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Starving in Africa
Jon Lebkowsky, 2 Jan 07
Article Photo

The New York Times recently covered malnutrition in Africa, saying that it's "cheating its survivors, and Africa's future" Though most cases of malnutrition in Africa aren't fatal, survivors are left stunted and unable to work.

,,, almost half of Ethiopia’s children are malnourished, and most do not die. Some suffer a different fate. Robbed of vital nutrients as children, they grow up stunted and sickly, weaklings in a land that still runs on manual labor. Some become intellectually stunted adults, shorn of as many as 15 I.Q. points, unable to learn or even to concentrate, inclined to drop out of school early.

The solution?

Virtually all nutritional deficiencies can be easily and cheaply prevented, sometimes for pennies per child, through programs like universal salt iodization, fortification of flour and semiannual doses of vitamins.

Such efforts already are under way in some nations, and they are a foundation of most United Nations children’s programs. But in just as many places, they remain a promise.
Photo by Niall Crotty.

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I read the disheatening article. So much emphasis is placed on the tragic death toll, but the other end of the issue is what needs attention.

If nothing else, I'm encouraged by what seems to be a swell of articles in such publications bringing these and similar topics to the forefront. One such topic is micro-financing to the poor. Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grammen Bank, has been getting lots of coverage. By the way, I highly recommend his book, "Banker to the Poor."

Posted by: Ashley Cecil on 3 Jan 07

Jon, Both your diagnosis of the symptoms (wth help from NYT) and the prescribed solution are both accurate. The implied assumption that the cost of providing the solution is relatively small, especially now with abundance of philanthropic dollars around, also holds true.

What is missing from your note is the great chasm of man made sequestration of large populations that prevent and thwart most straight forward delivery models of aid. I salute and honor the thousands of NGO workers who struggle daily to breach these artificial barriers created by man's greed, dogma, lust for power and control over "other egos". These badasses are black, brown and white and everything in-between, some who live in Africa, some outside, some are dead and a lot are yet to be born. Some "influence" greed based policy indirectly like those of us who see no problem with small arms trade or oil companies trading with corrupt governments. Heck, what's that got to do with starvation - starvation happens when there is no food!

I am writng to argue that structural and institutional changes to governance need to be infused into Africa creatively in order to "quickly" remove the blight. There is certainly no easy way of doing this.. As unequivocally stated by Amartya Sen, Harvard economist and Nobel laureate, "there is no recorded case of famine in a democratic and free society" . A corollary that he also stated is "there has never been a war between two democracies". Granted that practicing and working democracies are only a few hundred years old, it still is a significant argument that needs to be deliberated.

I was born and brought up in India after its independence, and despite western media's superfluous and generalized portrayal of poverty in India till recently, I can state with first hand knowledge that there was no "starvation" in the midst of abject poverty. Extreme poverty exists in large quantities and shamefully and needlessly so, to this day in India, yet there is no starvation. I am not condoning the existence of extreme poverty - in fact I believe it is criminal with all the abundance and technology around.

In lands of political thuggery, with blood diamonds, noble ferro alloy ores and oil innocently being "harvested" in the name of respectable commerce, Yunus, fortified flour, and semiannual (?? is that enough vitamins?) eco-tourists with vitamins will be shooed away by small arms wielding "generic" checkpoint guards.

That said, there are many parts of Africa that are accessible and amenable to Yunus's microfinance and all the other worthy developmental initiatives that are creating miracles in every life they touch.

Posted by: Subbarao Seethamsetty on 3 Jan 07



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