December 23, 2008

A Humanitarian's worst nightmare:Zimbabwe

NZVERE, Zimbabwe — Along a road in Matabeleland, barefoot children stuff their pockets with corn kernels that have blown off a truck as if the brownish bits, good only for animal feed in normal times, were gold coins.

In the dirt lanes of Chitungwiza, the Mugarwes, a family of firewood hawkers, bake a loaf of bread, their only meal, with 11 slices for the six of them. All devour two slices except the youngest, age 2. He gets just one.

And on the tiny farms here in the region of Mashonaland, once a breadbasket for all of southern Africa, destitute villagers pull the shells off wriggling crickets and beetles, then toss what is left in a hot pan. "If you get that, you have a meal," said Standford Nhira, a spectrally thin farmer whose rib cage is etched on his chest and whose socks have collapsed around his sticklike ankles.

The half-starved haunt the once bountiful landscape of Zimbabwe, where a recent United Nations survey found that 7 in 10 people had eaten either nothing or only a single meal the day before.

Still dominated after nearly three decades by their authoritarian president, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabweans are now enduring their seventh straight year of hunger. This largely man-made crisis, occasionally worsened by drought and erratic rains, has been brought on by catastrophic agricultural policies, sweeping economic collapse and a ruling party that has used farmland and food as weapons in its ruthless — and so far successful — quest to hang on to power.

But this year is different. This year, the hunger is much worse.

December 16, 2008

Recipe for Famine


Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The bag of green peas, stamped "USAID From the American People," took more than six months to reach Haylar Ayako.

For seven of his grandchildren, that was a lifetime.

They died as the peas journeyed from North Dakota to southern Ethiopia. During that time, the American growers, processors and transporters that profit from aid shipments were fighting off a proposal before Congress to speed deliveries by buying more from foreign producers near trouble spots. As a result of legal mandates to buy U.S. goods, the world's most generous food relief program wasn't fast or flexible enough to feed the starving in Ethiopia's drought-ridden South Omo region this year.

"I am so grieved that I lost those children," said Ayako, a Bena tribesman, speaking in his local Omotic language. "They died of the food shortage."

The dry peas Ayako took home almost eight weeks ago had traveled more than 12,000 miles (19,300 kilometers) by rail, ship and truck, starting 15 miles south of the Canadian border with their harvest in August 2007. Stops included Lake Charles, Louisiana; Djibouti, the small African country whose capital on the Gulf of Aden serves as a port for food aid; and Nazareth, Ethiopia, two hours south of Addis Ababa, the capital. Warehouse stays punctuated each leg until the peas finally arrived in the village of Shala-Luka.

'Behind Closed Doors'

U.S. farm and shipping lobbyists have stifled efforts to simplify aid deliveries, leaving Africans to starve when they might have been saved, said Andrew Natsios, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington who led USAID, the Agency for International Development, from 2001 to 2006.

"No one can take the high moral ground against it, so they hide behind closed doors and kill it," he said. "It's all done behind the scenes."

December 1, 2008

Flunking the Intelligence Test

Flunking the Intelligence Test

The only real question about the Mumbai attack was just when it would come.

Sudip Mazumdar
Published Nov 29, 2008 | Updated: 12:25  p.m. ET Nov 29, 2008

The hostage takers in Mumbai didn't need to wonder how large an armed rescue team the Indian government was sending, or when to anticipate its arrival. They had only to click on the nearest TV set, and there was the federal home minister, Shivraj Patil, obliviously telling viewers that 200 commandos had taken off on the two-hour flight from New Delhi at 2:30 a.m. Even after the aircraft had landed in Mumbai, the gunmen had plenty of time to get ready, as the troops were herded aboard rickety transport buses to be hauled from the city's northern edge to its southern tip. The commandos finally reached the scene about 6:30, roughly nine hours after the terrorists had launched their murderous attacks in the financial capital of India. The battle would drag on for the next two days while the body count reached 195 before the last gunman went down.

In Mumbai and throughout India, people reacted the way Americans did after September 11: they demanded to know why their government had failed to protect them. "Since November last year I have been drawing attention to the iceberg of jihadi terrorism," says B. Raman, a former top official at India's equivalent of the CIA, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). "The government of [Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh reacted to the repeated warning signals of the moving iceberg in the same way as the Bush administration reacted to reports about the plans of the Al Qaeda for aviation terrorism in the U.S.—it just didn't react. It was in a denial mode."