Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pakistan's food shortage alarms rights organizations

Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission (HRCP) has urged the government to take up the issue of food scarcity and rising prices in the country. The organization said food insecurity in Pakistan was reaching alarming levels.

“Growing food scarcity in Pakistan and the subsequent rise in prices have gravely affected access to food and nutrition not just for the poor but also for the large middle-income segment of the population," HRCP said in a statement. "The lack of attention to this critical issue is no less dangerous and frightening than the food scarcity itself."

The NGO also pointed out that the food shortages were the result of bad governmental policy, blaming successive governments for neglecting the issue.

"World Food Day is an occasion for all to reflect on what has undermined people's access to adequately nutritious food and resulted in the geographic and demographic incidence of food scarcity. It should also be an occasion to make a meaningful commitment to helping those struggling with hunger and malnutrition,” HRCP said.

Ali Khan of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Islamabad told DW that the UN was working with the Pakistani government on various projects dealing with food shortages and rising food prices in Pakistan.

"At the moment, about 868 million people in the world have little access to food," he said. "One in eight people is either malnourished or is getting unhealthy food. Pakistan's situation is no different."

Access to food is a constitutional right

Meanwhile, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari vowed that his government would deal with the issue on an emergency basis. In a public message issued on World Food Day, he said he had directed the food and agriculture ministry to formulate a "comprehensive national policy" to improve the agricultural sector. He said that the Pakistani people had a constitutional right to access food.

However, HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yusuf said she doubted the government was sincere. She said "land reforms" were urgent and pointed out that Pakistani farmers were being exploited by the authorities. "They don't give them their rightful dues. This has resulted in apathy among farmers and subsequent food shortages. You need to give incentives to farmers and those associated with agriculture to motivate them."

She also said that Pakistan should learn from the experience and expertise of other countries in overcoming food shortages and reforming the agricultural sector. More


Thursday, October 10, 2013

ADB Releases Report on Managing the Water-Food-Energy Nexus

September 2013: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has released a report, titled 'Thinking About Water Differently: Managing the Water-Food-Energy Nexus,' which argues for recognition of water as an economic and social good and the urgent assurance of regional water security to eliminate risk to food and energy security in Asia and the Pacific.

According to the ADB report, which offers high-level guidance on water issues affecting the region, governments need to think differently about water, taking a longer-term view of the limited resource. It highlights the importance of the following strategic approaches: reforming water governance through advocacy at global, regional, and national levels; generating reliable data and information on the availability and behavior of water resources; resource protection through effective reduction of wastewater and other waste discharging into freshwater supplies through regulation, investment, and innovation; water for food through stimulating research into improving the use of water in agriculture, increasing food production on the same area of land, and using less water; and increasing storage including via aquifer recharge, as a response to uncertainties in supply that are being aggravated by climate change. [Publication: Thinking About Water Differently: Managing the Water-Food-Energy Nexus] [ADB Press Release]



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Namibia battles worst drought in decades

Opuwo, Namibia - The Tjikundi family sits around a small fire boiling a tin pot filled with water and maize - the only food that's available this day. A band of children crawl about, chewing on plastic tubing, and chase the visitors with animated curiosity.

The homestead is spectacular in its bareness. Soft, dry sand interrupted only by rocks and boulders fashion a molten envy for a lighter, brighter time. The livestock kraal is empty. So too are the granaries.

Scraggy roosters gawk and peck at the dust with fraught expectation while a domestic cat, at total odds with the environment, purrs and curls around people's ankles.

"This year is very bad because we have lost all our cattle," Mukaokondunga Tjikundi, in her early 20s, told Al Jazeera. "Sometimes the children go to bed with empty stomachs. Sometimes they just drink some water and go to sleep."

Hunger and hardship are recurring themes in Kunene, the northwest province in Namibia, considered the hardest-hit region by a drought many consider the worst in decades.

Almost one million people out of Namibia’s 2.3 million population face moderate to serious levels of food insecurity. The Namibian government in May estimated this year's harvest would yield 42 percent less than 2012.

In Kunene, two years of failed rains have devastated millet and maize plantations, dried up watering holes for livestock, and forced a population to search for precarious water supplies. Animals drink stagnant water in dry riverbeds, while some Namibians dig for water across the province and guard any source found with little wooden fences.


