Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Climate change contributes to starvation in Africa

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Raise the topic of global warming and Winnipeggers are apt to think about melting polar ice caps or this year's mild winter.

But in several African countries, climate change is already being cited as a contributor to hunger, and the fear is its effects will grow more dire.

The United Nations and several Winnipeg-based aid agencies say climate change is already responsible for more frequent and intense natural hazards, such as droughts and devastating floods, on the African continent.

It has become one more obstacle -- along with conflict, depleted soils and a lack of roads and other infrastructure -- to food production in sub-Saharan Africa, where 239 million people don't have enough to eat.

"It (climate change) is not like it's just something we need to worry about 20 years from now. It's already happening, and it's going to increase," said Jim Cornelius, executive director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a Winnipeg agency that helps people in close to 20 countries in Africa. "It is very worrisome for the future."

Along with providing emergency food aid where needed in Africa, the food-grains bank and other agencies, such as the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and Mennonite Central Committee, have been focused increasingly on helping farmers and communities adapt to climate change.

"Africa... is home to WFP's most extensive efforts to reduce the impact of climate change," said the UN organization's Canadian spokeswoman, Julie Marshall.

"We work with communities on activities like agricultural support, water management, reforestation and infrastructure improvements... that help to sustain them through further droughts," she said.

Most affected are the Horn of Africa (including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia) and the Sahel, which includes Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali.

In a changing climate where drought is more prevalent, it becomes more important for farmers to manage water for their crops.

International Development Enterprises, an NGO whose Canadian headquarters is in Winnipeg, has helped millions of farmers in developing nations by tailoring innovations such as human-powered micro-irrigation systems to local needs.

"The idea is to get technology that is affordable for small farmers," said Stuart Taylor, a local IDE official. His organization operates in Asia, Central America and five African countries -- Ghana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Zambia and Burkina Faso. It works with suppliers in these regions who sell to farmers.

Canada is the second-largest donor -- after the United States -- to the UN World Food Program, said Marshall. Last year, the Canadian government contributed a record $294 million to the initiative. The assistance is also "untied," which means food and materials need not be sourced in Canada. This helps aid agencies buy food closer to the source of hunger, sometimes supporting farmers in another region of the same country.

The food-grains bank, which has 15 member agencies representing 32 Christian denominations in Canada, raised more than $10 million last year. That allowed it tap into another $25 million in federal Canadian International Development Agency funding. Much of its budget is spent in Africa.

Cornelius and other aid officials say there have been many successes on the continent.

Not only have they been able to prevent famine and soothe hunger, but they have also helped many communities in numerous countries adopt more self-sustaining farming practices and improve local infrastructure.

But many regions need help and so the work continues.


Hunger in Africa

South Sudan: Soaring fuel and food prices have left as many as three million people in need of emergency food aid. The UN World Food Program (WFP) is supplying highly fortified, supplementary, ready-to-eat meals to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. It's also issued an emergency appeal for $262 million to deliver food there before the start of the rainy season in March. It still needs to raise $177 million.

Horn of Africa: Drought in the Horn of Africa, coupled with conflict in Somalia, has affected more than 13 million people. The WFP is providing food in five countries in the region (Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda). Recently, the Winnipeg-based Canadian Foodgrains Bank committed $13 million for food and other aid to help 355,000 people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Of that total, about $6 million has gone to Ethiopia, another $6 million to Kenya and $1 million to Somalia.

Niger: Drought and a poor harvest in this West African country have caused food prices to shoot up. Aid agencies are planning a scale-up of operations to reach as many as three million people with food aid. The UN says nearly 750,000 "are severely food-insecure."

-- Sources: United Nations World Food Program and Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2012 A4

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