normandy coast for the G8 world leader’s summit, many are speculating what promises will be made at this meeting of the top world powers.

The agenda is jam-packed with issues, notably the financial crisis and the response to the Arab spring, but also with reference to emerging technologies and the effects of climate change.

Yet at this meeting of world leaders they appear reluctant to comment on the aid effectiveness agenda, not least because many of them have failed to deliver on the pledges made back in 2005, and have even been accused of ‘cooking the books’ in a recent report.

It appears that the conflict in Libya will dominate the agenda, and a summit once famed for focusing on global poverty and the plight of millions in the developing world is unsurprisingly concentrated on US and EU political interests.

Many are looking to the G20 now as a summit of truly influential world powers, and the hope is that the aid agenda there will be given adequate attention. For despite recent scepticism over aid, the recent financial crisis and recurring disasters causing damage in the developing world require urgent action and a committed response from the international community.

Published in: on May 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fighting for the right to water

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution yesterday asserting the right to water and sanitation as a basic human right. For most of us, that seems to be common sense, something taken for granted.

So why is this UN resolution so important? The debate has been going for many years as in the original United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) there is no specific mention of water or sanitation. This is assumed to be because it was seen as a precondition for other human rights, and therefore did not need to be included.

However, it is evident that this is an issue that needs to be highlighted. With climate change, threats of wars over water and the fact that millions of people still lack access to clean water and sanitation, it is an issue that cannot be sidelined any longer.

The resolution passed yesterday was by no means unanimous. The abstention by some may seem unreasonable, but as a non-binding resolution it expressed the overwhelming support from countries across the world for water and sanitation to be seen as a basic human right. However, it is far from being set in stone as a formal human right, awaiting an independent report on the issue due to be presented to the  UN Human Rights Council next year.

I often take for granted the gift of clean running water, and forget how landmark resolutions like this symbolize a change in lifestyle and health for millions of people worldwide. I leave you with some thought-provoking statistics.

  • In 1998 the equivalent of $11 billion was spent on ice-cream in Europe. To provide universal access to clean water and sanitation would have cost $9 billion.
  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
  • 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre (but not in their house or yard) consume around 20 litres a day. In the UK, the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 litres a day).

Statistics taken from here.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today I had just returned from an amazing weekend up in Edinburgh. I joined hundreds of thousands of others for the Make Poverty History rally, campaigning for a radical change in global politics to highlight key issues such as trade, aid, debt and HIV/AIDS affecting developing countries.

 Five years later, the white wristband I wore is gathering dust at the back of my cupboard, but the issues remain as pertinent as ever.

 Whilst the Make Poverty History Campaign disbanded in 2006, the coalition of organisations involved still remains committed to fighting global poverty.

 There have been many successes from the campaign; more and better quality aid has been given to developing countries allowing governments to tackle poverty more effectively. Education has been prioritised with 33 million more children worldwide now able to attend school, and antiretroviral drugs are more widely available, tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Confronting the underlying injustices in trade and debt systems has seen debt burdens cancelled for 20 countries and the campaign for fair-trade has become more than just a fad.

 Yet challenges remain, targets are missed, and new crises arise. The financial downturn has impacted heavily upon developing countries, and climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable.

 Make Poverty History inspired many and created a momentum for demanding radical change. The problems may seem insurmountable but change is possible. Poverty is not, and should not be seen as inevitable.

 “Above all, making poverty history is about supporting developing countries to make their own choices in the best interests of their people. It is about helping, not hindering.”

Jenny Ricks: ActionAid

Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Let them eat cake…

The DRC celebrated 50 years of independence this week, with foreign dignitaries and the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon gracing the shores of the Congo River with their presence.

Yet despite all these celebrations, the country is still torn apart by violence, and insecurity has forced many to flee from their homes. International peacekeeping forces MONUC struggle to maintain control, lacking essential resources.

It is not just rebel groups that are feared, but the government forces are regarded with apprehension, with soldiers accused of perpetrating crimes against civilians; violent attack, looting and rape.