"If people can resort to [drinking] dirty water, more are likely to suffer from water-borne diseases and the health situation is likely to deteriorate for animals and humans," Jack Ndemena, water and sanitation officer with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Al Jazeera.

"There is nothing and if the rains don’t come, it is going to be a catastrophe."

In May, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was forced to declare a state of emergency and requested $33.7 million in international support to avert a crisis. Recognising the strain across the country, the IFRC and UNICEF launched appeals for $1.2m and $7.4m, respectively.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba has appealed for aid [EPA]

But little aid has arrived.

On September 2, Algeria donated $1m in food aid but the reaction from the rest of the international community has been poor.

Experts say Namibia’s status as a middle-income country hasn’t helped its appeals. Despite its wealth, the country suffers from high levels of income inequality. One-third of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and Namibia ranked 120 out of 187 countries on the 2012 UNDP Human Development Index.

Malnutrition is the second-most common cause of death recorded for children under five, even in non-drought years. And with the onset of this year’s drought, an estimated 109,000 children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition.

"Namibia still does not feed itself, and the middle-income classification comes from livestock, mining and fisheries industries - [this] does not provide an accurate situation on the ground," Cousins Gwanama, head of the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Namibia in Windhoek, told Al Jazeera.

And it is unlikely the situation is about to get better.


With little rainfall predicted for later this year, farmers have described the drought as among the harshest in a generation. Granaries are empty as few crops were planted last year. With plateaus unsuitable for grazing, many pastoralist farmers have been forced to leave their homes and families and herd their livestock to higher ground with more vegetation, often involving a few days’ walk.

Accustomed to little rainfall, farmers have survived in semi-arid regions of Namibia for decades. But the total absence of precipition has left many perplexed and concerned, their farms lurching towards economic ruin.

"I thought we understood the environment, nature, but we are almost confused and don’t know what to expect," farmer Toivo Ruhozu told Al Jazeera.

"If the government doesn’t help, we will just have to face death." More


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Uncertainty on figures hampering food security efforts

More than 600 scientists gathered in the Netherlands for a global food security conference, described as the first of its kind.

The combination of poor harvests
and rising demand has increased
price volatility in global grain markets

Organisers said science could help end uncertainty surrounding efforts to meet the food needs of future generations.

They added that, until now, there were many policy debates on food security but there was no scientific forum for researchers to share knowledge.

The next food security conference will be held in the US in 2015.

"A really key message from the conference for us is that we have got lots of estimates about needs of population growth etc, but at the moment we are so uncertain of the exact numbers - the uncertainty is really very high," said conference co-chairman Ken Giller, professor of plant production systems at Wageningen University.

"We talk about the current population being seven billion, moving to 9.2 billion in 2050 and the estimate is that we need to increase production 70% or more.

"But there are many different ways of addressing that. If we don't know what the problem is then we can't get started in addressing them."

Appetite for change

Prof Giller said there was "unprecedented interest" among the scientific community when details of the conference was first announced.

"We did anticipate about 250-300 people , but we actually ended up with more than 900 abstracts being submitted," he told BBC News.

"The conference was basically sold out - we had 600 people and that was all we could accommodate."

He explained that the conference was designed to create a forum where representatives from the different branches of science could come together and discuss and debate the issues of global food security.

"We pulled together a science committee with the real aim to make the conference broad and to include all the main disciplines," he said.

"We had people on the science committee from economics, nutrition and we had people dealing with food waste, which is a very important topical issue."

Prof Giller said that current estimates suggested that 30-40% of the food produced was wasted and not eaten.

Other themes that were discussed at the conference included:

  • Nutritional security,
  • Sustainable intensification of food production systems,
  • Novel ways of feeding nine billion,
  • Agricultural production as feedstock for renewables.

The organisers hope that the outcomes from the four-day event in Noordwijkerhout, South Holland, will help focus the scientific world's contribution to the UN global policy system.

One of the UN's eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" by 2015, which included the target of halving - between 1990 and 2015 - the proportion of people suffering from hunger.

Assessments suggest the target is "within reach". However, a 2013 report on the progress of the MDGs warned that one in eight people remained chronically undernourished.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced that he wants to build on the MDGs, replacing them with a suite of Sustainable Development Goals that will run from 2015-2030.

He said one of his priorities was to "adopt globally agreed goals for food and nutrition security, mobilise all key stakeholders to provide support to smallholder farmers and food processors and bolster the resilience of communities and nations experiencing periodic food crises". More