YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Countries in Africa are some of the worst hit when it comes to access to food, according to the UK-based charity, Christian Aid.
The organization has launched a global hunger appeal as over 30 million people in 20 countries teeter on the brink of starvation.
“A significant increase in the resources available to help people in need is urgently required, as well as accelerated and determined action to tackle the root causes of hunger, most particularly conflict and climate change,” said Salome Ntububa, the head of Global Humanitarian Response for Christian Aid.
“The world needs to act now before an already very grave situation becomes significantly worse,” she told Crux.
“We also need the humanitarian system to act robustly, collectively, and consistently well in advance of the level of famine – once the earlier threshold of crisis is met – and aligning this with preventative action knowing the cyclical effects of climate change,” she added.
The Christian Aid campaign aims to provide water hygiene kits to give households clean drinking water, buy assorted seeds and tools for households to grow vegetables, and buy essential food for families facing starvation.
Following are excerpts of Crux’s conversation with Ntububa
Crux: What is the scale of hunger and famine in the world today?
The UN World Food Program and UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s latest analysis indicates that 41 million people in 43 countries are at risk of famine, so the challenge is very widespread, with the very worst-affected countries currently including South Sudan, Tigray in Ethiopia, Yemen and Madagascar, but severe hunger also affecting the likes of Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Haiti, Northeast Nigeria and Syria among many others.
What is Africa’s share of this global problem?
A significant number of countries in Africa are amongst those facing the worst food insecurity. Africa is the worst-affected continent. But the challenge extends significantly beyond Africa, for example to Afghanistan, Haiti, Syria and Yemen.
Every year, around 9 million people die of hunger, according to the international relief agency Mercy Corps. That’s more than the death toll of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and now with COVID-19, the situation could worsen. Is the world losing the war on hunger?
A significant increase in the resources available to help people in need is urgently required, as well as accelerated and determined action to tackle the root causes of hunger, most particularly conflict and climate change. If the UN estimates 41 million people are at risk of famine and 584,000 already falling into famine-like conditions, it is very clear that the world needs to act now before an already very grave situation becomes significantly worse.
We need action now, but we also need the humanitarian system to act robustly, collectively, and consistently well in advance of the level of famine – once the earlier threshold of crisis is met – and aligning this with preventative action knowing the cyclical effects of climate change.
You have identified the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, and continued conflict as factors worsening food insecurity…
The UN’s Global Report on Food Crises analyses that of the countries affected by severe food insecurity, conflict is the key driver for 23 of those countries, and the key cause for 64 percent of those suffering extreme hunger; that the economic impacts of COVID-19 are the most significant drivers in 17 countries, accounting for 26 percent of the populations affected by hunger; and weather-related shocks the main cause in 15 countries involving 10 percent of persons affected.
Last year, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, called on the world’s wealthiest countries to provide $90 billion in relief aid to the poorest countries, noting that that amount would be sufficient to protect 700 million of the world’s most vulnerable people from hunger. Is this a reasonable figure?
Christian Aid is not calling for a different volume of aid to Mark Lowcock. Christian Aid would emphasize that it is very important to avoid the same challenges repeating themselves year after year to work harder to tackle the root causes of conflict and climate change, as well as providing emergency relief to those in desperate need.
What is the focus of Christian Aid in the fight against hunger?
Our approach would be a three-pronged combination of first providing urgent emergency relief – such as cash or food – to those in desperate need; secondly of investing in interventions to build the resilience of communities at risk to be better-positioned to cope with shocks and to survive and thrive in the medium-term, such as supporting them to rebuild sustainable livelihoods that enable them to support their families in times of crisis; and thirdly advocating to major governments and international organizations for more concerted efforts to tackle climate change, conflict and COVID-19.
What is Christian Aid doing particularly in Africa?
Christian Aid is providing lifesaving interventions – food, nutrition, cash, and water and sanitation assistance – to the most vulnerable people facing acute food insecurity and other difficult living conditions, through COVID appeal, flood-drought rapid responses, and regional response and our East Africa appeal following the 2017 food crisis.
Christian Aid is working with local partners, faith-based organizations, and affected communities to build their resilience to prevent famine; by supporting livelihoods, including small business, agricultural inputs, et cetera; climate change adaptation; and peace building initiatives.
We are supporting local, national and global advocacy which raise the links between food security and conflict, climate and COVID: the 3 C’s.
How best should Africa deal with its hunger problems?
The food shortage crisis is affecting Africa in a cyclic level due to climate constraints: Climate adaptive initiatives are most needed to tackle the climate emergency.
Also, the level of development in Africa is slow compared to its global population growth: Advocacy and actions to promote Africa economy support to health-hygiene-sanitation systems, and sexual reproductive facilities.
Conflict and insecurity factors are causing people’s displacement with impact on food production and other economic sectors: peace building advocacy, relief assistance to internally displaced people and host communities, communities’ peace building dialogues etc.
What do you see as Christian Aid’s greatest challenges?
The limited media attention to the current global hunger crisis, in spite of its enormous magnitude, with 41 million people at risk of tipping into famine and 584,000 people already facing starvation, makes it more difficult for Christian Aid and other peer agencies to raise awareness of the severity and urgency of this crisis, to mobilize funding and to persuade major governments to do more.
Where conflict rages, it is more difficult for agencies like Christian Aid and its local partners to gain access to some of the people in dire need. Until vaccines are more equitably distributed in greater volume amongst the poorest countries, the need to carefully apply social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation actions also poses some challenges to aid operations, as we do not want our efforts to reduce hunger to inadvertently run the risk of spreading the virus.