Drought in Africa Has Spread to Sahel

By: Justin Chan

News of the famine and drought in Africa has not been promising. Since last summer, region after region has fallen victim to the drought that first affected Ethiopia and Somalia, next spread to the Sudan and is now affecting countries in the Sahel region.

According to CNN, like other recent social media campaigns, UNICEF recently took to the internet to promote a crusade it calls #SahelNOW. It has asked users of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to share a video that addresses the scarcity of food that affects approximately 1 million children that live in the region. The Sahel is a relatively obscure strip of land located near the Sahara Desert and experiences frequent droughts. Along with countries like Senegal and Chad, it currently faces a number of dire circumstances, including poverty, drought and displacement. At least 10 million people are in danger of dying of starvation.

Although the Sahel is rich in resources, it has also become victim to political upheaval. As The Guardian points out, a military coup in Mali, an uprising in Libya and a series of terrorist attacks in Nigeria have all contributed to the region's deteriorating conditions. The Sahel is gradually becoming home to more and more separatists, who have forced many from Mali and other areas to flee.

"These are families who have had to hastily flee the violence and they don't have access to basic products like clothing, blankets or cooking utensils. In one out of every five families there is at least one child suffering from severe acute malnutrition," said Helen Valencia, Action Against Hunger's emergency team leader. "The conflict in the north is an aggravating factor to an already fragile situation."

The political friction, along with the famine, have forced many to take extreme measures to cope with the dire situation. "People are trying to cope with that by selling their personal belongings -- cattle, livestock," said David Gressly, UNICEF's regional director. "They're pulling children out of school to adapt to this."

Although several agencies have worked to provide aid to the region, funds have come up short. The Food and Agriculture Organization said it only raised $10.3 million of the $75.4 million it needed to help the 4.7 million individual beneficiaries. UNICEF has asked governments worldwide to help it reach its goal of $120 million, but it has only received $30 million so far. It maintains that sufficient financial aid will dramatically change the lives of those in the region.

"We have the technology and the knowledge to treat these children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition very effectively," said Werner Schultink, chief of nutrition at UNICEF.

For more information on how you can help, visit UNICEF's website.

Photo: European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

For more updates on Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Current Water Scarcity May Lead to Higher Food Insecurity

By: Justin Chan

Countries such as Sudan may find it even more difficult to cope with a potential famine after the United Nations released a report detailing the water scarcity farmers currently face.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the report warned that farmers will need at least 19 percent more water by 2050 in order to satisfy the increasing demands for food. Much of the demands are coming from regions that are already dealing with water scarcity, making it incredibly difficult to ensure food security. "In many countries water availability for agriculture is already limited and uncertain, and is set to worsen," the report said. "Concerns about food insecurity are growing across the globe and more water will be needed."

The report's release coincided with the start of the World Water Forum in Marseilles. Government officials joined industry representatives and non-government organizations to discuss resource management, waste, health risks and climate change. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who attended the meeting, said that the increasing water shortages "are an unacceptable situation." At least 12 countries in South Asia and the Middle East suffer from "absolute water scarcity," and farming has been a major consumer of water in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Oman and Yemen. In most cases, the freshwater supply in the region comes from outside while half of the grain consumption is imported. "The scale of the problem could worsen," said Olcay Unver, who compiled the report.

Agriculture, in general, is responsible for 70 percent of global freshwater use and close to 90 percent in some fast-developing countries. At least a quarter of the world's farmland, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said, is "highly degraded" by the intensive agriculture that has shortened the water supply.

The lack of reforms focused on water use, moreover, can potentially lead to a water stress for more than 40 percent of the world's population by 2050."We need to give water a price," said Xavier Leflaive, the author of the report. "Governments have to act and in a strong way."

In an effort to raise awareness about water scarcity, both the UN and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have called on countries to make better use of wastewater, 80 percent of which is not collected or treated. "If we don't take the challenge seriously we are on a collision course with nature and in the end, what needs to be done will take longer and cost more," said Angel Gurria, the OECD's secretary general.

Photo: Shykh Seraj 

For more food news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Swedish 9-Year-Old Milla Martin Raises Money for Famine Victims with Cinnamon Buns

By: Cyndi Amaya

While many times we see or hear news about atrocities in other countries, most of us can be accused of apathy due to our lack of effort to actually try and help. When news broke out of the famine in the Horn of Africa, many chipped in with donations for the famine victims upon hearing of the millions that would be affected.

Even our own Marcus Samuelsson hosted a brunch in this own home to raise fund for the afflicted which was then brought directly to those suffering by his lovely wife Maya.

Aside from his strong philanthropic leaning, clearly Marcus' strong ties and origin from Ethiopia would draw his attention and earnest to help. But few times do we see someone with no direct connection pitch in to help remedy a situation (Kony campaign aside).

Thankfully, this was not the case for 9-year-old Milla Martin from Sweden. So moved from news stories and photographs of children, like herself, starving in Africa, Milla launched her own campaign to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. Through the sales of her cinnamon buns and calling for hundreds of Swedish children to join in the campaign, Milla was able to collect more than 200.000 Kronor (about $35,000) to help the starving children in Africa.

I was able to connect with Milla and her father, Henrik for a quick interview on how she started her bake sale fundraising. Check out Milla's story in her own words...

How did you first hear about the famine in Africa?

We talked a lot about it at home, since it was all over the news last summer. I saw many terrible pictures with starving kids both in the newspapers and on the television, they were so thin. It was awful.

What made you want to do something to help?

