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Food crisis in the Sahel

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UN-OCHA map of vulnerability to food insecurity in the Sahel.

ReliefWeb has a series of backgrounders, assessment reports and maps to explain the malnutrition and food crisis in the Sahel. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that the Sahel is characterised by long standing chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, poverty and extreme vulnerability to drought. “The localised deficit recorded for the agropastoral season 2011-12 and increasing cereals prices in Mali and Niger could bring millions of people at risk of food insecurity,” said the UN-OCHA briefing.

Throughout the Sahel, acute malnutrition in children reaches its annual peak during the hunger season. Children under two years of age have the highest risk of becoming sick or dying during this period. Malnutrition is caused by inadequate food quality and quantity, inadequate care, as well as unhealthy household environment and lack of health services.

The prevalence of global acute malnutrition met or exceeded the critical threshold of 10% in all of the surveys conducted in the hunger season of 2011 (from May to August). If food security significantly deteriorates in 2012, the nutrition conditions for children could surpass emergency levels throughout the Sahel region.

Affected countries are: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia (the), Mali, Mauritania, Niger (the), Nigeria and Senegal.

Food insecurity and malnutrition chronically affect a significant part of the Sahel population. However, several events came in 2011 which exacerbate this vulnerability:

1. In 2011 many parts of the region received late and poorly distributed rains, resulting in average harvests and serious severe shortfall in some areas. Consequently, the Government of Niger as an example has estimated that the 2011 agro pastoral season will record a deficit of 519,600 tons of cereals and of over ten million tons of fodder for livestock.
2. In Mauritania, authorities expect a decrease of more than 75% of the agriculture production and a strong fodder deficit.
3. In areas where harvests are weak, households will run out of food stocks faster than usual and will be forced to rely on markets for supplies, contributing to maintaining the already high prices at the same level.

UN-OCHA map of expected cases of severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel.

Furthermore, the purchasing power of the most vulnerable populations is likely to deteriorate. In addition the lean season is estimated to begin earlier than usual, probably as early as January 2012 in Chad, two months in advance. As the situation gets worse by spring 2012, there will be an increase of infant acute malnutrition, already beyond emergency thresholds in four wilayas in southwestern Mauritania.

Several countries in the Sahel have already announced measures taken to curb the negative effects of the food insecurity and malnutrition on vulnerable populations; who have not had enough time to recover from the 2009-10 crisis, despite the good harvest registered last year. Three countries (Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Mali) have also requested for assistance from the humanitarian community. In late November, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), administered by OCHA, allocated US$ 6 million to three organisations in Niger – the World Food Program, UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization – for emergency operations to fight food insecurity and malnutrition.

According to a ‘Humanitarian Dashboard – Sahel’ dated 12 January 2012 released by UN-OCHA, early indicators point to a likely food crisis in localised areas of the Sahel in 2012, with people at particularly high risk in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, and localized areas of Senegal. These are:

1. Acute food insecurity already noted in southeastern Mauritania.
2. Deficits in 2011, in agro-pastoral production led to higher market prices, resulting in an earlier than usual need for food aid.
3. Resilience to food insecurity is low in most vulnerable groups.
4. High poverty level in Sahel (51%) impacting on food accessibility due to high prices.

Food, climate, conflict – all that caused the Horn of Africa refugee crisis

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New arrivals from Somalia waiting to be registered at Dagehaley camp, in Dadaab. Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN

IRIN News has reported that about 1,300 Somalis are arriving at the Dadaab refugee camps in northeast Kenya every day. The help they are seeking – refuge from a severe drought and the effects of years of conflict – is being handed out as fast as possible. But in a camp complex that has already been stretched well beyond its limits, the new arrivals need more assistance than can be provided. The nutritional state of older children, as well as under fives, is of concern, but the local Kenyan population is faring little better.

“The number has skyrocketed,” a registration expert with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told IRIN. The official said UNHCR had had to hire more employees, who now work in shifts, to accommodate the rush. The three Dadaab refugee camps – Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera – were originally meant to cater for 90,000 refugees, but housed at least 380,000 people, according to UNHCR. Despite the overcrowding, the government of Kenya has yet to allow people to move into a fourth camp, known as Ifo II, which stands empty.

“Water systems, latrines and healthcare facilities are ready to use but are standing idle,” Oxfam said in a statement. Oxfam reported that 60,000 new arrivals were living in basic tents outside the camp boundaries, with limited access to clean water or latrines, risking an outbreak of disease. Those living in these informal settlements are some of the worst-off. In the settlements on the outskirts of Dagahaley camp, 17.5 percent of children between six months and almost five years old are severely malnourished, three times the emergency level, according to Caroline Abu-Sada, a research unit coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Newly arrived Somali refugees waiting to be registered at Dagahaley camp, Dadaab in Kenya. Photo: Al Jazeera/EPA

The lack of water in the outskirts was a real concern. Refugees are only able to obtain up to three litres of water a day, 80 percent less than they need according to the Sphere Standards, which are already based on emergency situations. Some are only receiving 500ml for drinking, bathing, washing clothes, and everything else. By comparison, in North America and Japan most people use 350l a day, according to the World Water Council. Water is now being trucked to the camp outskirts by MSF and CARE, but there were previously only 48 taps for 20,000 people. Abu-Sada said diarrhoea was already rampant, along with skin rashes and respiratory infections.

