Drought Spreads Across Continent

famine africa
(Photo: AFP)

A devastating famine, provoked by drought, is steadily moving north from Southern Africa, where it has affected more than 13 million lives. Two years of alternating droughts and floods, mismanagement of land and food supplies, political instability, and regional conflicts are being blamed.

Emergency warnings and appeals for aid are coming in from East, West, and Central Africa. In Eritrea, because of the lack of seasonal rains and the aftermath of war with Ethiopia, 1 million of the country’s 3.7 million people face drought and starvation. Farmers in Gambia are despairing as a shortage of rain is causing new seedlings to wilt and die off. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria has estimated that by 2010 around 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa—nearly a third of the population—will be malnourished.

“Unless the government acts immediately or the donor community responds quickly to avert this serious situation, the drought will develop into widespread starvation,” warned Ethiopia’s The Reporter (independent, July 28), which estimated that 8 million people in the country face starvation.

Referring to the lack of rain in Gambia, The Independent (independent biweekly, July 24) wrote that the situation was “alarming and unprecedented....Unless the people start serious planting of trees to revive and maintain our natural land features, the problem of low rainfall [will] continue to affect the region.”

Though many African leaders traveled to the June World Food Summit in Rome, immediate results were not forthcoming. The East African (independent weekly, June 24) said, “It is a pity that African leaders went to the conference with begging bowls in their hands, while neglecting other options that could permanently eradicate hunger on the continent.” One option, the paper wrote, would be to address “armed conflicts, bad governance, insensitive agricultural and land-use policies, and unsustainable utilization of land and other environmental resources.”

The lack of arable lands (which make up 22 percent of Africa’s land surface) continues to be a problem, as more of this land is used for urban development, road and telecommunication networks, and the cultivation of nonfood crops. Declaring that “Africa is its [own] worst environmental enemy,” The East African argued that “many African leaders have failed to find any meaningful solution to the problem of harmonizing all these disparate land uses for sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, districts in Kenya are reporting that approximately 1.3 million Kenyans are facing famine despite a recent surplus in maize production.“There is little to show that the [Kenyan] government is stockpiling last year’s surplus,” accused The Nation (independent, July 23).

Rather than waiting for unreliable international aid, the paper concluded, the Kenyan government “should move fast to purchase the surplus produce and stockpile it before it rots away in the villages.”