‘Hunger game’ a present-day reality for some

Original post on Reuters Alertnet is here.

I was very excited to watch an advanced screening of The Hunger Games last night after all the hype – such an interesting premise.

The book and film are set in the future in what is left of North America after an unexplained apocalypse.

People in districts around its capital are starving and dying, children skipping school to find food and become head of families when their parents cannot care for them.

I wish that it were pure fiction for our entertainment, but it’s happening today in countries like Mali, where 3 million people are affected, in the Sahel region of West Africa.

Hunger is no game for Ama Tessougue, 40, with 12 children, living in Erdiana village, Dogon country.  “If my crops fail, we are vulnerable to getting sick. My one hope is in my crops. If they don’t produce a harvest I am poor.”

A government assessment found that almost 80 percent of people produced virtually nothing from their harvest.  The hunger gap started months earlier than usual in Mopti, in February in some areas and it will get worse in the coming months.

Herders in the Timbuktu area have been selling their precious livestock and can’t find food on the market or it’s too expensive, over double the normal price.

To make matters worse and as I write this blog, one of the Directors of an organization that we partner with in Mali, can hear gunfire from his house.  Rumours have been flying around about where the President might be located.

Staff in Mopti are waiting for information from Bamako to clarify the situation in the next few days.  How can they continue serving a food insecure population amidst such instability and uncertainty as well as a curfew?

The conflict that kicked off in January has exacerbated the food security situation, with a widespread sense of anger at an insufficient response by the government, as seen by people protesting in Gao. Over 100,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and a further 95,000 are internally displaced within Mali.

If the heroine in the Hunger Games is an 18 year old Katniss, who risks her own life to feed her sister and mother, then my heroine, battling in the real world of hunger, is Madame Poudiougou Kadidia Baro, who I’ve met several times in Bamako, Mali.

She runs an organisation that is responding to the food crisis, running grain banks, providing wells, sanitation, and training in sustainable agriculture.  To top it all, this weekend, she was supposed to celebrate her daughter’s wedding in the capital of Mali, but she isn’t sure if it will be postponed because of the conflict.
Conflict is one of the factors depicted in this new infographic (don’t click on the screen grab on the right), inspired by the arena from the Hunger Games.  It shows why hunger still persists in the Sahel and all over the world in our day and age, despite there being enough food for everyone.

Some 1 billion people are trying to make a living, whilst battling against climate change, high food and energy prices, conflict, inequality, trade barriers, land grabbing, and historically a minuscule investment in agriculture.

Chad too is affected by the Sahel food crisis.  Fana Ali Younous, 35, looks after 3 children and 2 elderly people in Am Charma village, Oum-Hadjer.  “We harvested only 50 kg of cereal. My husband left home three months ago for another town that I don’t know.  To survive, I go to the bush to find necessary materials to plait mats and baskets to sell at the market.

I use the income to buy food for the family. But sometimes, I return home with empty hands and we have to go to sleep with only porridge [in our stomachs]. As we are many at home, I can’t fully satisfy our food needs and my children have started to loose weight. Since my husband left home, he hasn’t sent anything to us. The situation is difficult for me.  I only rely on God who can provide our needs, if not my children will die.’’

It’s over a month since a high level emergency meeting was convened in Rome that warned that 10 million people were at risk in the Sahel.  Now the number has jumped to over 13 million. Donors can’t wait to act until we see starving children on our TV screens, as if it were the televised Hunger Games.  Longer term, we need strategies to prevent predictable food crises.

All governments need to step up tackling the root causes of hunger: climate change, high food and energy prices, conflict, inequality, trade barriers, land grabbing, low investment in agriculture and other factors.  Then we can end the real hunger games once and for all.



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