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East Africa Crisis: Rising Food Prices In Kenya And International Policies On Drought And Hunger

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SOMALIA FAMINE
A Somali girl carries a pot filled with a hot meal over her head as she others wait in line to receive their food ration at a distribution point in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on August 18, 2011. (Getty) | Getty

As world leaders gather in Durban for a UN conference on climate change, Al Jazeera's Fault Lines series focuses on one region hit particularly hard by global warming -- the Horn of Africa.

Fault Lines traveled to Kenya to investigate the increasing struggle of many families to secure enough food to survive. Eastern Africa is fighting the worst drought and famine in decades, and pasture herders on Kenya's borders with Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia are struggling to keep their cattle alive. One family Fault Lines spoke with saw their goat herd reduced from 900 to just 55. Food scarcity has also fueled conflict; cross-border cattle raids have reportedly killed dozens in the past months.

In Nairobi's Kibera slum, the third largest slum in Africa, a majority of the population now lives on one dollar a day. Buying essential food becomes more difficult every week. According to a resident interviewed by Al Jazeera, the price of rice and sugar has doubled in the last six months.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food, explains that food markets have always been impacted by a range of factors such as drought, floods and the price of oil. Yet over the past five years, as a result of speculation, food price volatility has been significantly higher. "The logic was not anymore linked to the real economy of supply and demand," he says in the report. "The logic became a purely gambling logic, a purely financial logic in which traders follow what others do in herding behavior that really accelerates the bubbles forming and the bubbles exploding, increasing the volatility of the market." Low-income countries are most impacted by rising or declining food prices, as they import a lot of the food they consume.

According to Fault Lines' reporters, there is a growing sense in Kenya that the status quo simply cannot continue. Currently, the countries most affected by climate change are among the ones that least contribute to it. At the same time, individuals who do not participate in speculation are hit worst by rising food prices.

Yet financial institutions are fiercely resisting regulation on speculation. "If you're not part of the solution there's a lot of money to be made being part of the problem," says Bart Chilton, member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

"The international community is very aware of the crisis we are currently going through, but it prefers to treat the symptoms rather than the cause," says Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister.

The US government may, for example, say that it considers the crisis in Africa against its own interest and that it sees climate change at the heart of the problem, however it is currently one of the main actors impeding a binding treaty to battle climate change.

For more, watch Fault Lines' full episode below.