Category Archives: Malnutrition

World Food Day: Calling for action against hunger at FAO

By Martina Liebsch, Caritas Internationalis Policy Director

I listened to Didi Bridgewater, walked past Claudia Cardinale, stood next to Jeremy Irons, saw Carl Lewis and took the elevator with Carla Fracci. What do you want more for a day? But where is the connection to food?

All these celebrities are good-will ambassadors for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). They were calling for a greater commitment in the fight against hunger at a meeting to mark World Food Day today in Rome. Government representatives and NGO’s were gathered in the plenary hall at the FAO offices in Rome and along with the directors of FAO and the other UN food agencies WFP and IFAD.

The message from Pope Benedict XVI was delivered by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO: “Many of our brothers and sisters do not have daily bread. The freedom from the yoke of hunger is an integral part of the right to life, not always respected these days.” Continue reading

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Church and Caritas leaders discuss East Africa food crisis

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters.” It’s a phrase known to Christians around the world, one of the most beloved verses of a beloved psalm.

It was the psalm Pope Benedict XVI referred to during his weekly audience Wednesday 5 October which ended with an appeal to the world not to forget East Africa,  where drought has turn green pastures brown and made water scarce.

Crops have failed; herdsmen have watched  their goats and cattle grow thinner and die. Tens of thousands of families walked for weeks to reach refugee camps, or anywhere with water. Continue reading

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Yes, we must. Stopping a disaster in Kenya

Locheramoe Kuwom is from the drought hit village of Kaaruko in Lokori, northern Kenya where people have little or nothing to eat. Credit: Eoghan Rice / Trocaire)

By Eoghan Rice

The Turkana district of northern Kenya is where human life began. The earliest known human remains have been found here and in the areas just north across the Ethiopian border.

The fact that human life has been sustained here for hundreds of thousands of years points to a fertile land capable of producing food. So, what has changed?

In a word: climate.

The facts speak for themselves: a two degree rise in temperature since 1960; the last eight years being the hottest on record; a 25 per cent decrease in rainfall over 10 years.

East Africa can produce food to sustain its population but the goalposts have been moved on it.

Today, the Turkana lands are dry and dusty as far as the eye can see. Every river on the 230km drive from Lodwar to  Lokitaung has dried-up. Where rivers once flowed, there are now dusty valleys.

On the land which was once home to the River Keiro, we witnessed a group of 30 local people digging holes five foot deep in an attempt to squeeze the last drops of water from the earth.

All over this region, the rivers which once sustained thousands of villages have disappeared. With their nearby river gone, people now have to walk for hours in search of water. When – if – they find some, it is often dangerously dirty. They drink it anyway. What choice do they have?

Andrew Lodio (pictured below) and his family built their homes on a site near to Lokitaung precisely because there was a river, perhaps 50m wide, running alongside it. That river is now as dry as the barren land that stretches for a 1000km on every side of it.

“Other years were different,” he says. “There have been droughts here before but never like this one. This one is worse because it is all over the region. Normally if it is bad here we can go somewhere else, but now it is bad all over. There is nowhere to go.”

Andrew is frail. His eyes tell of a man who has not eaten in days. Two days, to be precise.

Every village in this region tells a similar tale. Crops have failed, animals have died, people are starving. Their bellies empty, they look at the cloudless blue skies and pray for rain.

In the cradle of humanity, a humanitarian disaster is in full bloom.

 Eoghan Rice is a communications officer for Trocaire (Caritas Ireland)


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Ethiopia’s failing rains

Women return to their village after collecting water from a spring beside a dry riverbed in the Kebele of Bishan Behe in Hararghe. Caritas supports the community. Credit: David Snyder for CRS

By David Snyder

You are not expecting rain when you come to cover a drought. But that’s what I found when I stepped off of the plane here Sunday—and what I have seen each day since. Rain. Looking around at the green of the hillsides, you could easily be fooled about the real problems facing the people here. But it doesn’t take much digging to learn how much trouble looms, where the rain now falling comes far too late to avert a crisis for as more than 11 million people.

I spent yesterday visiting several projects around  Dira Dawa A, a zone of eastern Ethiopia that has been hard hit by the failure earlier this year of the first of the country’s two rainy seasons. With the failure of the short rains, which normally fall from February to June, millions were unable to gather a harvest. Worse still, they were unable to plant the next crop—the one they need to harvest in October or November to get through the long months until June 2012. The rains falling now were due in June. As it stands now, even if rain remains strong for the rest of the season, people will still be hungry. If they fail, millions more will be affected.

What I saw yesterday were projects that have helped many former beneficiaries survive the food shortages gripping the region. Outside of Dira Dawa yesterday I met a farmer who has access to an irrigation system installed by Caritas in 2003. Though the fields around his small plot are withering, his 3/5th of an acre plot is flourishing—alive with heavily laden fruit trees and vegetable patches that will see his family through this drought.

Earlier, I met a young mother who received five bee hives through in a livelihoods project. Her old hives, she told me, produced just 9 pounds of honey each year. Her new ones—an improved variety of both bees and hive—produce 22 pounds per hive each year. That’s 110 pounds of honey she is able to sell to increase her household income even in seasons when the crops fail.

Caritas Internationalis and one of its US members Catholic Relief Services (CRS) commissioned David Snyder to visit the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat in Ethiopia.

