Who is on the plum tree?
This week, as G8 leaders sit down together at Camp David, those of us concerned about environmental issues and the effects of Climate Change on the world’s poorest of the poor, hope media attention will not be focussed on what our current leaders are wearing or eating, or which pop group has been flown in for their entertainment. Many careers are built on starring in these meetings; many a fat-cat becomes fatter on prestige. People eat well, dress well; a political summit such as this costs fortunes to host and brings much celebrity to participants. The G8 summit is political rock ‘n’ roll.
Down to business: a new food security initiative is expected from these glamorous decision-makers. Let’s hope this is the story that emerges: the crisis facing the Sahel region where people are facing chronic malnutrition.
In Niger last year 300,000 children were treated for severe malnutrition. And that figure was garnered before the onset of the so-called ‘hungry season.’ The hungry season has come early due to, among other things, the depletion of life-sustaining herds and crop failure as a result of extended drought.
UNICEF estimates that across the Sahel, one million children under the age of five will need life-saving aid. Once again, Africa is facing catastrophe. What this means in real terms is a whole generation of children will have their physical and mental development irreparably damaged due to not having enough to eat. Please remember this G8 leaders as you tuck into the finest imported foods prepared by the finest of chefs.
Starvation and drought is a silent earthquake, a secret plague that happens in Sahel year on year. Some years, such as this, the situation is worse than others.
The consequences of chronic malnutrition for young children are terrifying. Apart from the risk of early death, child-hood immunity is greatly reduced. Niger is already a high risk area in that disease is rife. If a child survives, growth might be stunted, cognition impaired. Hunger steals away a child’s opportunity for education: the one empowerment for future citizens to make their way in the world and become successful contributors to society. How can a starving child concentrate in the class-room? S/he becomes too sick and tired to go to school, too weak to learn, having fed the evening before on bitter leaves or millet shavings usually fed to animals.
To make matters worse, neighbouring country Mali is at Civil war. Refugees are pouring across the borders into an already starving, food insecure area.
Are we listening? Do we care? Or are we as a globe suffering from ‘compassion fatigue? Malnourished children do not cry out; they die in silence.
I promised I would keep Plum Tree followers updated and in the loop as to Doug’s endeavours to set up a successful food security programme in Niger. This week, landing in the midst of the situation, he is developing the beginnings of a field logistics strategy, building his team, and discovering as much background as possible. He will use a research method known as PA (Participatory Action). More about this later…
I have gleaned this info so far, but the Internet connection where he is, is awful, and Doug has no time for chat. He is hitting the ground running. But if I know Doug, he is calm in the midst of urgency and a magician in emergency.