Tag Archives: famine

Horn of Africa Famine: Millions at Risk

Horn of Africa Famine: Millions at Risk in “Deadly Cocktail” of War, Climate Change, Neoliberalism.

The United Nations has called an emergency meeting to discuss the Horn of Africa drought, which it says has already claimed tens of thousands of lives. Famine was declared in two regions of Somalia on Wednesday where 3.7 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Another eight million people need food assistance in neighboring countries including Kenya and Ethiopia. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the situation a “catastrophic combination of conflict, high food prices and drought” and has appealed for immediate aid. We go to Nairobi for an update from Kiki Gbeho of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. We also speak with Christian Parenti, author of “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.” “This was predicted long ago by people on the ground,” Parenti says. “It’s a combination of war, climate change and very bad policy, particularly an embrace of radical free market policies by regional governments that mean the withdrawal of support for pastoralists, the type of people you saw with their dead cattle.” [includes rush transcript]

Two Plus Two Equals Five – A 2nd look at disaster death tolls

Two Plus Two Equals Five – By Philip Walker | Foreign Policy.

The death toll and level of destruction immediately following a disaster are always difficult to determine, but over time a consensus usually emerges between governments and aid organizations. But, as David Rieff points out, “Sadly, over the course of the past few decades, exaggeration seems to have become the rule in the world of humanitarian relief.… These days, only the most extreme, most apocalyptic situations are likely to move donors in the rich world.” And with donor fatigue an ever-present possibility, it is no surprise then that later studies that contradict the original, inflated estimates are criticized — or worse, ignored — for seemingly undermining the humanitarian cause.

Arriving at these estimates is no easy endeavor, as government agencies and relief organization are rarely able to survey entire populations. Instead, emergency management experts rely on sound statistical and epidemiological techniques. But debating and questioning the numbers behind man-made and natural disasters is not just an academic exercise: the implications are huge. For example, relief agencies were restricted from operating in Darfur, partly because of Sudan’s anger that the U.S.-based Save Darfur Coalition had estimated that 400,000 people were killed in the region. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council used the International Rescue Committee’s death toll of 5.4 million in the Congo to put together its largest peacekeeping operation ever. Similarly, government aid pledges increase or decrease depending upon the extent of the disaster. Numbers do matter, and much depends upon their validity and credibility. What follows is a look at some recent disasters where the numbers just don’t match up.

Above, a view of some of the destruction in Bandar Aceh, Indonesia, a week after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 227,898 people died and about 1.7 million people were displaced in 14 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa. Indonesia, the hardest hit country by the disaster, initially claimed that 220,000 people had died or went missing but ended up revising that number down to around 170,000.

THE DEADLIEST WAR IN THE WORLD

Discrepancy: 5.4 million vs. 900,000 dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2008

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the past 15 years. The war in the DRC officially broke out in 1998 and although the conflict technically ended in 2003 when the transitional government took over, fighting has continued in many of the country’s provinces. The conflict has been dubbed “Africa’s World War,” both due to the magnitude of the devastation and the number of African countries that have, at different times, been involved in the conflict. According to a widely cited 2008 report by the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), “an estimated 5.4 million people have died as a consequence of the war and its lingering effects since 1998,” making it the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II. The organization is one of the largest providers of humanitarian aid in the Congo and is therefore deemed one of the few reliable sources on the conflict.

However, Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said the IRC study did not employ appropriate scientific methodologies and that in reality far less people have died in the Congo. “When we used an alternative measure of the pre-war mortality rate, we found that the IRC estimates of their final three surveys, the figure dropped from 2.83 million to under 900,000,” Mack argued. (He also argued that international relief agencies — such as the International Rescue Committee — are facing a potential conflict of interest because they depend on donations that, in turn, are stimulated by their studies of death tolls. Those studies should be done by independent experts, not by relief agencies that depend on donations, he says.)

Above, the body of a young man lying on the central market avenue of Ninzi, about 25 miles north of Bunia, where on June 20, 2003, Lendu militias launched an attack, killing and mutilating at least 22 civilians.

