Food is such a basic yet essential part of daily life. Transportation and enhanced technology allow the developed world to have access to a variety of fresh foods at all times of the year at fairly stable prices. Beyond the façade of the tills and smiling cashiers we rarely have to engage with the farmers in Morocco who produced the strawberries that are on sale 2 for £3.
On 24 September 2011 several world leaders met at the United Nations in New York to discuss strategies that could be developed to end starvation. Discussions led to the emergence of The Charter to End Extreme Hunger which not only acknowledges occurrences of extreme hunger in East Africa but also provides a succinct list of strategies that, if implemented, will bring real solutions. This charter has already been endorsed by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, UN OCHA head Valerie Amos, Norweigan Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim, UNISDR head Margareta Wahlstrom, and UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell.
One of the key components of the charter is the provision of services and protections for the poorest. The Charter to End Extreme Hunger argues that fairer investments paired with social safety nets would keep farmers in developing countries from having to toe the line of extreme poverty.
The recognition of the importance of fairer investments illustrates the interrelation between many aspects of the fight against extreme poverty. The FAO shows that 80% of farmers in Africa are women. In many parts of the world female farmers do not have access to credit, irrigation, and infrastructure that is vitally important for developing their farms. UNESCO reports that 49.2% of women in Africa are illiterate. An inability to read makes it very difficult for female African farmers to make wise decisions about which fertilisers to purchase and which farming practises will be best for her. Lack of education and lack of access to credit are systemic problems that prevent African farmers from pulling themselves out of extreme poverty.
The second component of providing services and protections for farmers in developing countries includes direct cash payments for the poorest 10% of the population. While some critics have explained this as a handout to the poor, direct payments actually help stabilise prices and create trust in the market. Direct cash payments involve a government giving a set amount of money to farmers per acre of cropland. Payments are not affected by crop yield and/or market prices. If, for instance, crop prices rise dramatically then farmers will be unable to sell their wares in the market because people wont be able to afford to buy food. This leads to the paradox of food surpluses and massive hunger. It may seem radical, but it happened in Russia in 2011. Alternatively if crop prices fall dramatically then direct payments allow farmers to maintain their income.
The Charter to End Extreme Hunger is based from agriculture programmes that have been successful in the past. ODI explains that the Malawi Government Agricultural Inputs Subsidy Programme of 2006 was instrumental in increasing agricultural productivity and food security. It seems evident that the Charter to End Extreme Hunger will help developing countries to stabilise prices and increase outputs by encouraging the provision of services and protection for the poorest.
From Melbourne to Manchester, Cardiff to Calabasas, and Aberdeen to Auckland, I've delivered 1.4 Billion Reasons in a lot of different places to a lot of different audiences. Add in all of our wonderful other presenters, and we've spoken to just under 125,000 people face to face in the last few years, sharing our perspective on how to end extreme poverty, and answering questions from the public.
Along the way, I've noticed some common and strongly held - but false - assumptions about extreme poverty and about our world. So, when I was asked recently to speak at the TEDxWarwick conference to 1200 people, I was thrilled to be able to put together some new content that sought to dispel these myths.
Entitled Africa is Poor and 5 Other Myths, in the talk I laid out 6 of the most common misconceptions about extreme poverty, and offered some facts, figures and stories that we should use to replace them. In order, I tackled, "Africa is poor," “Poverty is getting worse / Nothing ever changes," “They’re poor because they have too many children,” “There’s not enough food to feed everyone ... so what does it matter if some poor people die," “I’ll help by volunteering overseas,” and “Charity overheads are too high”.
Let us know what you think - and if there are any other misconceptions that you think we should be busting.
The Charter to End Extreme Hunger highlights the nature of the biggest embarrassment to humanity since slavery. Supported by the UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon, Sir Bob Geldolf, as well as organisations like Save the Children, the Charter attempts to act as a set of solid actions to prevent extreme hunger. One of these actions is to fix the flaws in the international emergency system.
International crises that realise themselves in mass starvation do not materialise overnight. All famines are growing problems; they brew, fester and slowly take hold, strangling a society. They're also highly predictable and preventable. There has long been in place an international emergency system to identify and prevent large-scale disaster, which has sadly proved ineffective. Indeed, in relation to the recent East African famine there were many early warnings, all of which went unheeded.
