Let’s remember Central African Republic this Christmas and beyond

Fighting, pain and bloodshed. These are definitely not gifts that anyone would want to receive. Sadly this is exactly what happened to 2.5 million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year in December. Far from a month of peace and goodwill, instead fighting broke out and the country descended into chaos.

Violence between Seleka and anti-Balaka groups  forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, while thousands were either killed, abused or trapped in enclaves for their own safety. The crisis overwhelmed the capacity of CAR, a country that has been largely devoid of any state functions and neglected by the international community for decades.

Empty streets – Fear of attacks has driven many people from their homes in Bangui. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch

Twelve months on the conflict is ongoing and half the population needs emergency assistance. One in ten of CAR’s ‘pre-crisis’ population are now refugees in neighbouring countries. The situation remains precarious and deadly despite an international intervention to respond to humanitarian needs and protect civilians.

Without a serious commitment from the international community to provide the necessary human, financial and political resources to stabilise the country and prevent the continued suffering of civilians – CAR will remain exactly where it has been since independence – lost, in the heart of Africa.

The landlocked country in the heart of Africa is considered one of the poorest and least developed in the world, with the UNDP Human Development Index 2014 positioning it 185th out of 187 countries. Despite being resource rich, with vast amount of diamonds, CAR has struggled to break out of poverty due to conflict and the mismanagement of its resources by numerous leaders.

With such a bleak environment it is hard to see a way out. However even within such desperation and darkness there is hope and there are opportunities for breakthrough in the country.

Tearfund has been responding to the humanitarian crisis since the start of the year. To date we have been part of the humanitarian community’s efforts to transform lives as we have:

  • Provided food distributions to 3400 internally displaced people.
  • Distributed seeds and tools and provided agricultural training to 1000 households.
  • Trained 31 000 people on hygiene promotion to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea.
  • Distributed 7 565 000 litres of potable water.
  • Built or rehabilitated 370 latrines and 168 showers and 162 hand washing facilities.
Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp

Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp.  

However we know that humanitarian response alone is not enough. What is required in the CAR is long term political stability, good governance, and peaceful cohesive communities of all faiths and none. This is where advocacy can play such a crucial role.

In October 2014 Tearfund hosted the parliamentary visit of Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell to the CAR. It was a short but productive trip with a schedule that included visits to IDP camps and meetings with high political officials such as the interim President Catherine Samba Panza, Diane Corner deputy head of the UN peacekeeping force, and the interfaith delegation comprising of the Archbishop of Bangui, Chief Imam and the Head of the Evangelical Church. Lord McConnell’s blog was particularly popular in the Parliament blog-sphere and challenged the negative label that CAR has been given as a ‘pointless country’.

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

This visit was much more than just seeing people in poverty and meeting officials. Both Members of the House Lords, along with MPs in the House of Commons, have remained committed to the cause. Through their support and those of their colleagues in both the Houses, parliamentary scrutiny approved the extension of EUFOR – the EU peacekeeping force to support the UN as it was facing a shortfall in civilian protection troops.

There is still a long way to go. Advocacy is about the long game – building the steps for a better future. Within a complex political emergency like the CAR this is even more complicated. However Tearfund, like many other humanitarian organisations, is committed to seeing this nation reach its potential. In particular we are calling on the international community to;

  • Increase political engagement and support: Ensure the crisis remains on the regional and international political agenda by providing sustained support to an inclusive, comprehensive, and accountable peace process that links local-level with national-level dialogue and reconciliation and takes into account CAR’s refugees in neighbouring countries.
  • Increase funding: Announce new commitments to the humanitarian response, channelling resources to underfunded sectors including early recovery, protection, nutrition, education, and shelter/non-food items.
  • Invest in basic state services and development: Commit resources to reinforce and expand state services, and encourage and support the expansion of development activities.
  • Support the UN peacekeeping troops – MINUSCA: Identify troops and police contingents and mobilise necessary material resources, to ensure that MINUSCA reaches – and maintains – a fully operational capacity.

As we come up to one year on since the upsurge of violence many of the displaced people still live in constant  fear of reprisals. Security remains unpredictable as armed robberies continue on a daily basis in and around Bangui. Overall the nation is sitting on a time bomb and the constant threat of a further decline into violence and conflict lingers. Let us ensure that CAR does not slip into the neglected crises list.

 

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The G8 can help put hunger in a museum

“…Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can.

No need for greed or hunger.

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

 

You, you may say

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope, some day, you’ll join us,

And the world will live as one…”

These lyrics from John Lennon come to mind as I dream of a future world. Can you imagine a world without hunger? Imagine IF…

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I’m passionate about seeing a world in 2050 where future generations won’t have any recollection of people being hungry.  Children of future generations will be able to enjoy and experience this kind of world

So is Maxwell, a 41 year old chief of his village in Malawi, near Blantyre.

“I would like to see every person be able to feed their family,” he says.

This is my dream.  Throughout a world of 9bn people, everyone has enough food to eat.  They eat healthy meals together, as families and communities.  Children go to school on a full stomach.  Some grow their own on farms, allotments or urban rooftops.

Food is produced and consumed sustainably and efficiently.  People and economies all over the world are resilient to rare food price spikes.  Farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives, governments, unions and civil society have established standards for sustainability and they are accountable for them.

Babies all over the world have nutritious food and children have a varied diet, rich in micro-nutrients, so that their brains and bodies develop fully.

