As the world focuses on a series of massive natural disasters and the spread of avian influenza, hunger in Africa has quietly climbed to an all-time high, threatening to destabilize much of the continent, warned James T. Morris, Executive Director of WFP.
Poverty, conflict, HIV/AIDS, drought and a weakened capacity for government have caused record levels of hunger which has stretched across the continent, from north to south, west to east.
Morris said WFP is struggling to feed 43 million people this year in sub-Saharan Africa - double the number in 1995.
852 million hungry
Despite a pledge by the majority of the world’s governments to reduce the number of the world’s hungry by 50 percent as part of the Millennium Development Goals, Morris said there are currently 852 million hungry people globally.
Today, our loss reached 2.1 million - that is the number of young children who have died this year of hunger and related diseases in AfricaJames Morris, WFP's Executive Director
He said this figure has been rising by some six million a year since 2000.
“When 170 Heads of State gathered here for the Summit in September, only 18 mentioned hunger as a serious challenge, barely one in 10,” Morris said during a speech to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
“Today, our loss reached 2.1 million—that is the number of young children who have died this year of hunger and related diseases in Africa.”
Conflict and hunger
Citing recent and ongoing armed confrontations in Darfur, southern Sudan, Somalia, Angola, northern Uganda, Congo and West Africa, Morris said that in much of Africa conflict and hunger go hand in hand.
However, Morris pointed out that Africans at war get far more attention than Africans at peace. He noted that 9 out of 10 deaths from hunger and malnutrition occur among the chronically hungry.
He also warned that chronic hunger in the African countryside is destabilising.
“Competition for limited food resources in fragile environments can cause instability,” Morris said.
“We have seen this problem for decades not just in Sudan, but in Mauritania, Senegal and other countries as well. It was one of the early warning signs in Niger, when unrest broke out between nomadic grazers and villagers.”
Migration into cities
Hunger is largely unseen in the developed world. It is your responsibility and mine to be sure it is not forgottenJames Morris, WFP's Executive Director
Morris said hunger also spurs the continuing migration of rural people into cities where basic social services - including subsidized or free food - often act as a lure.
In countries like Uganda and Kenya, for example, 80 percent of the poorest people are rural. Yet many African governments and international donors have neglected investment in agriculture.
To better reach African victims of hunger, Morris called for more comprehensive and better early warning systems, stronger vulnerability assessments and contingency planning, and greater attention to maintaining food stocks both at the national and community level.
Action to ensure peace
Above all, he said, there was the need for more concerted political action to ensure peace.
In closing remarks to political leaders gathered for ECOSOC, Morris said: “The streets of New York are not filled with hungry orphans. There are no stunted girls and boys begging in Geneva. No children have lost their sight from a lack of vitamin A in Sydney.
"Hunger is largely unseen in the developed world. It is your responsibility and mine to be sure it is not forgotten.”