More than 11 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid across the region, a UN News report has said. Almost 500,000 children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are suffering from imminent, life-threatening severe malnutrition. In addition, over 1.6 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF.

In addition to the thousands of people from Somalia seeking refuge in Ethiopia and Kenya, millions more are living on the brink of extreme poverty and hunger, suffering the consequences of failed rains and the impact of climate change, said the agency. UNICEF has appealed for $31.8 million to ramp up assistance to the Horn of Africa over the next three months, especially for children, who are suffering the brunt of the crisis. It says the most urgent needs include therapeutic feeding, vitamin supplementation, water and sanitation services, child protection measures and immunization.

In Geneva, two UN human rights experts appealed to the global community to take “concerted and urgent” measures to assist the millions who are suffering in the region, warning of large-scale starvation if international intervention is not forthcoming. Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, noted that drastically increasing food prices and continuing conflict and insecurity have caused a huge displacement of the population, with thousands of Somalis fleeing to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti every day. Bari, who last week visited Somalia and Kenya, said the situation was markedly worse than in March, when he had expressed concerns over the slow response of the humanitarian community to the situation.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said the international community should be prepared for more such droughts. “This crisis looks like a natural calamity, but it is in part manufactured,” De Schutter said, adding that climate change will result in such events being more frequent. He called for, among other measures, emergency food reserves in strategic positions, and better preparedness for drought, for which Governments must be held to account.

“With a rate of child malnutrition above 30 per cent in many regions of these countries, the failure of the international community to act would result in major violations of the right to food,” De Schutter said. “International law imposes on States in a position to help that they do so immediately, where lives are at stake.”

Shokuri Abdullai like most mothers in Bisle feeds her family boiled maize in the Somali region's Shinile zone (Ethiopia). Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

Al Jazeera has reported that Kenya has agreed to open a new camp near its Somalia border to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing the region’s worst drought in 60 years. The lfo II camp in Dabaab will open its doors to 80,000 refugees within 10 days, the Kenyan government said. Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to the opening to the new camp, after visiting Dadaab’s three existing camps where an estimated 380,000 refugees are now living at facilities intended to cope with a population of 90,000 people.

A spokesman for the charity Save the Children, said “more children have died in Dadaab in the first four months of the year than all of last year”. Many Somali refugees at the camp have travelled through harsh conditions with little food or water, and no humanitarian assistance, often abandoning members of their family who have died or are so weak to travel. Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, who reported from the Dabaab camp, said, “Over the past month, around 20,000 have made their way to Dadaab, many of them through similar means”.

Dadaab’s existing camps were set up in 1991 to host refugees fleeing war in Somalia. Between 40,000 and 60,000 are thought to be living outside the boundaries of the complex – existing as refugees beyond the current scope and control of the UN. Somalis have been fleeing from war for years now, but the drought, affecting 12 million people across the Horn of Africa, has brought the threat of a new humanitarian catastrophe to the region, with many people also seeking refuge in Ethiopia. Al Jazeera has more on the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa here.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs  (OCHA) has provided a ‘snapshot’ of the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa country:
* 2.85 million Somalis require urgent aid – that’s one in three people
* At least one in three children are malnourished in parts of southern Somalia
* More than 460 Somali children have died in nutrition centres in Somalia between January and May this year
* Malnutrition rates among new arrivals in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya range between 30 and 40 percent
* As of late June, 60,200 Somalis were registered in Kenya this year — a more than 100 percent increase compared with the same period last year
* Life expectancy is 50.4 years, according to the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)
* Women dying in childbirth: 1,000 per 100,000 live births reported, according to UNICEF
* One in 10 Somali children dies before their first birthday
* Primary school enrolment rate is 23 percent
* Average HIV prevalence level estimated at 0.5 percent of the population aged 15 to 49
* Percentage of people with access to safe, clean water: 29 percent

(Sources: OCHA, UNICEF, UNDP)

It is not just Somalis who are suffering, Euronews has reported. Famine is affecting all countries in the Horn of Africa. Now 11 million people need help to survive the food shortages. In Habaswein in the far north of Kenya there has been no rain for a year. Many animals have died. Others have been taken further north in search of water. Only women, children and the elderly remain in the village.