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 15,000 women raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2006 and 2007

A June 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 400,000 women aged 15-49 were raped in the DRC over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. The shockingly high number is equivalent to four women being raped every five minutes. Perhaps even more alarming, the new number is 26 times higher than the 15,000 rapes that the United Nations reported during the same period.

Maria Eriksson Baaz, a Swedish academic from the University of Gothenburg, has called the study into question by arguing that it is based on out-of-date and questionable figures. As a long-time researcher on women’s rights in the DRC, Baaz claims that extrapolations made from these figures cannot be backed up scientifically. In a recent interview with the BBC, she said it was difficult to collect reliable data in the Congo and that women sometimes claim to be victims in order to get free health care. “Women who have been raped can receive free medical care while women who have other conflict-related injuries or other problems related to childbirth have to pay,” she said. “In a country like the DRC, with [its] extreme poverty where most people can simply not afford health care, it’s very natural this happens.”

Above, Suzanne Yalaka breastfeeds her baby Barunsan on Dec. 11, 2003, in Kalundja, South Kivu province. Her son is the consequence of her being raped by ten rebels from neighboring Burundi. She was left behind by her husband and her husband’s family.

NORTH KOREAN FAMINE

Discrepancy: 2.4 million vs. 220,000 dead in North Korea between 1995 and 1998

Due to the regime’s secretive nature, reliable statistics on the 1990s famine in North Korea are hard to come by. Yet, surprisingly, on May 15, 2001, at a UNICEF conference in Beijing, Choe Su-hon, one of Pyongyang’s nine deputy foreign ministers at the time, stated that between 1995 and 1998, 220,000 North Koreans died in the famine. Compared with outside estimates, these figures were on the low end — presumably because it was in the regime’s interest to minimize the death toll.

A 1998 report by U.S. congressional staffers, who had visited the country, found that from 1995 to 1998 between 900,000 and 2.4 million people had died as a result of food shortages. It noted that other estimates by exile groups were substantially higher but that these numbers were problematic because they were often based on interactions with refugees from the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, which was disproportionately affected by the famine.

Above, North Koreans rebuilding a dike in Mundok county, South Pyongan province, in September 1997, following an August tidal wave after typhoon Winnie. The rebuilding effort was part of an emergency food-for-work project organized by the World Food Program. According to a former North Korean government official, during the famine — from 1993 to 1999 — life expectancy fell from 73.2 to 66.8 and infant mortality almost doubled from 27 to 48 per 1,000 people.

GENOCIDE IN DARFUR

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 60,000 dead in Darfur between 2003 and 2005

In 2006, three years after the conflict in Darfur began, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir publically criticized the United Nations for exaggerating the extent of the fighting in Darfur. “The figure of 200,000 dead is false and the number of dead is not even 9,000,” he proclaimed. At the same time, outside groups like the Save Darfur Coalition and various governments, including the United States, were having a difficult time producing concrete numbers as well. Their only consensus was that the real death toll was exponentially higher than those numbers provided by Bashir.

In 2005, a year after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a U.S. congressional committee that the ethnic violence in Darfur amounted to “genocide,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick estimated the death toll between 60,000 and 160,000. Zoellick was widely criticized for understating the numbers. The World Health Organization estimated that 70,000 people had died over a seven-month period alone. At the same time, researchers for the Coalition for International Justice contended that 396,563 people had died in Darfur. Today, the Sudanese authorities claim that since the conflict began in 2003, 10,000 people have died, while the U.N. estimates that over 300,000 have been killed and another 2.7 million have been displaced.

Above, an armed Sudanese rebel arrives on Sept. 7, 2004, at the abandoned village of Chero Kasi less than an hour after Janjaweed militiamen set it ablaze in the violence-plagued Darfur region.