It goes without saying that waiting for a disaster to unfold before acting costs both lives and money. It is surely morally questionable to see a crisis coming and do nothing. The international emergency system as it stands includes national governments, donors, and funds like the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). This system needs to be streamlined to be more flexible. The Charter acknowledges there is no single solution, but makes the following commitments:
We commit to link non-political, needs-based early warning signs of disasters with a timely and appropriate response, with donors supporting national and community preparedness plans and capacity to avert disasters’ worst effects, such as acute malnutrition. The document suggests that
We commit to support a UN General Assembly resolution that requires that CERF funds are released at the first warning signs to meet the emerging needs and support immediate intervention – with transparent processes to ensure funds reach those affected as quickly as possible.
We commit to support national and community preparedness plans, capacity, and activities in line with humanitarian principles to avert disasters’ worst effects, such as acute malnutrition.
International emergency systems depend upon agreement and consistency. The lack of an international consensus on humanitarian intervention and pre-emptive reaction against famine arguably indicates that any new international agreement, like the new international emergency system, is going to struggle to overcome the issues that swallowed their predecessor.
If we're going to prevent famine and hunger we need to change how we view poverty, famine and the relationship between the two. That 1.4 billion people still live in extreme poverty is 1.4 billion people perpetually on the brink of disaster. An international emergency system should be flagging such regions continually, not just when things topple from 'really bad' to 'extremely bad'. Not to undermine the tragedy of the recent East African famine, but when we live in where too many people accept that 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, it will always take a massive tragedy to kick us into action.
At times the fight against global hunger makes me think we're just waiting for Godot. Like Beckett's eponymous hero, the action that is really needed never turns up. The global community is guilty of the same crimes as Beckett's tragicomedy characters Vladamir and Estragon, as they waste opportunity after opportunity, they do a lot of talking, arguing and debating but very little happens.
Dr. Nutt's first exposure to conflict was while working as a UNICEF field volunteer in Somalia in 1995. There, she made the mistake of surveying a resettlement camp alone. Little did she know that the landowner was watching over her movements. He was charging the people money to access the UNICEF-built water source in the camp. Dr. Nutt was not aware of this when she took a picture of a child taking water from the reservoir.
Security guards were dispatched when the landowner thought Dr. Nutt was recording evidence of his fee for water access. In this experience, Dr. Nutt was exposed to the many layers that are at work when there is a humanitarian response to a conflict. People in the camp were traveling further to gather water because of the fees. The book continues to cover a career path in conflict zones like eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Her writing is most compelling when describing her first-hand experiences. Writers who have worked in aid, and especially in conflict zones, have to establish some level of credibility by narrating a particularly dangerous event. Striking a balance is often hard and can come across like an exercise in saying "look at how bad ass I am."
The strength of Dr. Nutt's book is her restraint in telling these stories. She has experienced attacks and lost friends to assassinations. The focus largely tends to be away from herself. Her inclusion in the stories is a matter of being the witness, not the central player. It is a subtle, but important mechanism that appears to be deliberately employed. In doing so, Dr. Nutt profiles the accomplishments of individuals in their own right, rather than through her help or benevolence.
Mariam, a Somali midwife who worked with UNICEF to curb female genital mutilation, is one example. Dr Nutt narrates a section where she observed Mariam take the lead during a meeting with village elders to explain why ending FGM is important to women's health. Mariam convinced the men to allow her to speak with the village women.
Dr Nutt follows up the story saying, "To be present for these conversations - these moments of education, revelation, and sisterhood - is to confront our assumptions. The entire humanitarian movement and cacophony of NGOs it has spawned are, to melancholic effect, anchored to the myth of the poor nebulous "Other" (in deference to Ryszard Kapuscinski): Hurry, we must save them."
The book progresses in this manner. A self-reflection or personal event is connected to aid - how it is operated and how it is perceived. The final section sheds the stories, transitioning to criticism and ultimately advice. She touches on the challenges and shortcomings of voluntourism, NGO communication tactics to elicit donations, and the myth of low overheads.
For aid workers and people already working in the humanitarian space, these conversations are not groundbreaking. Some may disagree on her points, but have already been exposed to these views. For young people and anyone with little understanding of aid, Dr. Nutt begins to shed light on the many competing ideas that impact aid and development.
The lesson she imparts is that aid is imperfect and has the potential to reduce suffering. As an introduction to international aid, Damned Nations is excellent. The writing style is free from NGO jargon and Dr Nutt's storytelling is engaging. Given the rise in popularity of conflict in aid over the past two weeks, this is a good place for people who are just starting to learn about the subjects.
If Kony 2012 was an introduction to the impact conflict has on the lives of people in Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic, this is a book that will illuminate the continuity of conflict and poverty. It will describe the many contributing factors to conflict and its both direct and indirect consequences.
Personal disclosure: I was provided a review copy by the author. The opinion of this book is entirely my own. I was not provided compensation or any gifts in exchange for this review.