Like many others, Fatuma Ahmed depends on rations of maize, beans and oil provided by aid agencies and the government. She said: “I have no husband. I’m raising my children alone. We had some animals but they’ve all died. Now we’re depending on aid from charities. What I’m cooking now is the only meal my family will eat today.” In the village of Fini, farmers try to move a dying cow into the shade. The animal will only last a few days. This is not the first time this area has been hit by drought, but according to villagers like Mori Omar, it has never been this bad.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’m 56 years old, but I look more like 80 because of many years of not having enough food. During the droughts, there’s no meat or milk,” she said. There is a growing consensus that climate change is to blame for the driest period in 60 years. The UN says droughts are becoming more frequent – before they used to be every five or 10 years, now it is every two.

IRIN News has a report, ‘Somalis living from drought to drought’, on the perilous state of food availability in Bisle, the Somali region. Every day, 500g of boiled wheat is divided up between two adults, four children, a calf, a goat and a donkey in the Farah household. It is the only food they have had after rains failed for the past two seasons. The 15kg sack of wheat is provided to about 1,200 people in the Bisle area, which has four settlements, under the government-run Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) as payment for work, such as digging water holes.

“It is boiled wheat for breakfast and for the main meal – we don’t have anything else – no milk, no meat, no vegetables, no oil,” says Maria Farah, the mother. Not surprisingly, two of her children are severely malnourished. The calf and goat that share their “ari” – a collapsible egg-shaped hut made of sticks and covered with sheeting – are emaciated. It is too hot for them outside, in temperatures that soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius. There is no water in their settlement, about 54km north of Dire Dawa town in the Somali region, one of the worst hit by drought in Ethiopia. More than a million people have been affected.

Pakistan’s crippling crop and livestock loss

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A man uses a large cooking pan as a boat near the Reikhbaghwala village in Rajanpur district in Punjab. Photo: IRIN News / Jaspreet Kindra

A man uses a large cooking pan as a boat near the Reikhbaghwala village in Rajanpur district in Punjab. Photo: IRIN News / Jaspreet Kindra

ReliefWeb has reported the main points of a new briefing on the Pakistan flood situation by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):

(1) The emergency continues to unfold in the southernmost province of Sindh. Additional towns and villages in Dadu and Jamshoro districts have been flooded in recent days, as Manchar Lake breached its banks. (2) The health cluster warns of an increased risk of malaria, particularly in the south, in the coming days and weeks. (3) A fully revised floods response plan, the Floods Emergency Response Plan (FERP), will be launched in New York on 17 September by United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos. (4) Though 74% of the requirements set out in the Pakistan Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan (PIFERP) have now been covered, massively scaled up donor support will be needed to meet the increased requirements set out in the FERP.

The Dawn has reported on the growing losses in Pakistan’s crops and livestock, and it makes for dreadful reading.

“The country has suffered a loss of about Rs250 billion in the agricultural and livestock sectors and the flood recovery costs may run into billions of dollars, local experts and a UN spokesman said on Thursday. The Minister for Food and Agriculture, Nazar Mohammad Gondal, said: “It is difficult to give an exact figure, but I agree that the loss of agriculture and livestock runs into billions of rupees. The floods have destroyed crops of cotton, rice, sugarcane and tobacco worth billions of rupees.”

Javed Saleem, a former president of the Crops Protection Association (CPA), and Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Farms Association (PAFA), said over 17 million acres of agricultural land had been submerged and ripe crops of rice, cotton and sugarcane destroyed. Over 100,000 cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, horses, camels and donkeys have been lost and 3,000 fish farms and 2,000 poultry farms destroyed across the country. “According to an estimate, the loss of cotton crop is of about Rs 155 billion,” Mr Saleem said.

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

In Punjab alone, a cotton growing area of about one million acres had been affected and crops worth Rs86 billion destroyed, he said. “The whole agricultural belt that includes Jhang, Bhakkar, Rajanpur, Rahimyar Khan and Layyah has been inundated.” Sindh has lost standing crops worth Rs 95 billion over 100,000 acres. Cotton and rice are the major crops destroyed by the floods. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, over 325,000 acres have been submerged and crops worth Rs 29.6 billion destroyed. Mr Mughal said over one million tons of wheat stock kept in houses had been swept away. “About 1,000 tractors have also been lost,” he said.

The Dawn report said: “According to dealers, the floods have caused a shortage of food items and the prices of fruits and vegetables have increased by 25 to 50 per cent. It is feared that the situation will persist for the whole year till cultivation resumes in flooded areas.”

What will the combination of ruinous losses and soaring prices to do people like Wali Jamote, 50, who fled his village in Nasirabad District early in August, as reported by IRIN News. “I lost everything we had – our tent, the few clothes, shoes and utensils we possess, and worse of all my goats and a camel,” Wali told IRIN. He and his family move every few months in search of fresh pasture: “The animals were all we had. They provided us with milk and cheese, and without them my children have gone hungry.” He said he had been given “no help at all” by any agency.

