One in every nine people goes to bed hungry each night, so declares Mercy Corps, a global civic group. According to it, those going to bed hungry include the 20 million people currently at risk of famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.
Mercy Corps is however working to achieve a real and lasting impact in the world’s toughest humanitarian emergencies. The group has been responding to almost every global natural disaster in the last 20 years, including the Nepal earthquake, the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
In Eastern Nigeria, the changing population densities, urbanisation and poverty are combining to spark variations in land use and land cover which has given rise to environmental problems such as the menacing gully erosion, landslide, flooding, air and water pollution and depletion of land with high agricultural potentials.
Without the doubt, food insecurity is occurring in Eastern Nigeria, the hotbed of Biafra agitation due to decreased farm land holding sizes, population explosions, constant droughts and floods, among other causative factors.
Environmental rights advocacy groups like the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), galvanised by Nnimmo Bassey, have been loud in saying that floods are arising in Nigeria from climatic change. Climate change affects agriculture in so many ways and this further result in food shortage.
For instance cases of floods have been on the increase in recent times in Nigeria and this is affecting farmland and also leading to crop failure. And, increased urbanisation and industrial projects are fueling deforestation.
Those who know better say, forests and trees make an essential contribution to food security by helping to maintain the environmental conditions needed for agricultural production. They stabilise the soil, prevent erosion, enhance the land’s capacity to store water, and moderate air and soil temperatures.
The importance of these effects has often been ignored in the past, with the clearance of tree vegetation and the subsequent loss of millions of hectares of productive land. Furthermore, as forests continue to be cleared-exposing the land to direct attack from wind and rain-soil erosion and land degradation are still undermining agriculture’s resource base.
In the Niger Delta, the oil-polluted treasure base of Nigeria, hunger has been on rampage before the outbreak of COVID-19. Decades of oil spills, and gas flaring have adversely affected crop yields in the environmentally despoiled oil region. For instance, cassava, the staple crop of the oil region, now yields very tiny tubers when harvested.
Cassava is usually fermented and processed into garri (fried cassava flour). In Owodokpokpo-Igbide, in the Isoko axis of Delta State, foods produced from cassava include garri and other forms of the starch eaten with banga (palm kernel) soup or fish pepper soup.
In the Ogoni axis of Rivers State, local chiefs in Goi, Gokana Local Government Area, claimed that the cassava has been contaminated by oil spills, to the extent that crude oil has seeped out of the fermented cassava as it is processed by local women. These contaminated cassava tubers are inedible or unsafe to eat.
Other staple crops such as yam tubers, plantains, and coco-yams are no longer plentiful due to poor harvests. Reportedly, farmers in Beneku, Ndokwa Local Government Area of Delta State have been crying out about the high cost of yam seedlings, and pests preventing them from cultivating yams.
The lack of storage facilities, according to those who know, is equally compounding the problem of food scarcity in the oil region. Often, farmers in the region are forced to harvest their crops prematurely because crops left for too long in the soil, are at risk from both floods and oil spills. In 2008 and 2012, for instance, flooding devastated farmlands and food crops, and displaced many local people from their communities.
Many farmers also lack access to modern implements, fertilizers, and herbicides capable of helping to boost crop yields. In most of the rustic oil-bearing communities, farmers do not appear to be aware of facilities or programmes designed to boost agriculture offered by their state Ministry of Agriculture and interventionist agencies.
For instance, in Ikarama, Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, most farmers are complaining that they are not able to afford seedlings for planting farms and have to resort to begging to get such seedlings. Some are also lamenting their inability to afford hire labourers to weed their farms before the planting season.
Local communities in the oil region which used to have rich varieties of fresh and saltwater fish, hardly catch nor afford to buy enough fish to meet their dietary needs these days. Many species of fish, such as catfish, are no longer seen, while the tilapia and mudfish populations have been seriously depleted.
As lavishly documented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), oil pollution has affected artisanal fishermen more significantly than fish farmers, because oil corporations do not pay compensation for their pollution of rivers and damage caused to fishing nets and traps. Artisanal fishermen say in the 1970s, they could catch up to 20 or so large fish each day using nets and fish cages with hooks attached to them.
