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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Half-Century of Failed Efforts to Eradicate Hunger in Africa


At the November 1974 UN World Food Conference in Rome, representatives of 133 governments called for the eradication of the scourge of hunger and malnutrition. They pledged that within a decade – 1984 – no child will go to bed hungry and that no human being’s future will be stunted by malnutrition.

At the November 1996 World Food Security Summit held in Rome leaders of government declared that it was unconscionable that over 800 million people, most of who live in the developing world were hungry. The leaders observed that the scourge of hunger and food insecurity have global dimensions and were likely to persist unless urgent, determined and concerted action was taken.

Assembled in Maputo in July 2003 at the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly, African heads of state expressed concern that 30 percent of their fellow citizens were chronically and severely undernourished. The leaders were also alarmed that the continent had become a net importer of food and was the largest recipient of food aid in the world. Moved by compassion for their fellow citizens, African leaders in what is now known as the Maputo Declaration resolved to adopt sound policies for agricultural and rural development and committed to allocating at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture. 

Ten years after the UN World Food Conference in Rome, the world watched in shock as the Ethiopian famine unraveled, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. The world rallied and the scale of international humanitarian support was extraordinary. Tens of millions of dollars raised helped save thousands of lives. The magnitude of the Ethiopian hunger led to efforts to ensure it never happened again. The most significant of these efforts was the famine early warning system funded by the United States Agency for International Development to provide governments and policy makers with the ability to anticipate and respond robustly to a food crisis.

In June 2005, two years after the Maputo Declaration, the United Nations World Food Programme declared that the greatest humanitarian crisis facing the world was in southern Africa, where more than 8 million people faced starvation and a lethal mix of AIDS, recurring drought and failing governance. Similarly, in Niger a combination of drought and locust infestation resulted in poor harvest, touching off a virulent food crisis, which affected 3.5 million people in 2005. The scale of the Niger food crisis was exacerbated by government inaction and poor coordination between humanitarian and development agencies.

In 2011 the Horn of Africa suffered one of the worst food crises in 60 years, affecting over 12 million people. The crisis was predicted about a year beforehand, when early warning systems signaled the possibility of drier-than-normal conditions in key pastoral areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and Northern Kenya, linked to the effects of the climatic phenomenon La Niña. But response by governments across the region was less than robust. Similarly, the Sahel is still reeling from the aftershocks of four consecutive food and nutrition crises since 2005. Drought, failed harvests, high food prices and the effects of from the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire and Mali left over 15 million people food insecure in 2012. Nutrition care and supplementary feeding continue to be a massive need with 1.4 million children in the Sahel expected to suffer from severe malnutrition in 2013. Moreover, more than 10 million people face food shortages.

According to the State of Food Insecurity  (SOFI) 2012 report nearly 870 million people were suffering from chronic under nourishment between 2010 and 2012. The vast majority of the hungry – 852 million – live in developing countries. The report notes that global number of hungry people declined by 132 million between 1990-92 and 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world's population, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent in developing countries. What is disconcerting, according to the State of Food Insecurity report, is that Africa was the only region where the number of hungry grew over the period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the past four years.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (New Alliance) was launched in 2012 under the US G8 Presidency to revitalize Africa’s agriculture through huge land deals and large agri-business investment models. Can the New Alliance reverse the half-century of monumental national and international policy failure to address Africa’s dire food security and nutrition crisis? 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Kenya’s Economic Growth Path is Defective


According to the World Bank, Kenya's economy will grow an estimated 5.7 percent in 2013 before accelerating to 6% in 2014. This is on the back of impressive, unprecedented growth over the past decade. Despite projections of considerable economic growth and increasing self-confidence as a major regional economic player, millions of lives are wrecked daily by poverty, malnutrition and by pitiable public investment in health and education services.

About 44% or 2 out of every 5 Kenyans live in conditions of extreme poverty, subsisting on less than Ksh.105 a day. These Kenyans spend 50-80% of their income on food and are sinking deeper into a poverty trap triggered by hunger. According to the World Health Organization, around 35% of children under five in Kenya are stunted through malnutrition, with food insecurity widespread in many rural parts of the country.

A food security, vulnerability and nutrition assessment conducted by the government of Kenya in 2010 revealed that more than 25% of urban children were stunted while 13% of urban households had unacceptably low levels of food consumption. In May 2012, the government distributed 4,800 bags of rice and soya and another 400 tins of cooking oil to poor households Nairobi, where it was estimated that 65% were food insecure.

Only 4% of Kenya’s 75% rural population has access to electricity. Wood, charcoal, dung and crop residue supply 76% of Kenya’s domestic energy needs. There is a strong correlation between exposure to biomass fuel and respiratory infections in children. A report published by the Ministry of Health in 2004 revealed that acute respiratory infections contribute to 70% of mortality in children less than 5 years of age.

