By Sebhat Ayele MCCJ
The UN and other leading environmentalist are issuing alarms about famine stricken populations mostly in Africa. This humanitarian crisis is the most menacing since 1945. The United Nations calls the current situation of famine “a catastrophe”. UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. UNICEF has already warned 1.4m children could starve to death this year. The UN Chief says $4.4bn (£3.6bn) was needed by July to avert disaster. “We stand at a critical point in history”, Mr. O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday 10th of March: “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.
The real issue at stake is; could this “catastrophe” be avoided? If yes, who is responsible and what could be done to escape another similar crisis? What is World Earth day reminding the whole of humanity? World Earth Day is celebrated every year as an annual event across the world on 22nd of April, in order to increase awareness about environmental safety amongst people as well as to demonstrate the environmental protection measures. First time, the World Earth day was celebrated in the year 1970 and then started celebrating annually on global basis by almost 192 countries. The theme of World Earth Day 2017 is “Environmental and Climate Literacy”.
So far, what is known is that “Our Earth” is the only planet in the Universe where life is possible till date. It is very necessary to maintain the natural assets of the earth in order to continue the life on earth. In the rush of the crowd, the most intelligent creature God called ‘human’ is slowly losing its humanity and forgetting to take care of the planet that gave it life and has started using its resources very ruthlessly. The 22nd April is marked as an “Earth Day” to make the human race get aware about the importance of their planet. And that is why the theme for this year is: “Environment and Climate Literacy”.
Victims of Starvation
At the moment, the countries seriously affected are: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. As stated above, even though drought has its own effect, conflicts and war are among the main causes of famine in these countries.
Yemen: The UN estimates some 19 million people – or two thirds of Yemen’s population – is in need of some sort of humanitarian help following two years of war between Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. It is estimated that a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from a preventable disease, while half a million children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
South Sudan: Overall, the UN, 4.9 million people – or 40% of South Sudan’s population – are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. UN agencies say 100,000 people are facing starvation, while a further million are classified as being on the brink of famine. It is the most acute of the present food emergencies and the most widespread nationally.
Nigeria: Another unfolding disaster is in north-eastern Nigeria. The UN describes it “as the greatest crisis on the continent”. The full extent of which has only been revealed as extremist militant group Boko Haram is pushed back. It was already known the Islamist group had killed 15,000 and pushed more than two million from their homes. But as they were forced to withdraw, it became clear there were thousands more people living in famine-like conditions in urgent need of help. The UN estimated by the end of last year, there were 75,000 children at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria.
Somalia: The last time a famine was declared in Somalia – just six years ago – nearly 260,000 people died. At the beginning of March this year, there were reports of 110 people dying in just one region in a 48-hour period. Humanitarian groups fear this could be just the beginning: a lack of water – blamed partially on the El Nino weather phenomenon – has killed off livestock and crops, leaving 6.2 million people in urgent need of help.
Eastern and Horn of Africa
The whole of Eastern Africa is also under threat for famine and food shortages unless something is done to avert it. Uganda’s 30% population faces famine. The widespread droughts that Uganda experienced in 2016 will likely lead to widespread famine in 2017. The drought brought many farmers on the brink of financial ruin. And Uganda is considered the most agricultural hub in the region. In the same line, On February 10th, 2017, the President of Kenya declared the drought a national disaster. The Kenyan government projects that about 1.3 million people are currently affected by the drought and in need of immediate support. This number is estimated to increase to 2.4 million people by April 2017. The same warning of drought and famine is given also in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Causes of Famine
According to the United Nations measures, a food security crisis is considered “FAMINE” when “20 percent of households face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.” Famine exacerbates the challenges of people in poverty and pulls many into the cycle of poverty. This is especially problematic in Africa. With this criteria in mind, what are the main causes of famine?
As noticed above, conflict is the common denominator of the countries in catastrophic food shortages. It is obvious that when a government is engaged in war, whether civil or with another country, the leadership of a country must divert funds from some sectors to military expenditure. In some cases, funding is removed from development, leaving the population especially vulnerable to natural disasters or the effects of conflict on agricultural production. Conflict and war automatically produce IDPs and refugees who are forced to leave their homes and live in congested camps and unhealthy environment.
Deforestation can have a negative impact on the environment. In many African countries, huge forests are laid bare because of ruthless and unregulated cutting of trees. Unless trees are replanted to substitute those cut, the effect is exactly what we are witnessing today. The most dramatic impact is a loss of a habitat for millions of species. Eighty percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes.
Climate change directly affects food production, which can create widespread food insecurity and famine. For instance, rising temperatures reduce crop yields by reducing photosynthesis and soil fertility. Higher temperatures, too, increase the survival rate of weeds and diseases that reduce agricultural output. Increased rainfall and droughts destroy cropland and prevent production entirely. In 2007, heavy rain destroyed a quarter of Bangladesh’s rice crop and over one million acres of cropland. Extreme variation in weather and intense effects of climate change such as rising temperatures, rainfall and droughts prevent farmers from making accurate predictions regarding agricultural seasons. This, in turn, affects the output of food from farmers, which increases food insecurity. High food insecurity both motivates conflict, as mentioned before, and increases the likelihood of famine.
Save Earth Environment
Destroying the environment is a sin, Pope Francis said in a message from the Vatican City last year in September. The Pontiff is concerned that if Global warming continues, the consequences will be deadly. He linked environmental concerns to the growing global migrant crisis. The message echoes the central theme of Laudato Si, his encyclical on Environment published in May 2015.
Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick. In a message to mark the Catholic Church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that he launched last year, Francis said, the worst impact of global warming was being felt by those who were least responsible for it – refugees and the poor.
As noted, Francis described man’s destruction of the environment as a sin and accused mankind of turning the planet into a “polluted wasteland full of debris, desolation and filth”. “We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior,” he said. “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence … We have no such right.” The pope asked people to reflect on a society that lacked concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.
In conclusion, whether rich or poor, all are responsible to save the planet and likewise urban or rural dwellers. All are held accountable for the disasters looming on Mother Earth. Parents should teach and coach children in the families how to protect the environment. Central and local governments have indispensable roles to enforce laws that protect nature in order to keep a healthy environment. “The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” —Lady Bird Johnson
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