Crisis: Worst raging drought and less responsive governments

12Mar 2017
The Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
Crisis: Worst raging drought and less responsive governments

A CLOUD hangs over the horizon in much of Africa, or at least over vast areas of eastern Africa including the Horn of Africa and well into Central African zones, where a devastating drought and some late torrential rainfall has reigned.

Owing to recent reports of torrential rainfall in some areas and concomitant efforts to plant either routine grain crops or drought resistant alternatives, fears of famine over a large area appear to have been mitigated, but not intensely enough as yet to remove the worry of drought effects.

In many cases the torrents of rain seem to be close to awkward passing phenomena as no continuous rainfall situation is as yet apparent.

While the proper pattern of rainfall that can be predicted over the short period, of the ‘long rains’ in much of Tanzania can’t as yet be set out, so is the map as to grain availability or even of alternative supplies, in many areas even at present.

There are other areas where grain supply or availability of tubers would become a serious problem once food stocks, where they still exist, are formally depleted - and whole sections of the population start depending on harvests either from failed short rains or unreliable long rains.

In other words there is a glimmer of hope as to the rains, while the full story about grain or alternative crop availability is still raw.

What is also evident is that there is an information war concerning the real situation either of rains or grain availability or other alternatives, where clear data is not entirely being made manifest, in favor or unclear assurances as to the extent to which stocks are available.

There was a dispute at the start of the year as to who should formally declare this or that zone (region or district) as facing hunger, and the media was reminded that this has to be admitted by top level authorities. No chaotic pronouncements of prevalence of hunger would consequently be tolerated.

Still the desired effect has not been attained, where civic organizations would stay clear of the matter and hope that the relevant authorities would keep the public informed, as it would rather not do, as public fears are allayed when no alarm is raised.

When at the same time the current regulatory regime is taken full account of, it might at some point become necessary to check with authorities whether to use photos and narrations of those caught up in severe grain shortage.

That may be the last option to asserting ‘what there is’ around the country, either now or later.

When the data is examined a bit closely, it emerges that there isn’t a blanket worry on availability of grain and other substitutes, which is true everywhere but not the main issue.

The principal aspect of the matter is the way in which the situation shapes up from one situation to another, at times even within the same district, not to speak of the same region, in that they face different facets of the grain shortage problem, or evolve differently towards such a situation.

There are variations first at an occupational level, where subsistent framers facing drought are more exposed.

Analysis in a number of media presentations suggests that livestock keepers may be facing an even more intensive crisis than subsistence farmers, as here it isn’t a matter of people dying – they are more resilient in how they meet with crisis – but of cattle.

While human lives placed in danger for lack of grain stocks in homes over a vast area ignites the reaction of authorities even if they didn’t wish to, little of that sort if possible with cattle.

Deaths of animals due to drought becomes a routine matter and hardly any food aid or similar organization launches into action.

At the local level there is an evolving mentality about the matter, where tradition clashes with novelty, in that traditional reflexes for food relief in case of hunger is being associated with an insolent attitudes among the public, government hierarchy characterized by aid dependency.

Self reliance as a value is now being brought into the food emergency realm, where a chronicler says that for a famine to be declared, it is necessary that a third of each 10,000 people be deemed in danger of dying on account of grain shortage. How many ought to die before that statistic is affirmed?

That chronicler and others were admitting that in some previous famine situations the relevant agencies, like the World Food Program, reacted when it was fairly late in the day, when thousands were either dying or in the process of dying.

This sort of needs an explanation, but one reason is that devastating droughts and massive famines often target situations of diminished government responsibility, like the catastrophic Ethiopian drought of the early 1970s Receding.

It also brought up media trials of a sort like photographing a dying child and a waiting vulture - while doing nothing.

While famed |Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie whom a portion of the world’s back people angered heaven by deifying him to near sacred status literally as an emissary of God and spiritual leader of the world’s black people by a simple birth accident, committed atrocities, the problem is now placed elsewhere.

Haile Selassie was a sad reminder of the French Revolution where it is said that Queen Marie Antoinette was surprised that people were demonstrating demanding bread – and asked why they couldn’t be given cakes instead.

During seminars to mark the 1789 revolution 200 years later, scores of French historians insisted this was a lie.

The Negus monarch kept scores of lions whom he fed choice meat from time to time, and according to legend prisoners would be thrown there as well as in good old Roman times.

In current governments no one keeps lions or runs a feudal household of hundreds of well fed members while the public starves, so there is no ready made ignition key for a revolution to betide a country on account of hunger.

But with a marginally functioning multiparty democracy, those who will seek to throw a blanket over grain shortage and splash money on prestige concerns will have an accounting to do, as word of mouth is harsher than muffled internet blogs.