As a result of poor harvest yields and food shortages, food prices have increased 52 percent between 2007 and 2008, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Areas of Asia, the Pacific, and Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing particularly large increases in food costs. The Humanitarian Practice Network reports that for individuals with limited means, these higher prices make it difficult or impossible to meet their food needs. The FAO indicates that the number of people classed as under-nourished worldwide increased by 75 million in 2007, reaching a total of 923 million individuals. Women-headed households, the urban poor, and those affected by conflict situations or natural disasters are among those most likely to be affected by food shortages.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has identified 30 countries and territories as being “in crisis” with regard to food shortage and other humanitarian concerns. Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is among the countries for which food shortages and rising prices are a pressing concern. 4.6 million Ethiopians are threatened by hunger and malnutrition, and 10 million have been affected by droughts. In addition to six major droughts in the last two decades, the region has been denied access to the ports of Eritrea following a border war. The BBC reports that following the United Nations’ food deliveries to Ethiopia this month, no further deliveries will be made until September or October. Because of worldwide food shortages, the UN has stated that it has “no option but to cut back” on the provisions, which have already been reduced by a third since July 2008.
In areas like Ethiopia where food and medications as well as medical services are often scarce, telemedicine initiatives may allow for the provision of better care to those suffering from illnesses related to malnutrition and/or poor quality food and drinking water. By utilizing the Internet, telemedicine programs like iConsult make it possible to provide humanitarian healthcare assistance without the cost and risk associated with traveling to conflict-affected areas.
Jaspars, S. and Wiggins, ODI, S. (2009). “The global food crisis: an overview” Humanitarian Exchange. Humanitarian Practice Network, Number 42.
Image from a report on hunger in Ethiopia from The Economist