Only One Planet

Over the past 20 years World food production has increased by 2.1% per year. Current production of cereals amounts to some 1.9 billion tonnes per year; with the World population standing at 6.2 billion that gives 306 kg per year for every man, woman and child on the face of the planet - and that's just cereal. There is enough food around to give everyone 2,700 calories per day. The minimum requirement is 2,100 calories per day and malnourishment is considered to be anything lower than 1,800 calories per day.

However, in the developing world one in five people do not have enough food to meet their daily requirements. 800 million people are malnourished. One person dies each and every second from starvation and it's related diseases. Three quarters of those are children under the age of five. Fifteen children died in the time it took you to read this short paragraph.

Although food production outstrips the population it is unevenly distributed. Where crops fail because of things like drought, the people starve. 

Food aid often does not reach the people who so desperately need it because of local politics, criminal greed and the concentration of power in too few hands with the corruption that often accompanies such a situation.

As I write these words there is a disastrous famine occurring in Malawi, where thousands of people are starving to death. The African country is one of the poorest in the World and it's population of 11 million needs some 1.8 million tonnes of maize per year. As the famine takes a grip the price of maize is soaring; on the black market, the price of maize in the Southern and Central regions of the country has risen in some places by up to 600 percent, putting it out of the reach of the poor.

As early as August 2001, the government of Malawi knew that it was facing a crisis when it had a deficit of 0.4 million tonnes and yet it not only failed to acknowledge that disaster was staring them in the face, they exacerbated the problem by selling vital stocks to Kenya. President Bakili Muluzi finally declared a state of national disaster in February of this year. Malawi needs at least $21.6m of international aid to avert a human catastrophe, but so far less than $5m have been raised. Malawi's deputy agriculture minister, Mekkie Mtewa,  has just been dismissed for revealing that senior politicians were hoarding maize in order to sell it at higher prices.

"Lack of good governance has resulted in a misallocation of resources, increased the cost of doing business, created a general distrust in public sector activities, and weakened civil service morale. There is a need to recognize that corruption and weak governance in tandem with bad policies make financial aid ineffective, even counter-productive. Thus, we support the authorities' efforts to strengthen the legal framework and the institutions that combat corruption, mismanagement and fraud, and encourage them to swiftly bring to closure high profile corruption cases."
(Paragraph 19 of the Malawió2002 Article IV Consultation Concluding Statement of the IMF Mission - May 14, 2002)

Ethiopia Eritrea Mauritania Angola Zambia Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Lesotho Swaziland

In southern Africa at the moment (June 2002) famine is spreading across seven countries. There are some eight million people needing emergency food now in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the UN World Food Program (WFP) has appealed for 1.3 million tonnes of emergency food. According to UN agencies that figure will rise to 13 million by the end of the year. The principal causes are said to be: drought, erratic rainfall and warfare, and is exacerbated by AIDS and compounded by government policies. Angola is considered a different type of case, as malnutrition there is longstanding as a result of 27 years of civil war that ended in April of this year.

At the beginning of July 2002 the World Food Programme (WFP) called for $500m to save the 13 million people facing starvation across southern Africa, but has only received offers of $130m towards its target (11 July 2002). Further down this page, towards the bottom, you will find details of aid agencies which are appealing for charitable donations to help alleviate this suffering


In poorer nations the poverty stricken amongst the population cannot afford to buy what food is available.

Number of undernourished people (1969-1997)

  Undernourished people (millions)
  1969-71 1979-81 1990-92 1995-97
Sub-Saharan Africa 89 126 164 180
Near East & North Africa 45 22 26 33
East & South-East Asia 504 406 283 241
South Asia 267 338 299 284
Latin America & the Caribbean 54 46 59 53
Industrialized countries n/a n/a 9 8
Countries in transition n/a n/a 20 26
TOTALS 959 938 860 825
Source: FAO (1999)

You can see from the above table that World starvation levels have fallen by 14% overall over the 28 year period of the survey. This has been mainly due to better nourishment levels in Asia. But Sub-Saharan Africa has incurred a doubling of their suffering over the same period. The map below shows succinctly where the main problems lie:

UN Map of the percentage of population undernourished, by subregion, 1996-1998

28 June 2002 - MORE WOE IN AFRICA
Six million people in Zimbabwe - practically half the 13 million population - are in imminent peril and will need food aid within a matter of months. President Mugabe's government has blamed the food crisis on drought, but it has been exacerbated by Mugabe's continuance with land seizures from the country's white commercial farmers. Aid agencies are claiming that there is a significant risk of deaths because of hunger, especially among the country's children.

31 June 2002
Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe is refusing to accept thousands of tonnes of maize from the US, because some of it is genetically modified. It has also been reported that Mugabe's government is denying emergency food aid to people in areas that oppose his government. For more information see the New Scientist article.

 • Improved agricultural and irrigation technologies in areas where crop failure is high.
 • Better and more efficient distribution of food around the World.
 • Better relief mechanisms to areas of famine, bypassing local corruption and greed.
 • Make food available to the poorest people in the World by reducing World poverty and allowing people to buy what they need.
 • Reduce intra and inter-national conflicts, which means a unified international Negotiation Organisation and a better and more cohesive international Peace-Keeping Policy.

See, easy ... I solved it. Now, can we just get out there and get on with it?

The following aid agencies are currently appealing for donations to help with food supplies:

Oxfam - Oxfam International has a briefing paper on the famine. Donations can be made via the Oxfam sites in each individual country. In the UK, contributions are accepted via Oxfam GB's special Southern Africa donations page, or by post at Oxfam, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7DZ, UK. Tel: +44 1865 313131

World Vision -  also active in southern Africa. In addition to its main website, the charity has more information on its national sites - the UK site has further details specific to the UK.

Care International and Care International UK - has up-to-date information on the famine, especially in Malawi. It is possible to donate online. The UK arm is also accepting donations at CIUK, 10-13 Rushworth Street, London SE1 0RB, UK

Christian Aid - British-based charity Christian Aid has produced a special report on the situation. You can donate online to Christian Aid's appeal, or by post to: Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London SE1 7RT, UK. Tel: +44 80 80 004 004

Save the Children - The UK arm of Save the Children has information on its appeal relating to the Malawi famine, and opportunities to donate.

Medecins sans Frontieres - This international charity providing emergency medical care has a special report on MSF's involvement in emergency relief in Angola, as well as a donations page, with details on how to donate from different countries. In the USA, the charity is called Doctors without borders.

World Relief - The international charity World Relief also has a special report on the Malawi famine.

Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) - Donations to UK charities, including many of those listed above, can be made via DEC, which has a report on the famine. Donations can be made online or by calling +44 870 6060900.

Concern - Dublin-based Concern is doing emergency work in several parts of Angola. Donations can be made via the web-site.


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This page last updated: 29 June 2002