Written by: Alan Singer 04/20/2017 06:40 am ET
Saturday April 22, 2017 is Earth Day. There are marches planned in over 500 cities in defense of science, in favor of environmental responsibility, and against the Trump administration’s denial of science, defunding of climate research, and policies that contribute to global warming and climate change. The main march and a teach-in are planned planned for Washington DC. I will participate in New York City. Popular scientists Neil DeGrasse Tyson warns “Earth will survive this . . . don’t worry about Earth.” It is people who are in danger. “Earth will be here long after we render ourselves extinct.”
This semester I am teaching a class at Hofstra University on the history of the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852), its causes and lingering after-effects. One reason I will be marching is the role human action, human inaction, and climate change play in causing famine today, especially in very vulnerable areas regions of Africa.
According to a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the average temperature in the Sahel region of northern Africa rose by nearly one degree Celsius, approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, between 1970 and today. This increase, which is nearly twice the global average, results in unpredictable rainfall and more frequent and severe droughts and storms.
These climate conditions threaten the highly fragile states and economies in the region that have limited capacities to adapt to climate-related shocks. Climate change and government instability work together producing a deadly downward spiral. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described climate change in the Sahel as a “threat multiplier,” exacerbating political and ethnic tensions and triggering new conflicts. Expect the problem of environmental devastation in the Sahel caused by climate change to grow worse in future decades as average temperatures continue to rise.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reports that seventy million people in forty-five countries are unable to feed themselves largely because of conflict, drought, and economic instability. FEWS Net was created in 1985 during the Reagan administration and is funded by USAID, a federal agency whose mission is to “end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.” The Trump administration plans to cut the USAID budget by more than a third.
In March, Stephen O’Brien, the United Nation’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that the world is “facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.”
- Four million Kenyans are dealing with one of the worst droughts in the region’ history.
- In South Sudan, about 3.5 million people are displaced by war and 7.5 million people need some sort of food assistance.
- In Yemen, virtually an entire nation, twenty-seven million people, faces the “spectre of famine.” Two-thirds of the population, roughly eighteen million people, currently need some food assistance. About one-third of the Yemeni people do not know if and when they will have their next meal.
- Somalia is experiencing its second famine since 2011 when a quarter of a million people died. Three million people are at immediate risk of famine and starvation, including one million children under the age of five who are acutely malnourished. Women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water. Without livestock and with water sources dried up, they have nothing left to survive on. At regional hospitals people are dying of famine-related diseases, diarrhea, cholera, and malnutrition. The World Health Organization reported more than 21,000 cases of cholera, including 533 deaths, in Somalia in the first three months of 2017.
O’Brien appealed to the United Nations’ President, Security Council, and General Assembly to allocate $4.4 billion in emergency funds as a minimum to meet the crises in these countries and Nigeria. However, member states responded with less than a tenth of the money, only $423 million. While these events are unfolding, the Trump administration is threatening sharp cuts in foreign aid, including halving the United States’ ten billion dollar a year allocation to the United Nations. Under previous administrations, the United States was the United Nation’s largest single donor for humanitarian aid.
There are over four million displaced people in East Africa, exacerbating conditions for famine. The worst affected are children and lactating mothers and their infants. In southeast Ethiopian refugee camps, acute malnutrition rates among newly arriving Somali children between six months and five years old is over 50% and sometimes reaches 80%. Severe food insecurity is also undermining education in the region. 175,000 students in drought-stricken areas of Kenya stopped attending school, almost 600 schools closed in Ethiopia, and the education of 5 million children in the region is threatened.
Other than for India, the regions of the world with the greatest risk of climate-induced famine are also the regions with the smallest carbon footprint. Essentially people in these under-developed areas are forced to pay the price for an industrial revolution that primarily benefited North America and Western Europe at their expense.
These are all reason to march on Earth Day.
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Famine in the World Today Rap by Reeces Pieces
Famine in the world today, will just not go away, / Caused by capital’s sway and global climate fray, it’s not enough for us to pray. / As global temperature climbs, people prepare for the worst of times, / Forced to fight over nickels and dimes, with little help from pathetic rhymes, Africans are victim of Western crimes. / Children are the first to die as mothers weep with helpless cry, / In Third World nations horrify but wealthy corporations just stand-by, imperialist world has no alibi. / Trump and U.S. refuse to expend, leave starving alone to fend, / Sahel region is without a friend, so we know what the future portends, it’s Irish famine all over again. / There’s more than enough food, it depends how it’s used, / If just policies were pursued, but the wealthy nations collude, and poorer countries are screwed.