Wednesday, September 30, 2009

World Food Day and Global Warming: Articles and Reflections

by Tim Wright

Perspectives on the East Africa drought from local experts.
A personalized and informative article in the Guardian newspaper provides insight into how the drought affecting pastoralists and others in Kenya, focusing on Moyale, which is close to the communities in which Sauti Moja works. Mpoke, a Maasai veterinarian reports, "In the past we used to have regular 10-year climatic cycles which were always followed by a major drought. In the 1970s, we started having droughts every seven years; in the 1980s, they came about every five years, and in the 1990s, we were getting droughts and dry spells almost every two or three years. Since 2000, we have had three major droughts and several dry spells. Now they are coming almost every year, right across the country." (These observations are consistent with the precipitation records that I analysed 10 years ago.) Mpoke added, "The frequency of heat waves is increasing. Temperatures are generally more extreme, water is evaporating faster, and the wells are drying. Larger areas are being affected by droughts, and flooding is now more serious. We are seeing that the seasons have changed. We have more unpredictable, extreme weather. It is hotter than it used to be, and it stays hotter for longer. The rain has become more sporadic. It comes at different times of the year now and farmers cannot tell when to plant. There are more epidemics for people and animals." There is more in this article that should interest Sauti Moja’s donors.

Perspectives on the drought from OXFAM
OXFAM, a well-known UK charity, conducts high-quality analysis with an international focus on social justice. Recently, they published a report indicating that more than 23 million people are being pushed towards severe hunger and destitution across East Africa. The severe and persistent five-year drought, deepened by climate change, is now stretching across seven countries in the region and exacting a heavy human toll, made worse by high food prices and violent conflict. The worst affected countries are Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda. Malnutrition is now above emergency levels in some areas and hundreds of thousands of cattle - people's key source of income - are dying. People are surviving on 2 liters of water a day in some places - less water than a toilet flush. (In many cases, they have to buy the water, thereby further reducing capacity to buy food!) This is the worst drought that Kenya has experienced for a decade, and the worst humanitarian situation Somalia has experienced since

Food Aid perspectives from the World Food Program.
With more on the consequences of the drought on food supplies, a Globe and Mail article indicates that malnutrition is rising dramatically in Kenya, with the level of severe malnutrition climbing to 24 per cent among children in the hardest-hit regions – far more than the 15-per-cent threshold for an emergency. Children are dropping out of school because their parents can't even afford the cost of textbooks. (Other reports indicate that food prices have doubled.) This article notes that, normally, the World Food Program of the UN would address much of the food shortage by providing emergency food aid. Donors have been slow to respond. Only 35 per cent of the WFP's emergency operations are covered by donations at this point, and the agency needs another $230-million to meet the need. “We recognize that many of our donors have been affected by the world economic crisis, but unless we feed the hungry, the situation in Kenya will only get worse,” said Gabrielle Menezes, a WFP

Donor nations are reneging on commitments for food aid.
Another Globe and Mail article confirms that the WFP and other agencies are unable to respond adequately to the food crisis in the developing world, and that international emergency food agencies are bracing for the next blow. Cheques are due from donor countries like Canada on massive recent funding commitments, but many of the promises were made before recession and trillion-dollar bailouts left rich nations with crushing deficits! Even the most reliable donors are taking a hard look at foreign aid, as gross domestic product declines.

Further, this week, the Guardian reported more on this from Bangkok where preliminary climate change negotiations are underway, in preparation for Copenhagen. Though food riots in more than 20 countries last year persuaded rich countries to give a record $5bn to the WFP to help avert a global food crisis brought on by record oil prices and the growth of biofuel crops. But new data shows that food aid is now at its lowest in 20 years. Countries have offered only $2.7bn in the first 10 months of 2009. "Even under our best scenarios, we will end the year $2bn short," said Sheeran, Head of WFP. "Many of our funders do not feel that they need to give on the level of last year. They think the world food crisis is over, but in 80% of countries, food prices are actually higher than one year ago." As a result of this funding shortfall, more than 40 million people could be affected by the WFP having to scale back food rations. Countries most likely to be hit include Bangladesh, where the budget is likely to be cut by as much as 50%, and Kenya, where similar cuts will worsen the plight of millions of extra people made destitute by a long drought. This includes the pastoralists that you support and we serve; they really need help in this desperate time!

Military spending instead of food aid?
In my opinion and as an aside, we must call on our nations to re-direct military spending to social justice issues, including addressing climate change and providing development aid, rather than making an excuse of shortage of funds. For example, the Stokholm International Peace Institute found that spending on military hardware in 2008 was as follows: USA $607 Billion; China, 84.9; France, 65.7; UK, 65.3; Russia, 58.6; Germany, 46.8; Japan, 46.3; Italy, 40.6; Saudi Arabia, 38.2; and India, 30. Note that the USA spent 27% more than the combined spending of the next nine nations. The food aid for WFP was $5 Billion in 2008 from ALL the countries in the World; the USA spent $607 Billion on weapons that year!

