"What terrible thing do we have to do to get the government's attention"

Published on 13 June 2005

Rome Africans have learned the grim lesson that it sometimes takes a natural or man-made catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions to highlight their plight. "What terrible things do we have to do to get the government\'s attention," says one man living in the war-torn province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"WHAT TERRIBLE THING DO WE HAVE TO DO TO GET THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTENTION"

ROME Africans have learned the grim lesson that it sometimes takes a natural or man-made catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions to highlight their plight. "What terrible things do we have to do to get the government's attention," says one man living in the war-torn province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is a desperate plea, echoed by a myriad of voices scattered across Africa. From the parched, locust-ravaged farmland of Niger, to the shattered communities struggling to emerge from 14 years of conflict in Liberia, all crave attention.

Not every story in Africa can be measured against the huge levels of destruction seen in Darfur last year. Thankfully, few nations have faced horrors comparable to those seen in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The sheer scale and spread of the Ethiopian famine of 1984 was both remarkable and unexpected in terms of its size and impact. Understandably, all received intense coverage by the international media.

However, it is a brutal fact that the high profile emergencies that feature on television news bulletins and capture the headlines in newspapers, account for barely 10% of deaths in humanitarian emergencies around the world. The majority slip away outside the spotlight in remote rural villages in Ethiopia where hunger is again silently stalking the land. They are consumed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mountains of Lesotho, or abducted and killed by the brutal Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda.

The United Nations World Food Programme can guide you to these forgotten corners of the continent, helping you to get the best stories to illustrate those living on the razor's edge of existence. Between the 6th and the 9th of July, Gleneagles in Scotland will play host to eight of the world's richest nations. What follows is a short guide to the challenges facing eight of the world's poorest nations, clustered on one continent that deserves more attention.

1) COUNTRY: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

LOCATION: SOUTH KIVU

Rival militias have wreaked havoc in South Kivu for the best part of a decade. Gunmen prey on civilians, raping women, stealing food stocks, burning houses and kidnapping inhabitants for ransom. Villagers are too terrified to plant crops and what little they are able to grow is ravaged by disease. One third of the population is forced to survive on one meal or less a day.

Contact: Rene McGuffin +254 735 3333 18 (rene.mcguffin@wfp.org) or Laura Melo + 254 733 518 085 (laura.melo@wfp.org)

2) COUNTRY: NIGER

LOCATION: ZINDER

Niger ranks 174th of out 175 nations on the UN Development Programme's index for human development. To make matters worse, it is now suffering from the twin ravages of drought and locust invasion. Malnutrition rates among children are already comparable to those in a war zone. With the hunger season yet to bite, things are likely to get worse.

Marcus Prior + 221 569 0267 (marcus.prior@wfp.org)

3) COUNTRY: SUDAN

LOCATION: NORTHERN BAHR AL GHAZAL

The village of Malual in Northern Bahr Al Gazal has no original residents. Its entire population consists of people displaced by South Sudan's 21 year civil war. They want to rebuild their lives in this vast, underdeveloped region that lacks even the most basic infrastructure. But now, a dire lack of international funding and a poor harvest may mean large-scale deaths in South Sudan and a threat to the hard won peace agreement signed earlier this year.

Contact: Penny Ferguson at + 249 91 217 4769 (penny.ferguson@wfp.org) or Peter Smerdon at + 254 733 528 911 (peter.smerdon@wfp.org)

4) COUNTRY: ETHIOPIA

LOCATION: BORICHA

In the village of Boricha in southern Ethiopia, three children sit at the front of their hut, their eyes dazed and unfocusing. They look like old men and women, so far has the lack of nutritious food ravaged their faces and bodies. Poverty, illiteracy, escalating birth rates, crumbling infrastructure and rain-dependent agriculture - the curses of rural Ethiopia where poverty has worsened, people's assets have been eroded, and vulnerability has increased.

Contact: Paulette Jones + 251 920 1976 (paulette.jones@wfp.org)

5) COUNTRY: LESOTHO

LOCATION: MASERU

If the novel of the "Lord of the Flies" was ever to become a reality television show, it could be staged in southern Africa. In one small village on the edge of Maseru, hut after hut is now home to orphans. HIV/AIDS has killed many of the parents, decimating the most productive sector of society. Field after field lies fallow because the children don't know how or what to plant. The adults still alive are too busy burying the dead to concentrate on growing food.

Contact: Michael Huggins + 278 3291 3750 (michael.huggins@wfp.org)

6) COUNTRY: UGANDA

LOCATION: KALONGO

The 38,000 people in Kalongo camp are part of 1.4 million displaced by the 18-year civil conflict in Uganda unleashed by the Lord's Resistance Army, which has a brutal record of abducting children, and killing or maiming adults. The people of Kalongo are some of the poorest in the world. They walk about barefoot and in rags. Some sell tiny dried fish, firewood or mangos. The terror of attacks from the rebels prevents them from cultivating any land even close to the village.

Contact: Lydia Wamala + 256 41 242 000 (lydia.wamala@wfp.org) or Rene McGuffin +254 735 3333 18 (rene.mcguffin@wfp.org)

7) COUNTRY: LIBERIA

LOCATION: MONROVIA

For now, the guns are silent in Liberia. But more than half a million people are yet to return to their homes after 14 years of civil war. Returnees face a lack of almost all basic necessities - shelter, clinics, schools. If peace and stability can flourish in this fertile West African nation, then long term international engagement and support will be essential.

Contact: Durudee Siricharya + 231 652 4978 (durudee.siricharya@wfp.org) or Marcus Prior + 221 569 0267 (marcus.prior@wfp.org)

8) COUNTRY: MALAWI

LOCATION: MAGANGA

Tiyese knew he was dying long before the doctors diagnosed him as HIV positive. Fortunately, a community based organization arranged for him to receive anti-retroviral drugs. Tiyese now receives food assistance from WFP that helps with the drug regime. He has returned to work and can support his family again. The village of Maganga is a prime example of a community addressing new challenges and surviving against the odds by using vital assets supplied by international donors. But with Malawi and southern Africa heading into another cycle of widespread hunger and food shortages, all this good work could be quickly undone.

Contact: Michael Huggins + 278 3291 3750 (michael.huggins@wfp.org)

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

Other available contacts are:

Brenda Barton
WFP/Rome

Tel. +39-06-65132602

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva

Tel. +41-22-9178564

Mob. +41-79-2857304

Gregory Barrow
WFP/London

Tel. +44 2075929292

Mob: +44-79-68008474

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY

Tel. +1-212-9635196

Mob. +1-646-8241112

rowe@un.org

Jennifer Parmelee
WFP/Washington

+1-202-4223383

Bettina Luescher
WFP/Berlin

+ 49-170-9039479

Mikael Bjerrum
WFP/Nordic Countries

+ 45-40113883

Kaoru Nemoto
WFP/Japan

+ 81 9098449990