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Food: Global franchise, global problem

(This item is my entry for Blog Action Day October 16, 2011. This year's topic is "Food". My past contributions to Blog Action Day can be read here.)

Global franchises. Here's an example:

The preview to tonight's episode of Junior Masterchef Pinoy Edition in the Philippines. "Masterchef", the TV reality/game show pandering to the viewer's lust for haute cuisine and inner desires to be a five-star chef, which began modestly in the UK a few years ago and then found raging success in Australia. Such raging success that it span off a kids' version in Australia which is now in its second season. The Junior Masterchef sub-franchise is now, in turn, spawning its own international editions. The networks, the sponsors, the captive viewers and their captivated children all love their food.

Not every international food event is so happy. Not every child can be a junior masterchef or even a chef. Not every child can watch other children be junior masterchefs on television. Or even watch television. Many children have trouble eating enough food to be healthy. Many are dying because their homelands are stricken by famine.

The countries in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya) face the most critical, but certainly not the only, food security crisis in the world at the moment. Four provinces of Somalia (Bakool, Bay, Lower and Middle Shabelle) have been declared in a state of famine, the culmination both of prolonged drought and lack of proper assistance to those affected by drought - Somalia having had no centralised government for almost two decades.

Some key points from the UN-OCHA situation report for the Horn of Africa issued on Friday October 14:

  • Some 13.3 million people are in need of assistance across the Horn of Africa (including 4 million in Somalia, 4.5 million in Ethiopia, 3.75 million in Kenya)
  • Around 60 to 70 per cent of those in need are currently receiving assistance, leaving perhaps three to four million still not reached.
  • Over half a million of those needing assistance in Kenya are displaced persons from Somalia
  • Rainfall has begun in affected areas of Kenya and Ethiopia but is unlikely to ease the drought before 2012, however up to 18,000 people have been displaced by flooding along the Wabishabelle River in Ethiopia
  • Confiscation of humanitarian aid by Al Shabaab in Somalia, as well as confrontations between Al Shabaab and African Union mission forces, is hampering distribution of relief, while Al Shabaab's continued influence has probably exacerbated the famine
  • In Somalia some 450,000 children under the age of five are believed to be malnourished.
  • In Kenya some eight million livestock have been lost due to drought.
  • Cases of measles and dengue fever are on the increase in Kenya, as are cases of measles in Somalia.

Humanitarian aid is clearly the most pressing need at this point - $US 2.4 billion has been requested and around 75 per cent of that has been funded. Restoring food production is critical, and assistance to agriculture and the restoration of related livelihoods is an essential element of international aid programs. We can all help by donating to the various aid programs taking part.

Other issues are, of course, more of an arm wrestle. Eliminating corruption, bringing stability and sound government to Somalia are difficult problems. Doing everything we can to curb climate change will require a lot of resolve from everyone, and so far the governments of the world are showing too much self-interest and too little mutual trust to advance far enough in that direction.

There will, I expect, be much debate over food security in the 2011 World Food Day edition of Blog Action Day, of which this entry is a part. Consider carefully, as you play armchair judge over the bruschetta prepared in the latest Junior Masterchef challenge or fret over the latest three-hat restaurant to shut its doors. Food is a basic human need and a basic human right. Not everyone is getting enough.