Sabotaging both aid and climate change targets!
In relationship to the accountability of Western nations for global warming, OXFAM published an article about the up-coming Copenhagen meetings. Their fear is that the USA and other rich nations, including Canada, are sabotaging a serious response to global warming. In contrast, developing countries are willing to negotiate and respond appropriately; for example, China is a world leader in renewable energy investment, has committed to reduce emissions in line with its economic growth path, and has offered support to help developing countries, including small island states and African nations, adapt to the impacts of climate change. An OXFAM policy analyst says, "It's the US that needs to make the toughest choice in Copenhagen: does it join the rest of the world to strengthen and build on the Kyoto model of binding targets, or remain the odd one out? It is useful that the US is prompting a debate on who does what under a global agreement, but if it really hopes to have a constructive dialogue with developing countries it has to up the ante first by tabling an offer of finance and emissions cuts commensurate with its historic emissions and economic weight. They are now openly insisting climate finance should come from existing aid budgets.” Further, OXFAM is concerned about the diversion of aid funding to climate funding; "Aid must be increased, not diverted. If promised aid increases are plundered for climate purposes, it could mean that 8.6 million fewer people will have access to HIV and AIDS treatment, 75 million fewer children will be in school, and 4.5 million more children die than would otherwise be the case." (This really an implicit call to action; Sauti Moja donors and others’ lobbying our government is potentially critical to the well-being, and perhaps survival, of our beneficiaries and their children. It really is life and death!)

Food waste actually does contribute to hunger!
At a personal level, I have never been very attentive to not wasting food, and rejected my mother’s guilt trip, “Eat your food, Tim. Think of the hungry in Africa.” However, a study out of the UK has made me re-think the value of personal and collective action; researchers reported that eliminating the millions of tonnes of food thrown away annually in the US and UK could lift more than a billion people out of hunger worldwide. Government officials, food experts and representatives of the retail trade brought together by the Food Ethics Council argue that excessive consumption of food in rich countries inflates food prices in the developing world. Buying food, which is then often wasted, reduces overall supply and pushes up the price of food, making grain less affordable for poor and undernourished people in other parts of the world. Food waste also costs UK consumers £10.2bn a year and when production, transportation and storage are factored in, it is responsible for 5% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissionsTristram Stuart, a contributor to the study said: "There are nearly a billion malnourished people in the world, but all of them could be lifted out of hunger with less than a quarter of the food wasted in Europe and North America. In a globalised food system, where we are all buying food in the same international market place, that means we're taking food out of the mouths of the poor." The article also has suggestions for reducing

Bleak predictions from the food experts!
Without dramatic reversal of the current trend in climate change, the future looks bleak. The International Food Policy and Research Institute recently published a report that integrates climate and agricultural production models with population predictions. Though there is variability in modeled prediction, the direction would be valid and the conclusions true, given some leeway for time. The findings indicated that if global warming goes unchecked, all regions of the world will be affected, but the most vulnerable - south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa - will be hit hardest by failing crop yields. Analysts at IFPRI concluded that over the next few decades, prices of food will increase dramatically, per capita food availability in Sub-Saharan Africa will drop to a level below the standard for emergency relief, and worldwide, 25 million more children will be malnourished.

“Pastoralist Voices” is an authoritative report that you can subscribe to.
Our supporters may find that ‘Pastoralist Voices’, which is published regularly by UNOCHA, informative. The October 2009 issue noted that pastoralists are the most affected and remain the most vulnerable to climate related disasters in Kenya.
· The population in need of emergency humanitarian assistance are some 3.8 pastoralists and 1.5 million children from these drought-affected pastoral areas; they all require food assistance.
· Acute malnutrition for children was reported to be 20 per cent above global rate.
· Depleted livestock, limited pasture and water from the cumulative effect of cyclic drought and the availability of small arms are forcing aggressive pastoralists’ cross-border movement in ways that is triggering violent armed cross-border conflict.
· Affected communities in the pastoral livelihood zones are trekking between 20 – 25 kilometers against the normal average of seven kilometers in search of water.
· Emergency responses are failing on three counts. They fail to prevent the recurrence of crisis. They fail to support the capacity of the pastoral community to withstand the effects of shocks. And they fail to adapt to the changing nature of shocks. There is an urgent need to develop responses that address the underlying causes of the increasing vulnerability facing agro-based livelihoods (livestock and farming).

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