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East Africa, Arab world face food crisis
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu, Somalia (UPI) Sep 8, 2011

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The United Nations warns that the famine in war-wracked Somalia is spreading and that 750,000 people could die in the next six months if international aid isn't increased.

In famine-struck East Africa a cow costs $1,000 these days. The Arab world, buffeted by political upheaval triggered in January in large part by rising food prices, is facing a new round of food shortages.

In strife-torn Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, 7 million people, one-third of the population, go hungry.

But the main humanitarian focus is in East Africa, where the catastrophe sweeping the region has been a long time coming. Aid agencies have been warning for years that a famine was approaching but governments did little to avert disaster.

These regions have been hit by the worst drought in six decades. Rainfall has been sparse over the last two years, causing widespread crop failures and depleting what food reserves there were.

Globally, food prices have soared in recent years, hitting poor countries reliant on imports amid burgeoning populations the hardest.

The price spiral was caused largely by crop shortfalls in the main grain-producing countries, such as the United States, Canada, Russia and Ukraine.

Much of this was due to bad weather, the result of climate change ruining crops. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London observed recently that surging wheat and other commodity prices "are creating a global headache."

In 2010, the IISS reported in a recent analysis, "the stage was set when record spring rainfall in Canada, the world's second largest wheat exporter after the United States, cut that country's harvest by nearly a quarter.

"Then drought beset Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Bushfires across Russia slashed the yearly wheat harvest to approximately 60 million tonnes, down from 97 million tonnes in 2009."

In East Africa, the famine has created a triangle of torment across a swathe of land where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet. Parts of Uganda and Djibouti are also affected.

The World Food Program estimates that 12.4 million people need aid in the drought-hit regions. And that's probably just the beginning.

The United Nations says more than 3.2 million Somalis, nearly half the population, need food aid because of the drought that has been complicated by the violence that has plagued the country since 1991.

U.S. officials say more than 29,000 Somali children under the age of 5 have died in the last three months. Many more will do so unless international aid can reach them as outbreaks of measles and cholera strike down the hunger-weakened infants.

Some 500,000 people live in areas in the south controlled by the Islamist militants of al-Shabaab, which has links to al-Qaida. These are generally beyond the reach of relief agencies.

But even in areas where aid can be delivered, much of it is stolen by insurgents, local warlords, bandits or greedy merchants who sell it for vast profit.

"Corruption is a major part of the problem in Somalia," says Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group in Brussels.

"This drought did not come out of nowhere but the government did not do anything to prepare for it. Instead they spent all their time fighting each other."

The Western-backed Transitional Federal Government, installed in December 2006, is riddled with corruption and political rivalry and is kept in power only by a 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.

But it's little different than most governments in the region, which means their suffering citizens have to rely on the United Nations, World Foot Program and other relief organizations for survival.

Eritrea, a Red Sea nation of 5 million people, has also been badly hit. Satellite images indicate it's grappling with the same conditions affecting Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia, Eritrea's bitter rival.

Aid agencies say food shortages are worsening because of the drought, but the autocratic regime of President Isaias Afwerki, which faces international sanctions, refuses to recognize the crisis.

Refugees who managed to flee to neighboring Ethiopia say food prices have skyrocketed: a goat sells for more than $200, a cow for $1,000, prices few can afford.

Somalia remains at the center of the worsening crisis. The WFP says it cannot reach 2.2 million people in dire need of aid in the southern zones controlled by al-Shabaab.

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Europe's anti-GM nations warned against unilateral action
Brussels (AFP) Sept 8, 2011 - US biotech giant Monsanto scored points Thursday in a battle with GM sceptics in the EU, when Europe's highest court warned against fresh unilateral action against genetically-modified crops.

In a ruling targeting France in particular, the European Court of Justice said EU states in the future must notify the European Commission before banning GM crops.

They must moreover provide evidence "of a situation which is likely to constitute a clear and serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment", the court added.

The decision stems from a long-running bid by Monsanto to overturn a 2008 ban by France on genetically-modified MON 810 maize. But six other nations too have banned Monsanto maize -- Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.

The ruling, which is not legally binding, is to go before France's highest administrative court for consideration.

But should the court, the Council of State, ratify the Luxembourg-based court's decision, the government will have to scrap its so-called "safeguard clause" against GM crops.

Environmental campaigners responded angrily to the move and French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet wasted no time in warning that should the ban be overturned by the court, "we will introduce a new safeguard clause".

"The European Court of Justice at no time raised the environmental and health risks posed by GMs. It simply raised concerns over procedure," said Greens' European parliamentarian Jose Bove.

"We risk seeing GMs back in our fields from next spring," said Greenpeace France director Sylvain Tardy.

GM lobby EuropaBio predictably welcomed the ruling "as a step towards choice in Europe."

"French farmers should no longer be denied the choice to use this GM maize," it said in a statement.

The European Court of Justice's opinion follows a series of battles between European Union nations with a distaste for GM crops and the biotech industry, and comes two days after a key ruling on honey containing traces of GM pollen.

The European Commission has been willing to let individual EU states ban GM crops, on certain grounds designed to get round World Trade Organization rules, but only if Brussels is notified first.

MON 810, which is used for animal feed and is resistant to certain parasites, is one of only two GM crops to have been authorised in the 27-nation European Union. The other is German group BASF's Amflora potatoes, used to make paper.

The EU top court said that while France could adopt emergency measures, it should have applied a different set of EU rules.

"The member state must therefore inform the commission 'officially' of the need to take emergency measures," the court said.

"If the commission fails to act, the member state must inform it and the other member states 'immediately' of the content of the interim measures which it has adopted," it said.

In a separate ruling Tuesday, the court said that honey containing even tiny traces of pollen from GM maize could not be sold in the EU without prior authorisation.

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Europe's anti-GM nations warned against unilateral action
Brussels (AFP) Sept 8, 2011
US biotech giant Monsanto scored points Thursday in a battle with GM sceptics in the EU, when Europe's highest court warned against fresh unilateral action against genetically-modified crops. In a ruling targeting France in particular, the European Court of Justice said EU states in the future must notify the European Commission before banning GM crops. They must moreover provide evidenc ... read more

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