West Africa has suffered poor harvests, and Oxfam says the region is facing a terrible famine. It's already gotten so bad that people are foraging for grains inside anthills. The worst part? Food is available, but too expensive.
Farmers are slaughtering their livestock for food, after having eaten all the grain reserved for the animals. According to the UK Guardian:
In Niger, which the United Nations classifies as the world's least developed country, starving families are eating flour mixed with wild leaves and boiled plants. More than 7 million people – almost half the population – currently face food insecurity in the country, making it the hardest hit by the crisis. According to UN agencies, 200,000 children need treatment for malnutrition in Niger alone.
This is interesting to read alongside the current cover story in Harper's magazine, which is all about how investment banks managed to jack up the price of food on the commodities market over the past ten years. The problem here is twofold: West Africa is suffering drought and poor harvests, but at the same time investment banks have speculated to the point where food staples have gotten artificially expensive. Now starving people can't buy imported foods even though they are available.
Oxfam's Caroline Gluck gives us a picture of what's happening today in Niger:
This is just the beginning of the traditional hunger period, and people have already been forced to sell their livestock. This is very early for the alarm bells to be ringing, before Niger has even reached the start of the most critical part of the food calendar. You can imagine three to four months down the line how shocking the situation will be. Yesterday I saw women sifting through gravel at the side of the road, trying to find some grains that may have been blown from aid trucks.
Get ready for another summer of food riots.
AP Photo by Schalk van Zuydam