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close this bookC.I.S.F.A.M.: Consolidated Information System for Famine Management in Africa - Phase One Report (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters - World Health Organisation, 1987, 33 p.)
close this folderCHAPTER 1: Famine, Health and Relief: Issues and Observations
View the document1.1. The African Food Crisis
View the document1.2. Famine Relief, Health and Development: Policy Issues

1.1. The African Food Crisis

Famines and acute food shortages are usually caused by a combination of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, cyclones; socio-economic problems such as income inequities, unemployment, migration, marketing constraints; and man-made crises such as wars, civil strife or fires. It is not enough only to recognise the existance of the food scarcity situations but is more important to prevent the situation or, in case of occurrence to minimise the costs of relief activities, and develop community resistance.

Africa’s economic and social conditions began to deteriorate in the 1970’s and continue to do so. Gross domestic product grew at an average of 3.6 percent a year between 1970 and 1980, but has fallen every year since then. With the population rising at over 3 percent a year, income per capita has declined since 1980, and food imports have increased. The effects of drought have understandably claimed international attention and immediate priority has been given to saving human lives through emergency relief operations. The effects of the drought are, however, only the most extreme and distressing aspects of the more pervasive developmental crises in Africa. Pressing as these current problems are, it is important to emphasize that emergency relief as applied provide traditionally short term solutions.

Prolonged food and water shortages, inadequate shelter, contaminated water sources, deteriorating sanitary conditions and breakdown in already inadequate access to basic health services had initiated an explosion in communicable and parasitic diseases to which these weakened communities are susceptible. Dramatic increases in the incidence of malaria, respiratory infections, trachoma, meningitis has been reported in Niger within the last three years. Increasing infant mortality rates in the famine struck countries exceeding 250 in some provinces of Mozambique and 225 per 1000 in some regions of Mali, testify to the synergism between malnutrition and disease. In most of these countries, infant mortality rates that had been showing some signs of decline have made a volte face and have, in certain cases surpassed levels of the past 15 years. (The Human Face of Famine; UNICEF, 1986).

Over the recent years however, India, Bangladesh and a few African countries have demonstrated that with careful planning and management, very poor developing countries can block the chain of events that leads from crop failure to widespread death (J. Mellor and S. Gavian Science, vol. 235,1987, pp 540-545).