People Eating Leaves
Africa is a gigantic continent with over 40 countries and the variation is huge,” says Prof Jackson. “Some of those countries suffer from violence and famine and some don’t.
There are areas that do suffer more than others – like the Horn of Africa – but whilst they exist partly on very marginal sub-Saharan land, the core problem is largely one of governance or politics,” he says, adding that the lack of international coverage of Africa can increase misconceptions about the continent.
Sixteen million people are on the brink of starvation in East Africa, and famine has already been declared in South Sudan – the first instance across the world in six years.
In South Sudan, people are eating leaves to stay alive, while in Somalia they are tying ropes around their stomachs to suppress their hunger.
In response to the unfolding crisis, the Disaster Emergency Committee’s (DEC) East Africa Crisis Appeal has reached £26 million.
But the worst could be yet to come. In South Sudan, 100,000 people are dying of starvation, driven by drought and conflict, while one million citizens are nearing starvation.
The number of people in desperate need of food is expected to reach 5.5 million during the country’s lean season in July, when food stocks have depleted.
People are resorting to extreme measures to stay alive says Martin Ruppenthal, who works for charity Tearfund in South Sudan.
Anything “which gives them perhaps a bit of feeling that they have something in their stomach,” he says.
But even plants are in short supply, as the civil war has displaced more than three million people, preventing them from growing crops.
Ethnic violence began in 2013 – South Sudan gained independence in 2011 – when President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, sacked vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer. Around 50,000 people have died in the conflict and a peace deal has failed.
The country’s crippling economy (the inflation rate was 370 per cent in January) is another obstacle to accessing food as people simply do not have the money.
“If there is food in the house and they have to prioritise, it’s given to children, it’s given to older people, it’s given to the husband,” says Ruppenthal. “Often women are last to get the food.”