Sunday, July 10, 2011

Horn of Africa or Horn of Cornucopia

Some 60 babies are dying each day in one camp. Every 24 hours, more than 3,000 malnourished people arrive at camps already too crowded to accommodate them. The lives of half a million children are at imminent risk. And, in total, no fewer than 12 million people are fighting for their very survival. In Somalia, a quarter of whose 7.5 million people are now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees, according to the UN. In Southern Sudan, the world's newest country, children make up nearly half the population, and one in nine die before the age of five. For a population of around eight million, there are only 100 trained midwives, and fewer than 500 doctors. These are the dry, statistical facts of life – and, increasingly, of death – in the Horn of Africa.

This is already a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions – worse, much worse than the one that inspired Band Aid, says Louise Paterson, director of the British medical aid agency Merlin in Kenya and Somalia. "We haven't seen anything like this for decades," she told The Independent on Sunday . "Hardened aid workers are weeping at what they see."

Marixie Mercado, a Unicef spokesman, told a news briefing: "We have over two million children who are malnourished. Half a million of these children are in a life-threatening condition at this stage – a 50 per cent increase over 2009 figures. Child malnutrition rates in some camps are at least 45 per cent, three times the emergency threshold"

Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya is now the largest refugee centre in the world, some 382,000 people are crammed into a facility designed for 90,000.

"This," said Antonio Guterres, the head of UNHCR "is the worst humanitarian disaster we are facing in the world."

The cycle of disaster-aid-disaster-aid,
from one crisis to the next must be broken. Henry Kissinger at the 1972 UN Food Summit and vowed to eradicate world hunger within 20 years. There is no shortage of organisations willing to try to remedy the situation. Charities launch campaigns, telling us what a donation of 20p, £1 or £100 will buy, holding back the more damning statistic that 95 percent of the money donated is eaten up in administration and infrastructure.

Under a system in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit, a system that has expunged the causes of war, a system that can locate people to areas less prone to flooding and drought, famine can then be a thing of the past. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisaion readily admits that the world produces more than enough to ensure "adequate food for all" (2,700 calories per person per day). In the 1970s, the World Health Organisation announced that we could feed a world population seven times its then size, and as late as 1995 admitted that Africa could feed a population six times its present size were western farming techniques to be introduced there.

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