Currently, fishermen only catch three to five large fish on a good day, and one or none at all on a bad one. An edible beetle that is gathered from the raffia palm is also gradually becoming extinct as a result of the destruction of the swamps and rain forest due to oil-related activities. In Bayelsa, this insect is called Bayelsa suya (palm weevil larvae), and it serves as a supplementary source of protein for many people, given the scarcity or depletion of fish.
Like in the Eastern Nigeria and the Niger Delta area, around the world, 821 million people do not have enough of the food they need to live an active, healthy life. People suffering from chronic hunger are plagued with recurring illnesses, developmental disabilities and low productivity. They are often forced to use all their limited physical and financial resources just to put food on the table.
According to Mercy Corps, “being hungry means more than just missing a meal. It’s a debilitating crisis that has more than 820 million people in its grip, with millions more now under its threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hunger is a perilous cycle that passes from one generation to the next: Families who struggle with chronic hunger and malnutrition consistently go without the nutrients their minds and bodies need, which then prevents them from being able to perform their best at work, school, or to improve their lives.’’
Mercy Corps believes that breaking the cycle of poverty and building strong communities begins when every person has enough nutritious food to live a healthy and productive life. It is a key to the group’s work in more than 40 countries around the world.
Hunger in the developing world
Ninety-eight per cent of the world’s hungry live in developing regions. The highest number of malnourished people, 520 million, lives in Asia and the Pacific, in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 243 million people face hunger in arid countries like Ethiopia, Niger and Mali. And millions of people in Latin America and the Caribbean are struggling to find enough to eat, in places like Guatemala and Haiti. The majority of these hungry families live in rural areas where they widely depend on agriculture to survive.
In many places, male-dominated social structures limit the resources women have like job opportunities, financial services, and education, making them more vulnerable to poverty and hunger. Sixty per cent of the world’s hungry are women and girls.
“This, in turn, impacts their children. A mother who suffers from hunger and malnourishment has an increased risk of complications during childbirth or delivering an underweight baby, which can mean irreversible physical and mental stunting right from childbirth,’’ says Mercy Corps says.
As a result of climate change and increasingly unpredictable rainfall — has become one of the most common causes of food shortages in the world. It consistently causes crop failures, kills entire herds of livestock, and dries up farmland in poor communities that have no other means to survive.
The issue, largely, according to Mercy Corps, is that the people who need food the most simply don’t have steady access to it, adding, ‘’in the hungriest countries, families struggle to get the food they need because of several issues: lack of infrastructure, frequent war and displacement, natural disaster, climate change, chronic poverty and lack of purchasing power.’’
For the group, the majority of those who are hungry, live in countries experiencing ongoing conflict, and violence — 489 million of 821 million. The numbers are even more striking for children. More than 75 per cent of the world’s malnourished children (122 million of 155 million) live in countries affected by conflict.
Up to one-third of the food produced around the world is never consumed. Some of the factors responsible for food losses include inefficient farming techniques, lack of post-harvest storage and management resources, and broken or inefficient supply chains.
Hunger traps people in poverty
“People living in poverty — less than $1.25 per day— struggle to afford safe, nutritious food to feed themselves and their families. As they grow hungrier they become weak, prone to illness and less productive, making it difficult to work. If they’re farmers, they can’t afford the tools, seeds and fertilizer they need to increase their production, let alone have the strength to perform laborious work.
“The limited income also means they often can’t afford to send their children to school or they pull them out to work to help support the family. Even if children are lucky enough to go to class, their malnourishment prevents them from learning to their fullest’’, says Mercy Corps.
Perhaps, lack of education prevents better job opportunities in the future, confining yet another generation to the same life of poverty and hunger, and for the group, “children around the world are undernourished, and most of them are suffering from long-term malnourishment that has serious health implications that will keep them from reaching their full potential.
“Malnutrition causes stunting — when the body fails to fully develop physically and mentally — and increases a child’s risk of death and lifelong illness. A child who is chronically hungry cannot grow or learn to their full ability. In short, it steals away their future.
“Hunger and malnutrition are the biggest risks to health worldwide- greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Under-nutrition is the cause of around 45 per cent of deaths among children under five. Children who live in extreme poverty in low-income countries, especially in remote areas, are more likely to be underfed and malnourished.
“Globally, food deprivation still claims a child’s life every three seconds and nearly half of all deaths in children under five are attributable to under-nutrition.’’
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