In farm-rich Argentina, hunger cries ring in leaders’ ears amid crisis

In farm-rich Argentina, hunger cries ring in leaders’ ears amid crisis
By Nicolás Misculin and Miguel Lobianco

CLAYPOLE, Argentina (Reuters) – In the hard-up neighborhood of Claypole on the outskirts of Argentine capital Buenos Aires, Elena Escobar makes her way to the local Caritas Felices soup kitchen to serve food to street children who scrape by from meal to meal.

Escobar, 53, says the volunteer-run kitchen has seen a surge of kids and families seeking help over the last few months, amid a biting recession and fast-rising prices that have pushed millions of people into poverty.

“There are many children in need, many malnourished, with kids that get to dinner time and don’t have any food,” said Escobar. The kitchen receives over 100 children each week, up from around 20-30 when it opened its doors in April.

The rise in hunger and poverty creates a complex backdrop for the leaders of Latin America’s no. 3 economy, who are in knife-edge talks with creditors to avoid default on billions of dollars of debt amid economic and political upheaval.

Ahead of a presidential election on Oct. 27, officials will head to Washington this month to meet with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a major backer that struck a $57 billion funding deal with the country last year.

Those talks are likely to weigh on the current administration of President Mauricio Macri and the next one, likely led by left-leaning Peronist Alberto Fernandez, the front-runner to win the vote.

The Claypole kitchen is far from alone in witnessing rising hardship, with government data showing poverty rates jumped to 35% in the first half of 2019 amid recession and steep inflation, from 27.3% a year earlier.

‘A SCOURGE’

Around 13% of children and adolescents went hungry in 2018, according to data from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, and rising food prices have become a regular target of popular anger in street protests around the country.

Political leaders know something must be done, but face a complex juggling act: bolstering growth and spending to ease issues such as hunger, while cutting debt and averting a damaging default that would shut off access to global markets.

“We can’t live in peace with such a scourge,” left-leaning Fernandez said in a speech on Monday in reference to hunger, which he described as Argentina’s “greatest shame.”

Fernandez, who has been buoyed by support for populist running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, blames Macri and austerity measures agreed with the International Monetary Fund for the rise in poverty and hunger.

Macri’s running mate, Miguel Pichetto, meanwhile, said on Monday the way to eradicate hunger was to generate employment and attract “big global companies” to Argentina.

Both sides have said they would honor the country’s debts with creditors, including the IMF, though neither has laid out a clear plan for how to do so while boosting spending at home.

Most investors expect some sort of losses.

Indeed, Moody’s Investors Service anticipates holders of Argentina dollar bonds will need to write off  10% to 20% of their investments, while Fitch Ratings believes the government will write down local and dollar debt.

‘JUST NO WORK’

Hunger and poverty are not new in Argentina, but have risen abruptly over the past two years amid a series of economic shocks that have rattled the grain-exporting nation, famed for its rich arable land and cattle.

The issues have become a lightning rod for anti-government protests and marches, with the hardships of the poor brought into sharp focus as the government has been locked in talks with creditors about repayments on around $100 billion in debts.

Driving the problem is stubborn inflation, a tumbling peso and a slump in domestic production and consumption, which have hurt spending power, incomes and jobs.

“There is just no work,” said 46-year-old Isabel Britez, a volunteer at the Los Piletones dining room in Buenos Aires, who said that was the main message she heard from people eating at the kitchen, which serves around 2,000 meals a day.

Macri, looking to revive his election hopes, has rolled out plans to bolster jobs, including tax cuts for employers. He also announced a freeze on some food prices earlier this year.

Sergio Chouza, an economist at the University of Avellaneda in Buenos Aires, said food prices have rocketed nearly 60% over the past year, with basics such as dairy up as much as 90%.

“That results in a deterioration of diets and pushes many people below the poverty line,” he said.

MORE NOODLES, LESS MEAT

Poverty is a key reason for Macri’s fall from grace. His economic austerity, part of the $57 billion funding deal agreed with the IMF last year, reined in deficits but hit growth and voters’ wallets.

Macri was defeated heavily in a primary election in August. Since then, he has announced lower taxes for the middle class and higher subsidies for the poor along with food aid. The Senate approved an emergency food law last month.

“Perhaps we underestimated the impact of the economic situation on the elections. (The poverty issue) affected the vote for Mauricio,” Eduardo Amadeo, a Macri ally and member of Argentina’s house of deputies, told Reuters.

