Archive for Famine

Global Warming is So-o-o 2013

Al Gore and Bill McKibben are about as current as George Jessel and Percy Faith. Out: Melting ice caps. In: Cannibalism.

Or, as Paul Ehrlich puts it: “We all have to eat, and it’s very destructive.”

Paul Ehrlich, best known for his prediction of human ‘oblivion’ 46 years ago, says that current population trends are on a course that could leave cannibalism as one of the only options.

Ehrlich claimed that scarcity of resources will get so bad that humans will need to drastically change our eating habits and agriculture.

He added that humanity is ‘moving in that direction with a ridiculous speed.

And he knows ridiculous when he sees it. In case you can’t place the name:

Ehrlich is widely known for his 1968 publication of ‘The Population Bomb’ which called for ‘population control’ to prevent global crises from overpopulation.

‘In the 1970’s the world will undergo famines – hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death,’ he predicted.

‘Our children will inherit a totally different world, a world in which the standards, politics, and economics of the 1960’s are dead.’

Ehrlich claims that the dangers of overpopulation are once again growing, blaming Republicans and the media for failing to take action.

‘We all have to eat, and it’s very destructive.

The Left claims to love humanity, but they sure don’t act like it: killing babies; withholding medicine from old people; don’t get me started on their plantation mentality toward black people. Heck, they’re even burning killed babies for fuel.

Cannibalism doesn’t sound so outrageous, does it?

Now, I’m not saying famine is fun, but we already have it, a-plenty:

Today, famine is most widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa, but with exhaustion of food resources, overdrafting of groundwater, wars, internal struggles, and economic failure, famine continues to be a worldwide problem with hundreds of millions of people suffering.

“Exhaustion of food resources” sounds like famine, hence a tautology, but the rest sounds mostly fixable. Stop war, internal struggles, and economic failure (another tautology?), and that leaves the issue of groundwater. If Israel can make the desert bloom, why can’t Africa? I mean it.

In spite of his dire predictions, so, perhaps, does Ehrlich and his co-author:

In his new book, called ‘Hope On Earth,’ Ehrlich worked with Michael Tobias.

‘There’s a tremendous amount of optimism in the book,’ said Tobais.

‘I really think we have a capacity to come to the aid of individuals.’

Tobias believes that young investors could hold the key to solving the problem, by investing in technologies to solve the problem.

I guess we’ll have to buy the book to learn which technologies.

PS: Lest there be any confusion, I am anti-famine. Don’t like it, never have, never will. It’s just that I think the causes of famine are more often political than environmental. I am a huge believer in “technologies”, but no amount of technology can overcome “war, internal struggles, and economic failure”. Those parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are economic basket cases are also political basket cases. I think there may be the faintest wisp of a link.


Who’s Up for Another Famine?

Well, not everybody, obviously:

Un is holding that guy’s hand like it’s a cheese danish!

Others will not be so lucky:

[T]he U.N.’s annual crop assessment for North Korea will shortly be published. These annual assessments have been published since the Great North Korean Famine of the mid-1990s killed as many as 2.5 million people, and they are supposed to warn the international humanitarian system of an impending famine. This assessment will show that drought early this summer seriously damaged the crop so that the harvest will drive the country, always on the edge of starvation, ever deeper into nutritional disaster.

Nutritional disaster: I usually reserve that expression for when my ordinarily iron sill dissolves at the thought of a package of Stella D’oro Swiss Fudge cookies.

But I can see how it could have another connotation.

While famines anywhere have terrible humanitarian consequences, in North Korea’s case in particular, they have political consequences because they have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. While the North Korean government has been building its nuclear arsenal and the maintaining the third largest land army in Asia, its people have been sliding into deepening poverty and acute malnutrition, stunting generations of children. One study shows that the average North Korean solider is 10 inches shorter than those in the South Korean military—a sign of chronic acute malnutrition affecting an entire generation of young North Koreans.

Not that there’s much humor in mass starvation, but the author concludes ominously.

