States of Hunger: 13 Million Face Starvation in Southern Africa
by Donald Paneth •
Thursday August 29, 2002 at 02:28 PM
A food crisis in seven southern African countries —
Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe — is threatening 13 million people
with starvation. The crisis is taking place in a world
plagued by hunger amidst plenty.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has
appealed for $611 million to provide close to one million
tons of African food relief. Contributions, which up to
now total about $128 million, have been slow in coming.
Among the donors have been the United States, $98 million;
the United Kingdom, $28 million; Canada,
$993,000; the Netherlands, $491,000; Norway, $398,000.
The crisis in Angola first emerged during a prolonged
civil war. The conflict ended in April with a
cease-fire agreement between the Angolan government
and the rebel forces of UNITA. At least 750,000 people
were uprooted during the conflict, and the dislocations
did not end with the cease-fire. Others in need of food
assistance are the families of UNITA soldiers and
In the six other countries, the crisis developed “following
two successive years of poor harvests,” the U.N.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said. Other,
more long-term contributing factors, according to U.N.
missions to each country, were economic crises, disruption
of farming activities, policy failures and political
Malawi, for example, was driven to sell off its
national grain reserves to the hungry. “With abnormally
high malnutrition rates among small children and
women and extremely high food prices, desperation set
in and survival strategies such as skipping meals and
eating often poisonous wild foods were widely reported,”
the FAO said.
The severity of the crisis in southern Africa has been
exascerbated by the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection
in the world, the WFP said. Large numbers of people
are unable to work.
In a recent survey of development goals, U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that “If we do not
contain the spread of HIV/AIDS and work on its prevention
we will witness a tragic and profound unravelling of
social, educational, governance and commercial frameworks
all over the world, but most acutely in Africa.”
Word comes simultaneously of critical food shortages
in Indonesia and Brazil.
On July 1, the WFP launched a $65 million relief operation
to assist 2.1 million internally-displaced and poverty-
stricken Indonesians. “We know, for example that in
the four major cities where we work, half of the children
under five years of age are stunted in growth and 30 percent
are underweight,” Mohammed Saleheen, WFP country
director, said. The poor cannot pay the spiraling costs
of food, petrol, and other commodities, he said.
In Brazil, one of the world’s big food producers, one
third of the population goes hungry, Jan Rocha disclosed
in the Guardian Weekly. “The governments and
corporations that run the world insist that only free
markets, the removal of trade barriers and the spread of
GM (genetically modified) crops will solve the problem,”
Rocha wrote. “But so far this sort of globalization
has only brought more, not less hunger.”
At the World Food Summit in Rome in June, Annan
declared that “Every day, more than 800 million people
— among them, 300 million children — suffer hunger.
As a result, according to some estimates, as many as
24,000 people die every day.”
The U.S. refused to sign a final Summit declaration
referring to food as a human right. It supported a much
narrower world-hunger agenda focused on a greater
role for the private sector, including advancing the
interests of biotechnology firms.
Exasperatingly, leading governments and transnational
corporations refuse to enact fundamental remedies.
They would rather contribute to paltry relief efforts. It is
much more profitable to maintain the status quo.
President Bush smiled amiably at the recent G-8 meeting
in Canada, but the session failed to address the global
imbalances, distortions, injustices that are promoting
misery. Annan, FAO, and WFP can’t criticize U.S. views
and actions without losing further U.S. support.
The problem of world hunger is not a lack of food but
a lack of access. Increases in food production during the
past 35 years have outstripped the world’s unprecedented
population growth by about 16 percent, Frances
Moore Lappé writes in World Hunger: 12 Myths with
Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset.
“Mountains of unsold grain on world markets have
pushed prices strongly downward over the past threeand-
a-half decades,” Lappé said.
HUNGER: THE NUMBERS
• 13 million people are threatened with starvation
in southern Africa.
• 2 million people face hunger and malnutrition
• One-third of the population goes hungry
• More than 800 million people suffer hunger
worldwide; among them are
300 million children.
• 30 million people lack sufficient food in the
•An estimated 24,000 people die of hunger
Sources: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; U.N. Food and
Agriculture Organization; U.N. World Food Program; Guardian Weekly.