“The reforms we launched have stabilized the economy and we have tried to reduce the impact from the devaluation in August on people’s wallets,” Amadeo said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Social Development listed official measures to deal with the crisis, but declined to comment further on poverty rates.

In the meantime, even as soup kitchens flourish, some volunteers say meals are getting more meager amid tight funding conditions and as food donations dry up.

“Previously, people donated some meat and chicken; now we only get noodles and rice,” said Lorena Nievas, who works at the Abrazando Hogares soup kitchen in the southern Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn.

For many residents, however, there is no choice.

“I have people from the street who come in for their lunch and snacks here. It’s all the food they get,” she said.

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Miguel Lobianco; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Bernadette Baum)

After Cyclone Idai, thousands still cut off, many more in need: aid agencies

FILE PHOTO: Women wait to receive aid at a camp for the people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in John Segredo near Beira, Mozambique March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – One month after Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa bringing devastating floods, aid agencies say the situation remains critical with some communities in worst-hit Mozambique only just being reached with aid.

The storm made landfall in Mozambique on March 14, flattening the port city of Beira before moving inland to batter Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It heaped rain on the region’s highlands that then flowed back into Mozambique, leaving an area the size of Luxembourg under water. More than 1,000 people died across the three countries, and the World Bank has estimated more than $2 billion will be needed for them to recover.

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Over the weekend, aid agencies said thousands of people were still completely cut off and warned of the potential for a catastrophic hunger crisis to take hold, especially as aid appeals went largely underfunded.

Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s humanitarian advocacy manager, said an aid drop was being planned for an isolated area where just last week 2,000 people were found for the first time since the storm. They had been surviving on coconuts, dates and small fish they could catch.

Oxfam estimates there are 4,000 people still cut off. Sang added that while often these weren’t the worst-hit by the disaster, they were already living in chronic poverty and now face huge challenges to survive.

“They risk becoming utterly forgotten,” she said.

On Sunday, Care International said the destruction of crops would compound existing food security problems across the region, and called on donors to find additional funds for the response.

Mozambique’s $337 million humanitarian response plan, largely made up of an appeal for $281 million after the cyclone hit, remained only 23 percent funded on Monday.

The United Nations has also requested $294 million for Zimbabwe, an appeal currently 11 percent funded. The government has separately asked for $613 million to help with the humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, U.N. children’s agency Unicef warned at least 1.6 million children need some kind of urgent assistance, from healthcare to education, across all three countries. Save the Children also said many are traumatized after witnessing the death and destruction wrought by the storm.

Machiel Pouw, Save the Children’s response team leader, said children and their families needed long-term help to recover.

“After a disaster of this scale, the world must not look away.”

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

United Nations hopes imports will help stave off famine in Yemen as diphtheria spreads

A nurse holds a premature baby in an incubator at the child care unit of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen January 16, 2018.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations aid agencies called on Tuesday for the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to remain open beyond Friday, the date set by a Saudi-led military coalition, to permit continued delivery of life-saving goods.

Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where 8.3 million people are entirely dependent on external food aid and 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a potentially lethal condition, they said.

The Arab coalition, under international pressure, eased a three-week blockade which was imposed on Yemeni ports and airports in November in response to a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi movement toward the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Four mobile cranes arrived in the important Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, the U.N. said on Monday, after the coalition agreed to let them into Yemen, where nearly three years of war have pushed it to the verge of famine.

“The port in theory is going be open to the 19th of this month. Then we don’t know if the coalition will close or (leave) it open,” Meritxell Relano, U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Yemen, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Obviously the feeling is that they extend this period so that the commercial goods can come in, but especially the fuel,” she said, speaking from the capital Sanaa.

Before the conflict, Hodeidah port handled around 70 percent of Yemen’s imports, including food and humanitarian supplies.

Fuel is vital to power water and sanitation stations to provide clean water and help avoid diseases, she said.

More than 11 million Yemeni children – virtually all – need humanitarian assistance, Relano said. UNICEF figures show 25,000 Yemeni babies die at birth or before the age of one month.

A child lies in a bed at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen January 16, 2018

A child lies in a bed at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

“Yemen is in the grips of the world’s biggest hunger crisis,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said. “This is a nightmare that is happening right now.”

“We appeal to parties on (the) ground in order to stave off famine that we can continue regularly to get food in, to get medicines in, to get fuel in, be it from the humanitarian or the commercial side,” she said.

