Socialist Worker

Market rules mean that famine hits poor countries

Issue No. 1979

Five months after the G8 leaders gathered at Gleneagles and vowed that they would tackle world poverty, famine is sweeping regions of Africa.

In Niger children are still dying, despite a record harvest and widespread international publicity for the country’s problems. Some 3.8 million people are undernourished.

There is no war in Niger. The problem is poverty and the high prices that mean that even when food is available, many people cannot afford it. The IMF and the World Bank continue to insist that the market must rule.

Cereal prices in Niger’s markets have stabilised since the return of the harvest, allowing most people some relief from the worst effects of this year’s food shortages.

However the cost of millet and sorghum remains above the five year average, prompting concerns that staple foods will be priced beyond the reach of many poor households when their stocks run out.

Over 1.2 million people are estimated to have cereal stocks sufficient for only three months. A further two million have stocks that will last a maximum of five months. Nearly two million more face a precarious year.

Elsewhere in West Africa 3.6 million people are undernourished in Mali, 2.7 million in Chad, 2.2 million in Ivory Coast and 2.1 million in Guinea. In southern Africa 36 million people in Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia are undernourished.

A new United Nations (UN) report shows that hunger and malnutrition are killing nearly six million children each year worldwide, a figure that roughly equals half the number of children in Britain.

Many children in poorer countries die from a handful of treatable infectious diseases including diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and measles. They would survive if their bodies and immune systems had not been weakened by hunger and malnutrition.

The UN report is scathing about the failures of the most powerful countries.

“Progress towards reducing the number of hungry people in developing countries by half by 2015 has been very slow and the international community is far from reaching its hunger reduction targets and commitments,” wrote Food and Agriculture Organisation director-general Dr Jacques Diouf in the foreword to the report.

“If each of the developing regions continues to reduce hunger at the current pace, only South America and the Caribbean will reach the millennium development goal target of cutting the proportion of hungry people by half.”

Around 75 percent of the world’s hungry and poor people live in rural areas in poor countries. These regions are home to the vast majority of the nearly 11 million children who die before reaching the age of five.

They are home to the majority of the 530,000 women who die during pregnancy, the more than one million malaria deaths each year, and the 121 million children who do not attend school.


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International
Sat 3 Dec 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1979
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