A report by Uwezo, an education advocacy group, revealed that among standard 3 pupils only 28% from the poorest households had achieved expected numeracy and literacy, compared to 48% in the richest households among grade 3 pupils. 25% of the over 800,000 children who finished primary school in 2102 will not transition to high school. The path to gaining skills and competing in a knowledge economy does not exist for a majority of our children.

According to the 2009 census, only 2 million of 14.5 million Kenyans in employment have stable jobs, which pay a living wage. 12.5 million Kenyans are employed in sectors that are highly vulnerable and do not pay enough to lift our fellow citizens out of poverty. Inequality is staggering; the richest 10% of households spent on average 14.3 times more than the poorest 10% of households in 2011.

The impressive growth of the last decade has not trickled down. Kenya’s overriding preoccupation with economic growth makes no sense without recognizing that sustained gains in human welfare depend on how that wealth is created and distributed. Our economy, which is largely driven by services, has the least potential to generate a broad based shared GDP growth for a population dominated by unskilled school dropouts and struggling smallholder and pastoralists. In a sense, Kenya’s growth path is highly defective and exacerbates inequality.

This path of inequitable growth will have serious implications for political and socio-economic development, undermining the tenuous foundations of our young democracy. GDP growth without investment in human development is unsustainable and unethical. What is the purpose of a growth path that produces handful billionaires, luxury shopping malls and superhighways rather than access to water and sanitation, high quality education for our children, better nutrition and security for millions of Kenyans?

We must learn from China, where massive investment in expansion of education and healthcare in the 1970s is paying off and has proved critical to undergirding China’s sustained economic growth. Without comparable investments in laying such a foundation, Kenya’s economic growth will remain modest and vulnerable.

We must make public investments, which will give the vast majority of our fellow citizens a toehold on the first rung of the ladder out of poverty. These include support to smallholder farmers and pastoralists, affordable public transport such as bus rapid transit, affordable mixed–income housing in urban areas and vocational training and work readiness for recent graduates.

What holds Kenya back is not the quality of our air or soils or water but successive governments, which lack clear-headed, long-term policies and the political will to follow through. We must ask and demand more of our government and ourselves. Most of all, our collective conscience must be stirred because when our conscience quickens political action will follow. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Scale of Corruption in Kenya is Revolting


As a child I always looked forward to school holidays because I would travel upcountry to spend time with my grandparents. The singing of the birds would herald each new day. The chickens coming home to roost, cattle coming home and the monotonous chirping of the crickets were the unyielding harbingers of the end of a day.

I have many memories of my formative days, most of them with deep nostalgia. But I recall one conversation with my grandfather. Grandpa said to me, “never take what is not yours; greed is poison to the soul.” His words, spoken nearly thirty years ago, are eternally etched in my mind. Like in words of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, in my grandpa’s words I found an ace that I could keep. 

There are many ways to describe our society. But integrity is not one of them. 70% of Kenyans reported paying a bribe in 2011, compared to 45% in 2010. According to the Global Corruption Barometer released by Transparency International on July 9 2013 Kenya was ranked the 4th most corrupt country in the world. The top three countries were Sierra Leone, Liberia and Yemen.

Corruption in Kenya ranges from high-level graft on the scale of millions of dollars to low-level bribes to police officers or customs officials. While high-level graft imposes the largest direct financial cost on a country, petty bribes have a corrosive effect on the integrity of public institutions and undermine trust in the government. A majority of Kenyans pay bribes to access public services that should have been freely available and in a timely manner. The prevalence of corruption also warps the political process. Experts argue that African politicians tend to cling to power because endurance in political office proffers unbridled access to state coffers and confers immunity from investigation, prosecution or conviction.

Since independence Kenya’s body politic has been characterized by a culture of personal enrichment and corruption. In the mid 1970s the Kenyan government and the now bankrupt American N-REN Corporation entered an agreement to set up Ken-Ren Fertilizer Factory. By 2015, Kenyan will have paid Ksh.5.1 billion in respect of an original guarantee of only Ksh. 50 million on account of the phantom Ken-Ren Fertilizer project. By some accounts, the factory could have provided hundreds jobs lowered the cost of food production, contributing immensely to national food security. The location, near Kenya’s coastal oil refinery was ideal and the use of refinery by-products to manufacture fertilizer was absolutely sensible.

In the early 1990s the Kenyan government paid export subsidies to Goldenberg International and other companies for gold that was supposedly slated for export. The Goldenberg funds minted many new billionaires, denying Kenyans our children life saving vaccines and books and teachers. More recently, another staggering pilfering of state coffers came with the Anglo-Leasing, where a legion of crooked and slimy transactions were used to line private pockets on your account.