CYCLONE NARGIS 

Discrepancy: 138,000 vs. unknown death toll in Burma in 2008

Tropical cyclone Nargis made landfall in southern Burma on May 2, 2008, leaving a trail of death and destruction before petering out the next day. It devastated much of the fertile Irrawaddy delta and Yangon, the nation’s main city. Nargis brought about the worst natural disaster in the country’s history — with a death toll that may have exceeded 138,000, according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology. But, with a vast number of people still unaccounted for three years later, the death toll might even be higher. The Burmese authorities allegedly stopped counting for fear of political fallout.

It’s more common for countries hit by a devastating disaster to share their plight with the world and plead for a robust relief effort, but in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis the Burmese military regime sought to maintain control over news of the disaster — restricting access to journalists and censoring the release of information and images. Moreover, the United Nations and other relief agencies were initially banned from setting up operations. At the time, with over 700,000 homes blown away, the U.N. and the Red Cross estimated that over 2.5 million people were in desperate need of aid.

Above, school teacher Hlaing Thein stands on the wreckage of a school destroyed by cyclone Nargis in Mawin village in the Irrawaddy delta region on June 9, 2008.

 

Two Plus Two Equals Five

What numbers can we trust? A second look at the death toll from some of the world’s worst disasters.

BY PHILIP WALKER | AUGUST 17, 2011

EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI

Discrepancy: 318,000 vs. 46,000-85,000 dead in Haiti in 2010

The devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, killed over 318,000 people and left over 1.5 million people homeless, according to the Haitian government. International relief organizations generally estimate anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000 casualties.

However, a recently leaked report compiled for USAID by a private consulting firm claims that the death toll is likely between 46,000 and 85,000, and that roughly 900,000 people were displaced by the earthquake. The report has not yet been published, but its alleged findings have already been disputed by both Haitian authorities and the United Nations. Even the U.S. State Department, for now, is reluctant to endorse it, saying “internal inconsistencies” in some of the statistical analysis are currently being investigated prior to publication.

PAKISTAN FLOODS

Discrepancy: Large numbers affected vs. small death toll in Pakistan in 2010

A young girl washes the mud from her toy at a water pump in the middle of collapsed buildings at a refugee camp near Nowshera in northwest Pakistan on Sept. 23, 2010. Figures provided by the United Nations and Pakistan’s government estimate that 20 million people were affected by the 2010 summer floods — the worst in the country’s history. Almost 2,000 people died, 3,000 were injured, 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed, and over 12 million people were left in need of emergency food aid, according to Pakistan’s National and Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Flood waters wiped out entire villages and vast stretches of farmland affecting an area roughly the size of England. After surveying 15 key sectors across the country, in Oct. 2010, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank announced an estimated damage of $9.7 billion — an amount more than twice that of Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake which killed approximately 86,000 people. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized the destruction as more dire than that caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake combined. “In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he stated.

David Rieff warns that, “By continually upping the rhetorical ante, relief agencies, whatever their intentions, are sowing the seeds of future cynicism, raising the bar of compassion to the point where any disaster in which the death toll cannot be counted in the hundreds of thousands, that cannot be described as the worst since World War II or as being of biblical proportions, is almost certainly condemned to seem not all that bad by comparison.” This was the case in Pakistan where the number affected by the flooding was gigantic but the death toll was relatively low — especially compared to the Haiti earthquake a few months earlier. As a result, the United Nations and other aid organizations were unable to raise large sums for the relief effort compared to previous disasters. “Right now, our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we’ve been receiving, even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we’ve seen in decades, ” said Louis-George Arsenault, director of emergency operations for UNICEF, in an interview with the BBC in Aug. 2010.

As David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross, discerningly put it, “Fortunately, the death toll [in Pakistan] is low compared to the tsunami and the quake in Haiti. … The irony is, our assistance is focused on the living — and the number of those in need is far greater than in Haiti.”

 

Peanut butter to the rescue in Somalia famine?

Peanut butter to the rescue in Somalia famine? – health – 26 July 2011 – New Scientist.

