January 4, 2009

Urban Hunger in Africa

If I remember correctly, somewhere around 40% of Africa's population live in urban areas, a number that was in the low teens circa 1950. So it's no surprise that the U.N. is struggling to find solutions for the rising problem of urban hunger across the continent and in doing so finding that it's a different beast altogether from the rural hunger that the international development industry has principally been "designed" to combat:
Escalating hunger in African cities is forcing aid agencies accustomed to tackling food shortages in rural areas to scramble for strategies to address the more complex hunger problems in sprawling slums.

The United Nations World Food Program, the world's largest food-aid group, has plenty of experience trucking food into rural Africa, responding to shortages sparked by drought, famine and war. But in urban areas -- where, despite widespread poverty, hunger wasn't a significant issue until recently -- the hurdles are different.

In the vast and crowded slums, with many unnamed streets and dwellings without running water or electricity, it is difficult to identify who's most in need of help. Simply handing out food can disrupt cities' informal markets, cutting into the livelihoods of those who earn a few dollars each day selling peanuts or fresh fish, or of small farmers who haul their produce to the city.
As Bill Easterly is fond of saying, poverty is more than a technical engineering problem that is simply waiting for the right answer to come along. Effective ground level solutions have to find ways to knit together the socio-cultural fabric that has been torn apart by poverty and hunger, unfortunately that is a really hard task to accomplish if the needed threads have been left behind in the village.
In rural areas, aid groups can rely on the communities to help single out the neediest people and quickly distribute aid. That's more difficult in cities, where more nuanced surveys are needed to find the most vulnerable.
One suggestion, Ms. Sheeran, might be to call the church.

1 comment:

Olabode Dlamini said...

Call me stupid, but isn't it time for Africans to step up? Why should it always fall on the aid agencies to clear these things up (and frankly they do a terrible job anyway! i'm part of the smaller, but growing group of young Africans who are sick of looking towards foreigners to fix our problems). Shouldn't we Africans just wake up and start fixing our own countries and our own problems already??