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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 returning refugees.

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 mismanagement.

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.

• 13 million people are threatened with starvation in southern Africa.

• 2 million people face hunger and malnutrition in Indonesia.

• One-third of the population goes hungry in Brazil.

• More than 800 million people suffer hunger worldwide; among them are 300 million children.

• 30 million people lack sufficient food in the United States.

•An estimated 24,000 people die of hunger every day.

Sources: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization; U.N. World Food Program; Guardian Weekly.

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