International aid agencies are
offering sobering assessments on hunger: ActionAid says over 700 million people
face chronic hunger. Oxfam says up to 17 million of them are in the Horn of
Africa. Some analysts are wondering if the
Horn, already experiencing acute malnutrition in certain areas, could progress
toward famine. Reporter William Eagle talked to
some experts about the issue.
Rising food prices, drought
and conflict are contributing to increased hunger. In several areas of the Horn
of Africa there are precursors to famine, including acute malnutrition, the
sale of family assets like livestock to purchase food, and even the movement of
families and villages in search of sustenance.
Chris Leather is a humanitarian
coordinator for Oxfam.
"Somalia is a particular area of
concern," he says. "It is already a huge humanitarian emergency where there [are] high
rates of acute malnutrition, large-scale displacement, breakdown of social
structures, and people are detached from any means of earning a living. All
these factors mean it is a massive humanitarian emergency with difficulties in
providing humanitarian assistance."
The World Food Program says an
estimated 3.5 million people will need emergency food and medical assistance in
Other areas of the Horn of Africa
in similar circumstances include parts of Ethiopia, Darfur province in Sudan
and parts of northern Uganda and Kenya.
In southern Ethiopia, up to six
million people need emergency food relief in several regions, including the
Oromiya Somali regions and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's
In a recent report of the UN
News Agency (IRIN) [www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=81657], a farmer in Tigray province explains that effect of the high price of foods
on his family. Kahsay Beyen said he used to sell his ox for up to US $80
[between 600 and 800 birr], but even that cannot match the price of a bag of teff used for making bread. It now costs $120 per bag [12,00 birr]. He says may
have to sell his 10 sheep to pay for food. The drought has already killed all
seven of his young lambs.
The insufficient rainfall over the
last year means a shortages of staples like barley, potatoes and maize.
Bjorn Ljungqvist is the UNICEF representative for Ethiopia.
"People who normally get 30 to 50
percent of their food supplies from short rains," he says, "are failing to get that
essential complimentary foods because the food prices have gone up and there is
nothing really to buy for it. There is nothing to substitute for the loss of
their own harvest with food on the market because of the growing food prices.
That is why things are evolving rather quickly."
Severe food shortages are also
present in Zimbabwe, parts ofKenya and the Karamoja region of Uganda.
But some say so far, humanitarian
agencies have been able to prevent the situation from reaching the level of
Mohamed Suleiman is the
representative in the Horn of Africa for the Famine Early Warning System, or
FEWSNET. The group, which is funded by USAID, uses satellite images and other information
to study changes in conditions that could indicate growing hunger or even
potential famine. The organization shares its findings with national
governments and humanitarian agencies.
"There is a lot of early warning
information around, a lot of communication," he says. "Now the biggest problem we have is
Somalia, where we have a host of major problems like conflict, insecurity
widespread in the south and drought conditions in south-central region, hyper
inflation, displacement, high malnutrition rates. [Despite] all that, there is
humanitarian activity going on -- diaspora support through remittances, and the
ability to move [to better areas]. People can go into camps and across
Suleiman says the Horn is experiencing severe
food insecurity but he does not expect widespread starvation or famine in any
of the countries of the Horn this year.