The Plumpy’Nut is coming. But will it arrive in time to save 3.5 million people who the Somali foreign minister says may starve to death?

Today the UN World Food Programme has airlifted 14 tonnes of the highly enriched “therapeutic” peanut butter to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, for immediate distribution to the 40,000 refugees who have gathered there to escape the triple crisis of drought-aggravated famine, war and escalating food prices.

Since it was recommended by the World Health Organization in 2007 as the emergency food of choice for malnourished infants, Plumpy’Nut, manufactured by French company Nutriset, has become a staple of international famine relief. Children can eat it straight from the packet instead of having to be fed intravenously. Based on peanut butter, it contains sugar, vegetable fat, and skimmed milk powder enriched with vitamins and minerals.

Now it’s at the heart of a twin-track plan agreed in Rome, Italy, today by the UN to address the famine crisis affecting 12 million people in the Horn of Africa.

Proven best

Stéphane Doyon, a nutrition expert for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, says that sending ready-to-eat therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut is the best strategy to combat malnutrition in children rapidly. “It’s proven to work best against severe malnutrition, especially in situations where you don’t have the flexibility to individualise interventions,” he says. “Based on clinical science and evidence, they contain the right blend of macro and micronutrients needed to rehabilitate children from severe malnutrition.”

The crisis is particularly affecting Somalia itself and neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, where refugees from Somalia are arriving at a rate of 1500 to 2000 per day, according to the UNHCR refugee agency. The UN today agreed that the long-term solution is to invest in the future of farming in the region, but the other, much more urgent priority is to save those close to death through starvation.

“It’s vital we reach those at the epicentre of the famine with food assistance, especially the highly fortified nutritious products that are so important for vulnerable children,” WFP’s executive director Josette Sheeran said in a statement in Rome.

Famine ravages East Africa

Famine continues to ravage East Africa – Features – Al Jazeera English.

In Somalia, where civil war has ravaged the country, where conflict continues to claim victims, a new hardship is being visited on the innocent.

Thirty years ago the world rallied to help the famine victims of Ethiopia and across the Horn of Africa, and vowed never again.

Now, after the worst drought in the region in 60 years, thousands are dead, thousands dying and more than 11 million people are at risk.

The drought was officially declared last week by the United Nations, and the international community is now trying to co-ordinate an action plan.

They gathered in Rome at the headquarters of the United Nation’s Farming and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the representatives of 191 countries, of non-government organisations, of charities and aid groups.

They were told by the foreign minister of Somalia’s government in exile Mohamed Ibrahim: “The people of Somalia now face widespread famine for a wide array of reasons, extremely low rates of rainfall for the past two years, al-Shabab’s blockade of humanitarian and aid agencies access to the needy, the vulnerability of the Somali people and the continual chaos and instability throughout the region”.

Famine in a failed state

The problem of access has dominated much of the discussion. Somalia is a failed state. The rule of law is ignored and the Islamist fighters of al-Shabab control large parts of the country. They have in the past banned international aid agencies from working in the area with threats of extreme violence. In early July it said would accept groups it had blocked. But just last week, it again said it would stop groups it considered Western or ”Christian”. And so people continue to starve, blocked from the help that could save them.

The famine is biting in Somalia, but 11 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea are also struggling to find enough food to eat. The drought has destroyed crops, conflict has forced people to run from the areas where they live, and – crucially – where they farm. The drop in production has led to a spike in demand, sending food prices soaring beyond the reach of most ordinary families. Refugees are spilling out of Somalia, heading to refugee camps where they hope not for a better life, but simply for the chance of one.

Josette Sheeran is the head of the UN’s World Food Programme. She arrived at the conference on the overnight flight from East Africa, having toured the areas most affected.

She saw thousands of Somalis slowly making their way to the temporary camps which are now almost bursting with exhausted, emaciated people. “What we saw is children who are arriving so weak that many of them are in stage four malnutrition and have little chance – less than 40 per cent chance – of making it,” she told the delegates.  “We also heard from women who had to leave babies along the road and make the horrifying choice of saving the stronger for the weaker or those who had children die in their arms,” she added.