Kenyans look to their government to help create jobs. And I think this is not an unfair expectation. However, in the 2011 Afrobarometer survey revealed that demands for bribes was one of the major obstacles to finding a job. The Kenya Economic Update published in 2012 the World Bank estimates that if the private sector could redirect the money it now spends on corruption to creating jobs, it could create 250,000 jobs, hiring 31% of the youth entering the job market annually. According to the World Bank report Kenya’s endemic corruption acts as a chokehold on the private sector.

The scale of corruption in Kenya is revolting. In 2010, the Kenyan government admitted that it could be losing nearly one-third of the national budget to corruption. Finance ministry officials told a parliamentary committee that the losses were circa Ksh. 332 billion  ($4 billion) a year. Let me break this down for you.  With Ksh.332 billion we could build 10 Thika superhighways and keep some change. Ksh. 332 billion was double our education budget in 2010. With Ksh. 332 billion we could put enough well paid teachers in our schools, get agriculture working and employ enough policemen to keep us safe on the streets and in our homes.

Xi Jinping, China’s new president has made curbing government excess a central part of his ideology. Does the Jubilee government have the nerve to fight corruption? Or will it breed and nourish new graft barons just like past regimes? 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Impacts of Climate Change and the Cost of Inaction


It is July 9, 2113. The mean global temperature has increased by 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Reason? One hundred years ago world leaders failed to pay attention to urgent warnings to curb emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. The concentration of carbon dioxide today is 800 parts per million, compared to 400 parts per million in 2013.
Yesterday, July 8, 2113, the United Nations declared that global food reserves are dangerously low. Marine fisheries have crushed; agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa has collapsed under prolonged drought, pests, heat stress and flooding. Vector-borne diseases chronically debilitate billions of people. Billions of people are pouring across national borders, displaced by extreme weather. Billions more are hungry and infirm. East Africa’s savannah based tourism has collapsed because high carbon dioxide fertilization favored a shift from grassland to woodland. The Islands of Pemba and Zanzibar have recently disappeared, including the booming economies of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
A new report, Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience, prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute of Climate Research and Climate Analytics reveals that mean global temperatures could increase by 2 degrees Celsius in the next 20 to 30 years. As a consequence, the likelihood of 4 degree Celsius warming being reached by 2100 has increased.
In sub-Saharan Africa, climate-related extreme events could reverse economic and social progress, pushing hundreds of millions below the poverty line. High temperatures and moisture stress will affect food security adversely. The report reveals that by 2030, 40% of current maize cropping will no longer be suitable for today’s varieties. There are indications that yields could decrease by 15-20% across all crops.
The report reveals that there is a high likelihood of high intensity rainfall periods in the Horn of Africa and parts of East Africa, which is likely to, increase the risk of flooding. Overall, higher drought intensity is projected for the Great Horn of Africa. The 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, which was particularly severe in Kenya and Somalia, is consistent with an increased probability of long-rains failure under a warming planet. Moreover, increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide is likely to accelerate a shift from grass to woodland savanna, with a likely negative impact on pastoral livelihoods and economies if pasture–based resources are reduced.  
The connection between extreme weather and decline in GDP has been established. For example Kenya suffered annual damages of 10-16% of GDP because of flooding associated with the El Nino in 1997-98 and the La Nina drought of 1998-2000. It has been shown that both rainfall and temperature have contributed significantly to poor economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Recent studies have shown that a 1% increase in the spatial area of a sub-Saharan Africa experiencing moderate drought correlates with a 2-4% decrease in GDP growth.
The increasing fragility of natural and managed ecosystems and their services is in turn expected to diminish the resilience of sub-Saharan Africa’s socioeconomic systems, leaving them more vulnerable to non climatic stressors and shocks, such as emerging pandemics, trade disruptions, or financial market shocks. Climate change is a fundamental threat to economic development and the fight against hunger, poverty and disease, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. A warmer planet will exacerbate undernourishment, stunting, undermine educational performance and cause morbidity and mortality from malaria and other diseases to rise in just a few decades.
A report by the United States National Climate Assessment released early this year admits that the consequences of human induced climate change are now hitting the country on several fronts including health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially more frequent severe weather such as Superstorm Sandy.
Our science has brought unequivocal clarity to present and future global climate change. Climate change can no longer be seen as some future risk, a canister that can be kicked down the hill. Urgent action to cut down greenhouse gas emissions is needed now. As a global citizens, individuals, communities and governments we must respond urgently to curb greenhouse gas emissions and respond robustly to help our civilization adapt to the unfolding impacts triggered by past emissions.
All too frequently, inaction is motivated by the perceived high economic cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But the cost of inaction or the tranquilizing drug of gradualism will be incalculable; the collapse of our civilization as we know it today. 

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