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Helping Ethiopia through drought

2011 is one of the worst droughts to hit East Africa and the Horn of Africa in living memory, including the east of Ethiopia. The local Caritas there is called the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat. It’s part of the national Caritas organisation (the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat), and is supported by a number of Caritas members from around the world.

Because drought is cyclic in this part of Ethiopia, the HCS has been working with the local communities to prepare them for drought. This can mean helping to provide irrigation and plants resistant to drought, insuring there is fresh water to drink and keeping food aid flowing when a crisis hits like now.

Caritas Internationalis and one of its US members Catholic Relief Services (CRS) commissioned a photographer David Snyder to visit the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat in Ethiopia. This is a sample of his work.

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No time to lose says East Africa crisis summit

Mrs. Farheya Ahmed, a refugee from Somalia, walked for weeks while pregnant to escape war and famine. Photo by Laura Sheahen/Catholic Relief Services

Caritas Internationalis Policy Director Martina Liebsch reports on a ministerial level meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome about the drought in the Horn of Africa.

The outgoing director of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf had called the emergency meeting to address the food crisis in East Africa.

The country most affected is Somalia – everyone agreed – but the crisis affects also parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and has a spillover effect as people from Somalia are forced to migrate in the search of food.

Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the WFP was one of the speakers on the High Level Panel. She had just came back from a visit in Dadaab camp in Kenya, which she described as unacceptable. Many people reach the camp after walking six weeks in search of food. Women had to leave children who were almost dying for the sake of saving their others. She also pointed out that if action is not taken soon we might lose a generation as malnutrition heavily affects a child’s development.

The meeting was chaired by the French government as current G20 president and attended by representatives from key countries, such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, and major NGO’s.

The meeting was unusually emotional. Some of the speakers recalled the fact that not long ago in an FAO meeting in 2008 there was a commitment that there would never be a famine again. The director of IFAD, a UN funding agency for agriculture, said he was praying that this conference would produce results.

With a very emotional voice, the representative from Norway referred to the shock his country is in and then highlighted its commitment to help in this crisis. His prime minister has said in response to the recent bomb attack and shooting in Norway that it is imperative to work on more democracy and more humanity!

The facts around the crisis were put on the table by all the speakers on the panel:

  • A fierce drought over a vast territory
  • 11 million people affected, the most vulnerable being pastoralist communities, women and children
  • The increase of the food prices (per 200 percent  in Somalia and 70 percent in the past four months in Kenya)
  • Conflicts in the affected zones – 60 percent of the population of Somalia are not accessible
  • The movement of people in search of food
  • $1 billion for the year and so far only half of it is secured

Concerning the solutions there was a long list of good words.

Building peace was mentioned as a key duty and the responsibility of warring parties to allow access to the suffering population.

The French minister Bruno Le Maire said that the necessary financial support needs to be found at the latest at the donor meeting in two days time in Kenya.

The second element is the need to invest in agriculture, and not only at moments of emergencies, but in the long-term. Every developing country should have the right to secure its own food.

Concrete suggestions from the G20 group of developed and emerging countries would be to establish a reserve of emergency stocks, to invest in research and agricultural knowledge such as developing drought resistant seeds and work on irrigation (only 1 percent of the arable land in the Horn of Africa is irrigable).

After a lot of good words and appeals, Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, brought people back to reality. European Union countries and the U.S. are in no position to give financial aid, she said, and we must look to Persian Gulf nations.

He said that many participants had mentioned integral rural development, however only a few would really apply it in a way which would include looking not only at agriculture, but at health, education etc.

Finally he said, that climate science is incomplete, there needs to be more investment into more thorough information. There is the assumption that the rain patterns which usually affected Somalia have moved to the Indian Ocean, due to the global warming of the Earth. More of such information is needed in order for people to adapt to new situations.

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Fleeing Somalia as famine declared

These Somali refugees at one of several refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, are among many families who faced starvation and left Somalia on foot. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

By Laura Sheahen

They’ve walked for days or weeks, and their shoes show it. Dusty and worn, the sandals of a little boy dangle in his hand as he wails in the centre of a refugee camp.

Nearby, his mother rocks her sobbing baby. The family has made it to the camp, one of several in northeast Kenya that are receiving a flood of refugees from Somalia.

“We had livestock like sheep, goats, and cattle-over a dozen,” says a 22-year-old mother named Momina. “They all died of the drought.”

“We used to eat corn,” she continues. “But food was running out. So we left.”

Walking in a group of about 20 people, it took Momina 20 days to get from her home in Somalia to the Kenyan camp. They slept under the stars, ate whatever they had left, and managed to avoid attacks-by wild animals and by the bandits that plague the area.

Over 1,000 hungry, exhausted refugees a day are streaming into several refugee camps in a place called Dadaab, not far from the border with Somalia. Together, all the camps were meant to hold fewer than 100,000 people. But over 370,000 refugees now crowd them–and spill into nearby areas.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member) staff are here too, working with a local partner to assess the most urgent needs. The CRS team includes experts in sanitation, shelter, and protecting children and women who are in dangerous situations.

“There’s a lot of need and everyone has a role to play,” says Elijah Gichora, a CRS staffer who returned to Dadaab having developed clean water programs here in the past. “CRS is working hard to help.”

Laura Sheahen is CRS’ regional information officer for Asia. She is reporting from Kenya.


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