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Food Security Top Priority for Africa at Climate Change Summit

The upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen comes amid warnings that rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are having a devastating impact on poor countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Malnourished children in Ethiopia
Malnourished children in Ethiopia

The upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen comes amid warnings that rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are having a devastating impact on poor countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. African leaders are hoping that rich countries at the summit offer to help nations suffering from food shortages.

Severely malnourished children are a common sight at feeding centers across Ethiopia. A quarter century after famine killed one million in this East Africa country, many people still do not get enough to eat.

Sufficient rains have failed for three years in a row. Sun burned stalks lie in fields, unharvested.

Across the Horn of Africa, 20 million people need emergency food aid.
Ted Chaiban is Ethiopia country director for UNICEF. He says droughts that used to hit every few years are now a regular occurrence.

"We have a situation which is difficult," said Ted Chaiban. "We are in the third year of difficult climatic conditions. El Nino is wreaking havoc with the region."

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is leading the African delegation to the Copenhagen summit. He says Africa suffers for the sins of wealthy, industrialized nations.

"Africa has contributed virtually nothing to global warming, but it is placed to lose most by climate change," said Meles Zenawi. "Africa is going to be hit hardest and it's going to be hit first. So we as Africans have more at stake than perhaps anybody else except small island states in making sure there is a robust fair and practical agreement in Copenhagen."

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping is also on Africa's negotiating team for Copenhagen. He says there's a clear link between crop failures caused by climate change and unrest in several African countries.

"We couldn't feed ourselves," said Jean Ping. "So you saw during that bad period of food crisis we had riots in many cities where the problem of food brought people to demonstrate and to use violence against the authorities." 

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says 31 countries face critical food shortages, the worst of them in drought-plagued East Africa. West Africa also is hard hit. The FAO reports too little rain caused significant livestock losses in Mali, Chad and Niger.

Africa's climate negotiators do not say how much compensation they will seek in Copenhagen. But Prime Minister Meles has suggested $100 billion a year might be reasonable. Much, if not most of that money would come from the United States, the world's largest economy, and the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.

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