Africa is a region abundant in natural resources and rich in vast oil reserves. In recent years a number of African economies have seen an accelerated GDP growth rate. In many cases the petroleum industry has played a pivotal role in this growth. Some would see the widespread presence of oil as route to unlocking growth and securing development in the region. However, a number of oil rich countries have become victims to the “resource curse”, a term reserved for those countries which have a wealth in minerals, fuels and resources but “tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.”
To what extent and at what cost, human and environmental, will oil shape the future of Africa? How will this dwindling resource cope with rapid extraction and trade at a time when global energy demands are ever increasing? And why is the wealth from overseas trade in oil not passing down to the citizens of developing countries? These are some of the questions we will be asking in today’s blog.
Earlier this year, President Jonathan’s administration announced plans to remove fuel subsidies as part of the 2012 budget; a controversial act that was met with fierce opposition across Nigeria. As the price of petrol for Nigerians rose sharply, threats of strikes and civil protests erupted, serving as a reminder of our ever-increasing dependency on fuel.
Today Nigeria is the third biggest economy in Africa, largely due to the share of crude oil in its exports. In 2000, oil and gas exports accounted for 98% of earnings in Nigeria. Nigerian GDP at purchasing power parity more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. However, the country’s human capital and its overall living standards are still lagging far behind. Wealth generated by oil revenues has not passed down to the citizens of Nigeria, as 45% of the population still live below the poverty line. How do we make sense of this paradox?
For many years Nigeria’s oil industry has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement. The World Bank has estimated that as a result of corruption, 80% of energy revenues in the country only benefit 1% of the population. Moreover, the agricultural industry, which accounts for 26.8% of GDP and two-thirds of employment, has seen a decline in productivity due to years of neglect. The country was once a lead exporter in cocoa, rubber, and palm oil - now production of all three over the past 25 years has declined sharply. Nigeria is country that has immense potential to be a key exporter of food and livestock, yet it now relies on imports of food to support its rapidly growing population.
Nigeria is a country whose relationship with oil over the decades has been volatile. The oil rich Niger Delta region has become the site of an intense and controversial struggle between the state and the indigenous population. Local indigenous people have become incensed by foreign oil corporation reaping the rewards of this resource, when they themselves have seen little if any improvement in their standard of living. In fact, the effects of oil extraction for the environment and the Niger Delta communities have been devastating. According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000. This has led to serious ecological damage in the fragile region. In the last decade, a militant group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has emerged. This group have launched many attacks on oil workers and pipelines, attempting to shut down production in the region.
Another example of an oil rich country affected by the ‘resource curse’ is Sudan. The recent partition of what was once Africa’s largest country, created a new republic - South Sudan. Most of the region’s oil wealth is located in the south, but the agreement surrounding the division of this sought-after resource has been highly contentious. It is feared the dispute over division of oil wealth could eventually be a cause for renewed conflict between the states.
Before the country's divide, Sudan produced around 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The International Monetary Fund estimates that South Sudan’s independence will cost Sudan more than $7.7 billion in lost revenues over the next four years. Being a newly independent state, South Sudan’s economy is currently weak and underdeveloped. It relies heavily on its oil and agricultural sectors. As with Nigeria, the decline in productivity within the Sudan’s agricultural sector can be traced back to when the country first started exporting oil. A lack of food security due to a weak agricultural sector spells disaster for a region susceptible to drought and famine. The country also relies on the import of livestock and food to feed its population despite having largely fertile and arable lands. The resource curse strikes again.
China has recently expressed interests in both Sudan and Nigeria. In 2010, it was announced that China was to construct an $8 billion oil refinery in Lagos, Nigeria. China will also build two other refineries, in Bayelsa and Kogi. It is also in China’s interests to develop Sudan’s weak oil infrastructure as the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is the biggest investor in the country through its 40% stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum. China has purchased 70% of Sudan’s crude oil exports, and has also funded developments in the region such as the $2 billion hydroelectric Merowe dam.
Demand for oil in China and many other OECD nations is expected to continue growing over the coming decades. This increases competition and puts more pressure on countries like Sudan and Nigeria to continue developing their oil sector instead of investing funds and research into renewable sources of energy.
Our expanding global population’s energy demands mean that we are living in a time of voracious crude oil consumption. Although Africa’s oil boom has spelt joy for oil corporations, the rewards will be costly and short-lived. The global dependence on a naturally limited resource is clearly unsustainable. Instead of exploiting this resource at the cost of social and environmental damage, developing African nations will benefit far more from directing attention back into renewable energy, and developing their manufacturing and agricultural industries.