For those who have fled, there is little hope of returning home to their villages, now associated with violent attack and terrifying memories.

President Kabila is determined to oust the international peacekeeping forces, but this threatens to exacerbate the insecurity in the already unstable country. Promises of peace seem to be merely daydreams.

Few Congolese will be celebrating independence in lavish security as the president has this week. There will be no cake for the displaced and poverty-stricken. Their celebrations may not be of winning independence from their colonial oppressors, but instead a thankfulness that they have survived (unlike millions of others – 5.4m have died in the violence since 1998).

The Congolese have demonstrated an admirable resilience over the years, clinging to each other in times of desperate need. This is what should be celebrated, their perseverance and endurance despite brutal challenges. This vision of the remarkable strength and courage of humanity is displayed beautifully in a set of photographs ‘From Congo with Love’ by Rankin.

‘Fair trade is just a fad…’

Last week we ran out of coffee in the office. Someone was quickly dispatched to go and buy the much-needed replacement, as the next delivery was not to arrive for another week. Unfortunately the purchase was neither good quality nor fair trade.

This was brought into sharp perspective for me when I re-watched the BBC3 episode of ‘Blood, Sweat, and Luxuries’ from last week. The series follows a group of spoilt, privileged and naive young Brits as they are put to work in the vilest of conditions in Asia and Africa in order to really find out where their luxury goods come from.

This week they were sent to work on a coffee plantation in rural Ethiopia, and were put to work alongside the locals, working in the same conditions and earning the same wage, which was to cover their food and rent for that week.

The programme is well worth watching, and despite the irritating personalities of some of the young people, others have been truly challenged and changed by the experience. One girl who had dismissed fair trade as simply a fad, was so outraged at the treatment of the local workers by multinational coffee companies that she declared that fair trade should become a universal standard.

Perhaps one day it will, but for now I will continue the small battle in my workplace to make sure that we are buying and drinking fair trade.

We cannot do everything, but we must not do nothing.

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Forgotten Conflicts: Conflict in Chad

The widespread nature of the conflict in Sudan has been highlighted in the media coverage of Darfur, yet little attention has been directed to what has been happening across the border.

Tens of thousands of displaced people in eastern Chad are hoping that the political promises made recently between the President Idriss Deby and Sudan’s President Omer Al-Bashir will finally broker a lasting peace in the region. The decades-long conflict in Sudan has resulted in a spillover of violence from the Darfur region into the north-east territory of Chad, with Darfurian refugees adding to the numbers of Chadians already displaced by the conflict. Aid agencies working in the region have suffered kidnappings and security threats. The UN deployed extra troops into the region last year, but with numerous rebel groups launching an armed opposition to the government insecurity still reigns.

On February 9th, the two Presidents vowed to work together to bring about peace and stability in the region. They will target the opposition groups and aim to enter into peace talks with them to bring a halt to the violence across the border, with Al-Bashir asserting “We have decided that the border will be for mutual benefits and social relations and not to be a passageway of weapons”. It will also see an enhanced military operation patrolling the border, in an attempt to implement peace agreements signed in recent years.

However, there is still a long way to go, and the ethnic and political tensions underlying the conflict will take time to resolve. Moreover, there are fears that without a distinct UN presence in the region (after the Chadian President ordered the departure of UN troops) the population will be vulnerable to further outbreaks of violence.

The prospect of peace in the region remains fragile, but the renewed partnership between the two governments offers some hope for the future.

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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Forgotten Crisis: Guatemalans go hungry

It may not have reached our front pages, but across the Atlantivc celebrities like Christian Aguilera have highlighted the plight of thousands of Guatemalans facing starvation. Rural Guatemalans are facing food shortages in a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world according to the WFP. Almost 70% of the population live in poverty, with limited access to water, sanitation and health services. Their insufficient income hardly provides for an adequate diet, and there are few resources to deal with natural disasters such as hurricanes that plague the region.