Sheeran, who has been credited with bringing a new dynamism to the World Food Programme, denied that the world had ignored warnings that a crisis was coming, only waking up when pictures of dead babies started to fill the TV  screens. “This drought is worse than the one in the 1980s, but fewer people are dying because of the programmes put in place, the early-warning systems and the resilience measures that have been introduced.  It’s still too many and we need to work to save lives.”

Kanayo Nwanze is an agricultural specialist who runs the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. He welcomes the international intervention but believes Africa should be doing much more to help Africans: ”If Africa does not get its house in order and expects the world to help us out, we are dreaming”, said Nwanze. And he told me, “Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana are moving ahead with agriculture but less than ten countries have fulfilled the pledge they made in 2003 to set aside ten per cent of their budgets for agriculture”.

Nwanze pointed out that 30 years ago, Africa was a net exporter of many foods. “Now it imports.  And that is due to bad governance.”

The international community has pledged many millions to help with the immediate crisis, but Barbara Stocking of the charity Oxfam believes that short-term fixes don’t help the long-term problems.  Describing the famine as “shameful”, she said, “We have not had the investment in small producers across the world that was expected.  The money has simply not come through”. And she insisted that people must hold their governments to account when they promise money to help and then don’t follow through.

As one delegate told me: “People are dying in the drought in the Horn of Africa because the rains failed. The international community can’t afford to do the same.”

4 million homeless in Pakistan floods; U.S. to boost aid

4 million homeless in Pakistan floods; U.S. to boost aid – CNN.com.

By the CNN Wire Staff//
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Aid slow to flood-ravaged Pakistan

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • U.S. Sen. John Kerry says Washington plans to boost aid to the nation by $150 million
  • Pakistan floods leave more than 4 million people homeless
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to announce increased aid later

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — Floods in Pakistan have left more than 4 million people homeless, the United Nations said Thursday, as the U.S. plans to announce more funds for relief efforts.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry said Washington plans to boost aid to the nation by $150 million to prevent an increase of Islamist extremism amid the crisis.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce the increased aid later Thursday, Kerry said.

The latest number of homeless was double an earlier estimate of 2 million, prompting an urgent effort to secure more funds.

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Gallery: Flood rescue mission in Pakistan// -1) ? ‘intl’ : ‘www’;
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Video: Life at a Pakistan relief camp//

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Pakistan flood: Before and after//

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Chart: Aid for Pakistan//

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RELATED TOPICS

About a fifth of the country is submerged by floodwaters, and the threat of water-borne diseases such as cholera is a serious concern as families wade through chest-high, filthy water.

“We have decided to increase the number of targeted beneficiaries for tents and plastic sheeting, from the initial figure of 2 million, to at least 6 million,” said Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has pledged to ensure relief funds end up in the right hands.

However, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he believes more international aid is not streaming in because people want more transparency from the government. He proposed establishing an independent coalition to work on aid distribution.

The United Nations said it has received less than half of the $460 million it needs for relief efforts. Despite millions of dollars in support from other countries, the flow of aid is failing to keep pace with the need.

Analysts have attributed slow aid flow to governments suffering from “donor fatigue” with Pakistan.

For years, Pakistan has been on a seemingly constant round of donor needs — money to revive its feeble economy, fight the Taliban, recover from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2009 refugee crisis.

The latest crisis has affected about 20 million people. Relentless monsoon rains started falling three weeks ago, leading to massive flooding from the mountainous regions in the north to the river plains of the south.

More than 1,500 people have died.

Health officials fear a second wave of fatalities from waterborne diseases, including cholera, which is endemic in Pakistan.

Up to 3.5 million children are at high risk of cholera and other deadly diseases such as typhoid and dysentery, said Giuliano of the United Nations.

About 900,000 homes have been damaged, and the monsoon season is only about halfway over.