The cover of Granta magazine No 112 on Pakistan. © Islam Gull, design by Michael Salu

The cover of Granta magazine No 112 on Pakistan. © Islam Gull, design by Michael Salu

Thousands of people camped out along the main road from Quetta, capital of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, to Sukkur in Sindh Province, are living in primitive conditions, some with no shelter from the scorching sun. Among them are a particularly vulnerable group: nomads who have lost their livestock. Worse still, Wali and others like him have no idea what the future holds. “Will anyone give me a camel?” he asked. He also said he had no national identity card. “Some soldiers who passed by said I could receive no help without it – but they also said that with no fixed address I was not eligible for one.”

The International Crisis Group has advised that Pakistan’s government and international actors must ensure those in flood-devastated conflict zones are urgently granted the assistance they need to survive and to rebuild lives, without the military dictating rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis, is the title of a new briefing on internally displaced persons from the International Crisis Group.

It highlights how the country not only faces an unprecedented natural disaster, but also confronts the twin challenges of stabilising a fragile democratic transition and countering violent extremism. The civilian government, already tackling an insurgency, and its institutions, neglected during nine years of military rule, lack the capacity and means to provide sufficient food, shelter, health and sanitation without international assistance. But all sides must ensure community-based civil society groups, credible secular non-governmental organisations, and elected representatives lead the process.

Economic impacts of Pakistan floods

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A flooded Thatta suburb, Pakistan. Photo © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

A flooded Thatta suburb, Pakistan. Photo © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

For hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis forced by the floods to abandon their homes, food is a primary concern. IRIN news reports that some families have gone days without a meal. Frances Kennedy, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson, told IRIN: “We are very concerned about the nutritional situation. About 2.8 million people have been reached, but there are others in need. Camps are crowded and people are sleeping on sides of the roads.” WFP has been supplying “dry rations” (family rations for a month), made up of wheat flour fortified with vitamins and minerals, cooking oil and high-energy biscuits.

“This allows us to reach more people, more quickly… These distributions are at different points across the flood zone – both in camps and other locations identified through our assessments and where partners have been able to set up distribution sites,” Marcus Prior, a WFP spokesman, told IRIN. Currently about 4.8 million people are without shelter, “although we believe this may have gone up considerably with the latest developments in Sindh,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The immediate impact on the population is truly staggering — 20 million people affected with 8 million in need of water, food, and shelter; 1,500 to 2,000 killed; 4 million left homeless; and 15 million displaced. The devastation has hit virtually all sectors of the economy. The Pakistan government estimates total economic damage to be near $15 billion, or about 10 percent of GDP. Damage to infrastructure alone (roads, power plants, telecommunications, dams and irrigation systems, and schools and health clinics) amounts to around $10 billion.

Mohsin S. Khan, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States, have written about the economic impact of the Pakistan floods. They say that agriculture, which represents 25 percent of the Pakistan economy and provides employment to 50 percent of the workforce, was extremely hard hit. At least 30 percent of the cotton crop has washed away, which is bound to devastate the textile industry, the mainstay of Pakistani manufacturing and exports. Adding to this is the loss of wheat, rice, and maize crops, and about 10 million head of livestock. Altogether agricultural production this year could fall by as much as 15 percent. Even next year’s production is likely to show a further decline because the spring wheat crop that needs to be planted in October–December this year will not be possible.

While Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is inundated with water, there is very little that is safe to drink. Photo © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

While Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is inundated with water, there is very little that is safe to drink. Photo © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

“The overall growth of real GDP, which prior to the floods was projected to be in the 3 to 4 percent range for 2010, will now turn negative,” say Khan and Nawaz. “Estimates of the fall in real GDP are in the 2 to 5 percent range, although it is conceivable that the decline could be far greater as more information on the losses of both physical assets and production becomes available.”

“Reconstruction activity could provide some boost to the growth rate, but it is likely that any positive effects will only show up in 2011 and beyond, and even then it may not be sufficient to bring the growth rate back to the 2009 level of 4 percent for several years. Inflation, which is already in double digits, will rise with the increase in food prices and the destruction of the food supply distribution networks. Furthermore, the government will need to finance the reconstruction effort, and absent sufficient foreign assistance and the inability to divert domestic revenues toward reconstruction, the increased expenditures will necessarily widen the fiscal deficit.”

“The floods have dealt Pakistan a severe body blow while it was still reeling from the economic crisis, political infighting, and the war against terror. The diversion of resources and attention to the flood relief and reconstruction work will undoubtedly affect social spending and the drive against the Pakistani Taliban, whose fighters have been dislocated from their tribal bases in the Northwest Frontier region and have taken the war back into the Pakistani hinterland.”

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