Guatemala’s President has declared a situation of ‘public calamity’ to try and attract funds to the region. The food crisis affecting the majority of the population has partly resulted from poor rains leading to failed harvests, but rising food prices have also contributed to the spreading poverty across the nation. The international community have responded by sending much needed aid, with the WFP launching campaigns to raise funds for essential projects in the country.

However, even the country’s President Alvaro Colom has admitted that it is not just drought that has pushed the country into crisis. There is food, but most of the population cannot afford to buy it. The missing link lies in the unequal distribution of land, creating a situation of food insecurity. Recent shifts in agricultural production have focused on producing produce for export, such as palm oil and sugar cane for biofuel, threatening the livelihoods of the rural poor, and undermining the country’s production of food, leaving the population increasingly vulnerable.

The country cannot continue to rely on aid to feed its population, but without clear reforms that will address the huge inequalities within society, Guatemalans will continue to go hungry for years to come.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Forgotten Crisis: India’s Maoist Rebellion

A rebel insurgency led by a group of leftist guerrillas has been terrorising civilians across central and eastern India since 2005. Thousands of villagers have been forced to leave their homes fearing torture and violence. The rebels are accused of forcibly recruiting children, of extortion and using landmines across the region. However the counter-insurgency mission ‘Operation Green Hunt’ by government security forces has provoked further violence, with accusations of using unnecessary force levelled at the government forces themselves.

The guerrilla war now poses a huge internal security threat to the country, with civilian deaths mounting as villagers get caught in the crossfire. The Maoists, also known as the Naxalites, insist they are fighting against the government in order to build a communist state, aiming to improve the quality of life for the rural poor. However, despite the government’s best intentions to fight the rebels, there has been little done to help the impoverished villagers who are directly impacted by the fighting. Some rights campaigners have warned that the ongoing violence could escalate into a civil war.

The government campaign to oust the rebels has been criticised for attempting to solve the problem using brute force, and has only fuelled more violence. The Naxalites are growing in numbers and power, and constitute a powerful threat to the current government. Government authority is called into question as they continually fail to bring the rebel groups under control.

Once likened to Robin Hood’s band of thieves, the Maoist rebels are fuelled by outrage at the poverty suffered by the rural communities. However, their violent tendencies are becoming more detached from their original ideals and have escalated into an armed offensive against the government oppression. Fear of attacks discourages villagers from voting, and without talks to bring the two sides together, the violence seems set to intensify.

“Life is very difficult,” the man said. “The Naxalites think we are helping the police. The police think we are helping the Naxalites. We are living in fear over who will kill us first.” (NY Times).

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Silent Emergency: Nepal

Nepal has been suffering silently from a food crisis, with poor harvests, political unrest and high food prices contributing to the problem. After a civil war that lasted over a decade ended in 2006, the devastated economy has struggles to support its citizens. People are forced to sell off possessions or borrow money just to afford to buy enough for their daily meal. Even then, access to markets is often compromised by regular strikes by Maoist rebels which block roads and prevent supplies reaching remote areas.

Over the last few decades Nepal has been unable to increase crop yields to keep up with the growing population and has become increasingly dependent on food imports, leading to a sharp rise in prices. Any fluctuation in the world food prices thus has a direct impact on the affordability of basic staple foods in Nepal. This has the greatest impact on the eight million poor who live in Nepal and spend over 80% of their income on food. The government has failed to put in place as yet contingency plans to deal with the food shortages across the country. Until recently the World Food Programme has been bringing essential supplies to remote areas, but even they have had to pull out of several projects due to lack of funding.

Enough food is produced globally to feed the planet but even so more than one billion people go to bed hungry every night. Hunger is a leading cause of death, killing more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. (Reuters Alertnet)

The silent emergency in Nepal will continue unless something is done now. The Guardian’s Ed Douglas points out that whilst there was immense support advocating for the rights of Gurkhas who served in the British army, there has been little attention drawn to the plight of millions of Nepalese who are going hungry every day. The long-term impacts of malnutrition will affect children and their health and education, threatening an even greater crisis in the years to come.

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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