Government leaders all over the world prioritise food security high on their agenda and in their national budgets.

Consumers eat more sustainably as they are more connected to people who produce the food and understand the impact on people’s livelihoods and resources. People buy more fair trade products.  They buy food that reflects the true cost of producing it, including the impact on the environment.

Many economies have diversified out of agriculture, but farmers across Africa, Asia and Latin America earn enough to feed their families and get a good price for their own produce.  They withstand droughts and floods.  Another 1bn people in rural areas buy all of their food.  Most food that is produced, stored and processed reaches the consumer. Many use organic methods and limited chemical fertilisers to ensure that nutrients stay in the soil.

Women, who rely on small-scale farming, rearing livestock and fishing, have their own seeds, livestock, land, tools and technical advice to feed their families, and produce more nutritious food.  Good roads mean that they can earn money on open, fair and well-functioning markets.

Young people, farmers’ organizations and indigenous people are empowered with more rights.  Land, fisheries and forests are governed more responsibly and transparently.  Plans are in place, which mean that most people, governments and businesses use energy, land and water efficiently and sustainably.  Investments in agriculture and value chains are responsible and are held accountable.

We can achieve this world in 2050, but only collectively.  

Tearfund’s local partner organisation in Malawi, called Eagles, helps farmers to learn about conservation farming, which produces high yields of drought-resistant crops, and pass on the learning to others.

Conservation farming techniques, together with projects to help people diversify their incomes like savings and loans clubs, help Maxwell and his neighbours to face the future.

And with a chief like Maxwell, who is proud of his village and wants to lead his neighbours away from dependency to lives of self-sufficiency, there is hope

‘My hope for this village is that I want to see that every household member has enough food for his household,’ he says.

So how do we get there?

Here’s one we prepared earlier, at Tearfund!  This smart video animation shows how the G8 can help put hunger in a Museum.  A family finds out how hunger was eradicated.  Starting with a meeting of G8 world leaders in June 2013, it spells out some of the actions required and significant turning points from 2013 to see a world free of hunger now in 2050.

On Saturday 8 June, thousands of supporters will gather at a Big IF rally in Hyde Park to call on the British Prime Minister to lead the G8 to act now on ending global hunger. After repeated calls from the IF campaign, the Prime Minister will hold a “Hunger Summit” on the same day to address this silent scandal.

Love food, hate waste

This blog was published on Reuters Alertnet first here

Half of all the food produced globally is wasted and never makes it onto the plate.

Half of the food bought in Europe and the US is thrown away.

That’s like throwing cash in the bin. The latest report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Global Food: Waste not, Want not addresses one of today’s biggest challenges: how to produce more food and eat sustainably in world of finite resources.

I buy peaches in my local shop in the UK fully intending to eat them, but then discover them a week later all rotten.

So why do I do it?  Do I really need to buy a whole punnet of peaches, when I have other food to eat?

It doesn’t always cross my mind that I’m throwing away a harvest which farmers in developing countries worked hard to produce.  But that’s what it means for farmers like Haringa Ram in India who are often limited to growing one crop a year, cut down meals, and have to take loans to feed their family and to buy animal fodder for his cattle.  It’s scandalous that we throw away food, while one person in eight – the equivalent of the combined populations of Europe, Canada, Australia and the US – goes hungry every night.

Largely, we waste food because we get used to buying more than we need and we have the choice.  But farmers like Haringa Ram don’t have that choice.  And they struggle with poor storage facilities, roads, transport and markets.  China, for example, loses 45% of all rice produced.

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Women farming in India. Pic: Layton Thompson/Tearfund

On my travels with Tearfund, farmers have woefully described food rotting in poor storage facilities in India, rats eating harvests in Myanmar, locusts in the Sahel (West Africa) and elephants trampling all over crops in Chad.

It’s not just the food that is wasted, but also all the resources used to produce food: land, energy, water and fertilizers.  That’s an unnecessary waste of valuable resources that are gone forever, once used.

This is crazy, as we face an increasing pressure on resources needed to produce food – water, land and energy – for a growing population.

Meat eating will almost double by 2050, according to the report. Already a third of all cereal produced globally is fed to animals. Beef requires 50 times more water than vegetables in the processing stage.

It worries me when my friend in Nigeria tells me that he sees a trend in people wanting the ‘good life’ that they see in the West, and modelling their lifestyle in a similar way.  Clearly, that is not sustainable all over the world.

We have lost our connection with food producers. We cannot continue with unsustainable eating patterns that mean there is less food available globally, especially for people in developing countries, and that degrade land, soil, and water.  We must change our attitudes and behaviour: farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers alike.

The UK’s Prime Minister has promised to tackle hunger at the G8 summit this year, which could be a key step forward in ending hunger.  He must stick to his promises to increase both aid and funding for farmers to adapt to changes in the climate through the UN Green Climate Fund. Farmers and herders, especially women, need seeds, livestock, land, tools and technologies that can equip them to feed their families, to produce more nutritious food, store it, get it to market, earn money and stop their children being hungry.

We must tackle the deep inequalities in the global food system which allow a few to make billions while leaving hardworking smallscale farmers and ordinary people to struggle to eat enough.

Consumers in developed countries could change the world by shopping more simply. Everyone has different eating habits, but we can buy little and often, not more than we need, plan meals before shopping, be creative with leftovers, buy fair-trade, shop locally and buy food in season. We all have a key role to play, from farm to plate.