Before, when the North Korean regime has been under internal stress, it has diverted the population’s attention from its suffering by creating a military crisis with its external enemies: the South Koreans, the United States, and Japan. For 40 years the United States has restrained South Korea from using its substantial military power to respond to these attacks. But the South Korean population and political elite now believe that this restraint has encouraged North Korean aggression. If in the middle of North Korea’s current crisis it follows its old practice and attempts such an attack, South Korea will respond aggressively with unpredictable results. The deceptive quiet of the Korean peninsula may be shortly be interrupted by a new crisis. And it is unlikely a diplomatically and militarily weak America retreating from world leadership is in any position to do much about it.

I’m a big fan of Mrs. Kim, as is well known. She’s the face that launched a thousand missiles. Though probably only about 500 calories.


Denial is Not Just a River in South America

That distant rumble: is it a gathering storm, enemy artillery, or an empty stomach?

Or all three?

Egypt is in a precarious situation, being heavily dependent on food imports. Former Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza, in a speech before the Food Security Conference in 2010, said Egypt imports 40 percent of its total food and 60 percent of its wheat.

The 2012 World Bank Global Monitoring Report warned that North African and Middle Eastern countries were seriously behind on their Millennium Development Goals of providing affordable and nutritious food to the poor. People in the region remain susceptible to international food price fluctuations due to governments’ reliance on food imports, the report says.

“Progress toward halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger is significantly lagging in the Middle East and North Africa,” the bank says. “In times of high food prices, the double burden of malnutrition and chronic disease increases, and obesity and undernutrition may coexist within the same household and the same person.”

Still, it looks like some Egyptians are getting enough to eat:

An Israeli soldier was killed and another was lightly to moderately injured when terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula opened fire on an IDF patrol in the Mount Sagi area, on the Israel-Egypt border, at around noon Friday. Heavy exchanges of fire ensued, during which the terrorists were killed.

One of the terrorists reportedly detonated himself in the attack.

An initial investigation showed that the terrorists entered into Israel through an area where there is no security fence and that they were heavily armed.

Large IDF forces converged on the location of the firefight, in the Har Harif area, and engaged the terrorists until they were eliminated.

“A very large terror attack was prevented,” said IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. “The terrorists apparently intended to infiltrate the territory of the state of Israel. They were found with explosive belts, vests and guns.” According to Voice of Israel government-sponsored radio, he said the terrorists intended to blow themselves up amidst soldiers.

At least the terrorists’ families will be well looked after. There’s no money for food, but they still take care of the important things.

But enough about Egypt: does this remind you of a country you know?

One of the indicators of an imminent food crisis is the devaluation that seems to be in the country’s near future. Having burned through its foreign reserves to keep the currency’s value high at a rate that cannot be sustainable for more than a few months longer, the government has little choice but to devalue or keep racking up debt.

Depreciation, most experts say, is more likely — and because of higher import prices, that would probably cause inflation across the board.

Nah. My mistake.

PS: Pity Egypt doesn’t have a river to use for irrigation or a sea coast for desalination plants.

Comments (2)

Wait, What?

Read this headline twice:

Somali fighting and rain ‘worsens drought crisis’

Yeah, I hate it when it rains during a drought. It ruins a good tan.


Glass Half Empty

I’m old enough to remember Biafra. Yeah, that was a good idea.

So, it takes more than your run-of-the-mill famine to get my attention.

750,000 is a good (I mean bad) start.

But assigning blame? Convince me:

[H]ere is my top 10 compilation of alleged culprits for your consideration – drawn from conversations with experts, diplomats, Somali officials, foreign aid workers and some of the hungry themselves.

I will leave the blindingly obvious – the drought itself – out of it. But please weigh in with your own lists or arguments.

1. The US – only interested in Somalia in relation to the “war on terror”, piracy and oil – according to many.

Washington is extremely squeamish about allowing even a cent of aid money to get into the hands of al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group which controls large parts of Somalia and is linked to al-Qaeda.

It results in a kind of ambivalent attitude to aid in Somalia that has hamstrung plenty of crucial humanitarian programmes.

“The Americans want to be half pregnant,” was how one top European official put it to me, in disgust.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than blaming the current regime in Washington. And in that category, nothing gives me greater pleasure than pointing out this regime’s betrayal of Africa (like a half-brother), especially compared to the previous administration (see fight against AIDS).

But seriously? The US is the number one culprit in the pending famine in Somalia? How about Somalia itself? And by quoting an anonymous “European official”, you’ve lost me.

