News / Africa

Building Resilience Against Hunger

A Zimbabwean mother arrives to collect her monthly rations of food aid from Rutaura Primary School in the Rushinga district of Mt Darwin about 254km north of Harare, March 7, 2013. More than 6 million people across Angola, Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe are at risk of severe food shortages because of repeated cycles of drought and flooding.  REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
A Zimbabwean mother arrives to collect her monthly rations of food aid from Rutaura Primary School in the Rushinga district of Mt Darwin about 254km north of Harare, March 7, 2013. More than 6 million people across Angola, Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe are at risk of severe food shortages because of repeated cycles of drought and flooding. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo


Joe DeCapua
A new report said the developing world is taking a beating from climate change, extreme weather, conflict, environmental degradation and poor governance. It said to ensure food security under these conditions, emergency aid must be coupled with development assistance.

The Global Hunger Index, or GHI, for 2013 says while overall hunger is decreasing – it remains pretty bad in 19 countries. In fact, the index described hunger in those countries as ranging from alarming to extremely alarming.

Chris Bene of the Institute for Development Studies in London is one of the GHI authors. He said, “Sub-Saharan Africa is a part of the world where things are not as easy as they are probably in some other region. So indeed, some of the major concerns, that the report [stresses], are actually countries in sub-Saharan Africa - for different reasons. You still have some pockets or so in South Asia, but some of the major concerns are still in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The index lists Burundi, Eritrea and Comoros have the highest levels of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa.

The 8th annual report is published by IFPRI - the International Food Policy Research Institute – Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. It monitors 120 developing countries and countries in transition. Findings are based on the proportion of people who are undernourished; the proportion of children under five who are underweight; and the mortality rate of kids under five.

The GHI said more than two-and-a-half-billion people live on less than two dollars a day. So, a sick family member, a drought or the loss of a job is a major crisis. The report said they have no coping mechanisms left to deal with a crisis.

“A lot of people in the world are still very vulnerable to shock. When those people don’t have those ways to protect themselves – when they are hit by those shocks – they may make decisions which seem very rational at the short-term level, but may actually have very detrimental consequences in the longer term,” said Bene.

For example, if farmers lose their crops to drought or flood, they also lose their income and food supply. They may try to cope by cutting back on the amount of food their families eat.

“Which,” he said,“is what everybody will do in the short term. But one of his kids is still under three-years-old. The thing is that when kids in their very early age and very early stage of development don’t receive the appropriate amount of food -- appropriate amount of nutrition -- that can actually have [a] detrimental effect not simply in the next two months, but actually for their entire life.”

An undernourished child may have an under developed brain, damaging his or her ability to learn.

Bene agreed with a growing call from humanitarian groups that communities need to build resilience against shocks.

“Resilience will be the ability of people to prevent themselves from making [a] decision that can affect them detrimentally in the long term.”

But building resilience is not a one-size-fits-all policy. It has to be tailored to specific circumstances. For example, pastoralists in the Sahel depend on livestock for their livelihoods. But recurrent droughts may decimate their herds.

“So, their livestock is dying or they’re failing in terms of getting enough cash. So they will have the tendency to make a rational decision in the short term, which is I’m going to sell some of my livestock to get some cash to be able to buy food. In the short-term fine, but in the long-term that livestock is actually their bank. Getting milk. They get meat. But they also use it later to buy some assets,” he said.

But Bene said that in the long term they would struggle because they’re selling their livelihoods.

“One way to strengthen the resilience of those types of communities would be to put in place an intervention that helps those households or communities not to sell the livestock following a drought. You can put in place some form of insurance. If it’s proven that your community has been affected by a drought, you receive a certain amount of cash, which you use so that you are not forced to sell your own livestock. OK. That would be an example.”

Another example would be to establish early warning weather systems for those living in coastal communities. Knowing exactly when a major storm will hit would allow residents to take timely action.

He said, “It seems pretty simple, but for those people it may actually make the difference between leaving too late, not leaving at all or deciding in a proper way to protect yourself.”

Good governance at the local level can also build resilience through emergency response plans or the building of shelters.

The Global Hunger Index says building resilience “fundamentally transforms economic, social and ecological structures” to absorb both mild and severe shocks.

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