Luescher, asked about prospects for the Hodeidah port lifeline to remain open, replied: “Obviously since the cranes were imported and are operational, we are hopeful and optimistic that our work can continue.”

A diphtheria outbreak in Yemen is “spreading quickly”, with 678 cases and 48 associated deaths in four months, Fadela Chaib of the World Health Organisation said.

The number of cases has doubled since Dec 22, when the WHO reported 333 people affected by the highly-contagious disease, with 35 deaths. Ibb and Hodeidah are the worst-hit of the 19 affected governorates, Chaib said.

“We can stop the outbreak by providing antibiotics and also vaccinating,” she said. Some 2.5 million doses have been imported for a planned immunization campaign, she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Larry King, William Maclean)

U.N. seeks $2.1 billion to avert famine in Yemen

girls stand at the entrace of tent in yemen

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations appealed on Wednesday for $2.1 billion to provide food and other life-saving assistance to 12 million people in Yemen who face the threat of famine after two years of war.

“The situation in Yemen is catastrophic and rapidly deteriorating,” Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said in the appeal document.

“Nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished.”

Yemen has been divided by nearly two years of civil war that pits the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Sunni Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which has unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the desperately poor Arabian Peninsula country.

In all, nearly 19 million Yemenis – more than two-thirds of the population – need assistance and protection, the U.N. said.

“Ongoing air strikes and fighting continue to inflict heavy casualties, damage public and private infrastructure, and impede delivery of humanitarian assistance,” it said.

“The Yemeni economy is being wilfully destroyed,” it added, saying that ports, roads, bridges, factories and markets have been hit.

An estimated 63,000 Yemeni children died last year of preventable causes often linked to malnutrition, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said last week.

“In Yemen, if bombs don’t kill you, a slow and painful death by starvation is now an increasing threat,” Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a separate statement as the U.N. plan was launched.

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia entered Yemen’s civil war in March 2015 to try to reinstate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he was ousted from the capital Sanaa by the tribal Houthis, who are fighting in an alliance with troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The United States has sent the Navy destroyer USS Cole to patrol off Yemen’s coast to protect waterways from Houthi militia aligned with Iran, U.S. officials last week, amid rising tension between Washington and Tehran.

Oxfam accused Britain and other powers backing the Saudi-led coalition of “political complicity” in the Yemen conflict.

“The UK Government’s calculated complicity risks accelerating Yemen toward a famine, putting millions of lives at risk and making a mockery of their global obligations to those in peril,” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Miles and Tom Heneghan)

Yemeni farmers urgently need support to help ease hunger crisis: U.N

a Yemeni woman holds her malnourished son

By Alex Whiting

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the midst of one of the world’s worst hunger crises, Yemen’s farmers urgently need support so they can grow more food and provide young people with jobs, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Nearly two years of war between a Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement has left more than half of Yemen’s 28 million people facing hunger, its economy in ruins and food supplies disrupted.

Nearly half of Yemen’s 22 governorates are officially rated as being in an emergency food situation, which is four on a five-point scale, where five is famine, the United Nations said last month.

“People’s access to food is rapidly worsening and urgent action is needed,” said Salah Hajj Hassan, FAO representative in Yemen.

About two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for their survival, and it is one of the only sectors of the economy still functioning after years of war, according to FAO.

But farming has been devastated by the conflict, and rural communities need help to restore crops and livestock, the U.N. agency said.

This is especially true for those living in remote or conflict-hit areas which are frequently cut off from food aid, FAO said.

Pressure on rural communities has increased as people fled fighting in the cities to stay with friends or relatives in the countryside, Hajj Hassan said.

Supporting farmers will not only ease hunger levels, it may also help prevent the conflict from worsening.

“From a security point of view, if we don’t give those people the chance to work, what alternatives will young people have?” Hajj Hassan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Yemen’s early warning system also needs to be bolstered so that authorities and aid agencies can monitor changes in hunger levels, and get early information about drought, locust infestations, cyclones and floods – which are frequent visitors to the impoverished country.

“It is absolutely critical for the authorities and the people themselves to … be able to monitor these shocks so … they can take early action to prevent it from turning into a big disaster,” Dominique Burgeon, director of FAO’s emergency and rehabilitation division, said earlier this month.

“In terms of numbers, Yemen is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” he said.

The European Union has given 12 million euros to help 150,000 farmers, and to collect more data on people’s access to food, FAO said this week.

(Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/food)