What else you got?

2. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) – the one organisation with the real muscle to end the famine, but because it is heavily dependent on US funding, and tied up in beltway politics, WFP has struggled to secure the necessary guarantees to access al-Shabab territories.

To be fair, it is a lot more complicated than that – as I’ve seen first hand. WFP has had many workers killed in Somalia – giving it every reason to be cautious.

Oh, so now we’re being fair. Wouldn’t it be fair to mention the USA’s history in Somalia?

4. Al-Shabab – they have killed aid workers and blocked outside help from getting in. What more is there to say?

Well, I’d say place it a lot higher than No. 4.

6. The media: which brings us neatly on to journalists. We are, as one leading humanitarian official told me – with a mixture of flattery and frustration – absolutely crucial in all this.

The UN can produce endless, detailed documents, but the politicians who make the big decisions only react when they see it on the television or the front page.

To be fair to the media, since we’re all about being fair, they’ve been obsessing elsewhere in Africa, most notably Darfur. And if you think the media ignored Somalia, ask someone from the Congo about what’s been ignored there, if there’s anyone left alive.

9. Climate change – if you accept the science, then you have to accept that these droughts are going to be coming thick and fast in the coming decades. And we all share a responsibility for that.

Then again, I understand that Lower Shabelle – now labelled a famine zone – had a bumper harvest last year.

What? That makes no sense. How do you go from bumper crop to famine in a year?

10. Population growth – this is crucial. In areas of northern Kenya the population has reportedly doubled in the past decade.

“Twice as many people, but the same number of livestock. This is unsustainable,” a UN agriculture expert told me.

Only the BBC could bury the lead like that. Somalia, perennially close to the edge in the best of times, has outbred its resources. Ordinarily, I’m not a Malthusian—I don’t buy the disaster scenarios that mankind will strip the planet of the resources we need to live. But I totally accept the concept in small pockets. The Horn of Africa isn’t exactly moist; it’s not a question of if famines will happen there, but when.

So, it’s really kind of silly assigning blame. You can’t have that many people living that kind of lifestyle in that part of the world and not, eventually, see them die off in large numbers.

But since we are assigning blame, let’s add a few more culprits:

The energy stored in a bushel of corn can fuel a car or feed a person. And increasingly, thanks to ethanol mandates and subsidies in the U.S. and biofuel incentives in Europe, crops formerly grown for food or livestock feed are being grown for fuel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent estimate predicts that this year, for the first time, American farmers will harvest more corn for ethanol than for feed. In Europe some 50% of the rapeseed crop is going into biofuel production, according to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe, while “world-wide about 18% of sugar is being used for biofuel today.”

In one sense, this is a remarkable achievement—five decades ago, when the global population was half what it is today, catastrophists like Paul Ehrlich were warning that the world faced mass starvation on a biblical scale. Today, with nearly seven billion mouths to feed, we produce so much food that we think nothing of burning tons of it for fuel.

Or at least we think nothing of it in the West. If the price of our breakfast cereal goes up because we’re diverting agricultural production to ethanol or biodiesel, it’s an annoyance. But if the price of corn or flour doubles or triples in the Third World, where according to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe people “are spending 80% of [their] disposable income on food,” hundreds of millions of people go hungry. Sometimes, as in the Middle East earlier this year, they revolt.

“What we call today the Arab Spring,” Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe says over lunch at Nestle’s world headquarters, “really started as a protest against ever-increasing food prices.”

Add to that, especially in Europe, a paralyzing fear of genetically modified crops, or GMOs. This refusal to use “available technology” in agriculture, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe contends, has halted the multi-decade rise in agricultural productivity that has allowed us, so far, to feed more mouths than many people believed was possible.

Ethanol subsidies: what a load of horse crap. Actually, horse crap would make a better fuel than corn, and you can’t eat it, either.

And while I may pay extra to buy an heirloom tomato (or grow one myself), do nomadic Somali tribesmen really have a choice? Let me answer that: no! You want to eat, you’ll eat what I offer. And if all I have to offer is food grown via genetic modifications to make it hardier or more prolific to feed your sorry a**, then you’ll eat it and like it. Or starve.

How hard is this?