I felt frustrated and angry that the world is so unfair. We have so much food and so many things, and they have nothing. It must hurt a lot to starve. So I felt I had to do something.

Tell me about your fundraiser.

I don't have any money, and no job. I am only nine, you know. So I realized I had to sell something to raise money for the starving children. I really like cinnamon buns, so I figured I could bake some and sell them. Most people in Sweden like cinnamon buns.

But I needed to find a place where there were lots of people. So I went to the local supermarket and asked if I could sell my cinnamon buns outside their entrance. They were very kind. They even suggested that they could bake the cinnamon buns for me. So they baked 200 cinnamon buns that it took an hour for me to sell (I charged about US$ 2 per cinnamon bun, since that is the amount needed to save one starving child.)

Then I donated the money to a Swedish charity that focuses on Africa's Horn. That felt very good, and I realized that many more Swedish children can do this. So I started a blog and a Bacebook page called "Bullhjalpen" (the Cinnamon Bun Aid).

How much do you want to raise in total? and How can people help?

Thanks to the blog and Facebook, and some newspaper articles, the word has spread in Sweden. Thousands of children have now sold cinnamon buns and donated the money to the charity I donated to. In total, we have raised more than US$ 35,000. That's a lot of money, I think. I really don't have a goal, I just want us to send money until the children have stopped starving. The world is still unfair, you know. It would be great if children in the US could start doing the same thing!

Do you plan to help other causes in the future, too?

I think I would like to help with other causes too. I have learned so much and it feels very good to help people who are not as fortunate as me. But right now I want to focus on the children in Africa, there is still so much to do for them.

Click here to read Milla Martin's blog (in Swedish). To see how you too can help famine victims, check out ways to donate by clicking here. 

Photos courtesy of Henrik Martin

For more interviews and updates, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Sudan's Food Crisis May Escalate to Famine

By: Justin Chan

Sudan is currently facing rising food costs, but a larger problem is looming.

As the country's inflation continues to increase, experts have cautioned that Sudan could be on the brink of famine by March. According to AlertNet, the Famine Early Warning System warned that the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states could reach emergency levels next month. Tensions between the government and rebels in those two states have forced approximately 140,000 refugees to flee to South Sudan and Ethiopia. The United Nations similarly warned that the number could reach at least 500,000 in the next few months.

"(This is) a looming catastrophe that will make Syria, in terms of total casualties, look like a gang war in the park," said Sudan analyst Eric Reeves. "There's no food getting in. There's no food being produced. All the food reserves were consumed by mid-summer. They are eating grass. They are eating inedible berries."

Humanitarian organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to provide aid to such war-torn areas. Khartoum, Sudan's capital, has refused to allow agencies to provide assistance to areas that are controlled by the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement-North. It fears that the aid will be given to the rebels rather than the civilians in need. Still, it has not stopped some organizations from filing requests for access. "We submitted a new proposal to the government on how (rebel) SPLM-N controlled areas could be assessed and reached with emergency food assistance," said Amor Almagro, an information officer at the World Food Programme  in Sudan. "We are awaiting to hear from them."

Khartoum's refusal to allow agencies to provide humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas  is nothing new. "This is a regime that did the same thing in the 1990s to these people; that has relentlessly denied humanitarian relief in Darfur; that denied, at times, over one and a half million people in South Sudan access from Operation Lifeline Sudan," said Reeves.

Since fighting broke out in South Kordofan last June and in Blue Nile last September, hundreds have been forced to take shelter elsewhere. The international community has been working to reach some sort of compromise that will lessen the severity of the situation. "We are calling for the U.S. to work multilaterally to get support for some kind of alternative mechanism to be getting food in there or to be prepositioning food on the borders to be ready for this situation," said Dan Sullivan, director of policy and government relations at United to End Genocide.

Photo: United Nations Photo

For more news on Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Challenges in Sudan Worsen Food Crisis

By: Saira Malhotra

The Voice of America reported this week on the crisis taking place between Southern Sudan and Sudan. Since Southern Sudan declared independence, the fighting has not ceased. However, in addition to the  fighting between Sudan and Southern Sudan, there has also been inter-tribal fighting in the Southern state of Jonglei.

Oxfam is concerned that the fighting could result in a food shortage due to the precarious situation at the border that has made it difficult for agriculture and aid to get to the area. Sudan's Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states are at great risk as Northern Governments engage in battle with rebel groups of the South.

According to Joanna Trevor, Oxfam humanitarian policy advisor, "There are estimates that the people in parts of those states will be reaching an emergency level, which is phase four, which is one below famine..This is because of not being able to get to the areas to plant and now to not harvest following the rainy season due to the conflict and insecurity."

Approximately 55,000 people are seeking refuge at camps and the numbers keep growing. There are also concerns regarding how long aid agencies will be able to provide assistance since one cap has already been bombed. Trevor said "I think that security is going to be one of the big concerns going forward, which is why at Oxfam we have been asking or calling for the international community alongside the African Union to really push for a cessation of hostilities and ensure that the fighting stops and that people can receive aid".

Sudan is not the only country where fighting is adding further burden to food shortage. Somalia also has its plate full of problems with militant group Al Shabaab. However, according to the Strategy Page, with the prominence of Kenyan forces in towns, such as, Fafadun Eladeand (by the border of Kenya), Al Shabaab is beginning to retreat. There are growing concerns that Al Shabaab is moving towards Baladwayne, though it is believed that their power is weakening as the terror group is finding it hard to recruit people and resorting to under-aged children.

For more information and a Brief History of Food and War, click here to read Food Republic's article. 

Photo: United Nations Photo

For more updates on Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)