New Lands Irrigation

Promise or Panacea?

by Douglas Gritzinger
published in MER145

Once irrigated and lush but now barren, the Mesopotamian plain circling the ruins of Gilgamesh’s Uruk makes present day calls for food security via vast new irrigation projects appear shortsighted. Irrigation today suffers the same problems as in ancient times -- salt buildup in the soil, collapsing dams, irrigation channels narrowed and blocked by silt buildup -- plus some new ones, such as pesticide runoff. But irrigation planners figure they have learned a few things since Gilgamesh’s time. We can expect Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others to go on building new, expensive irrigation projects until they finally reach the limits of their water supplies. Reaching these limits should take only two or three more decades.

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Bullets, Banks and Bushels

The Struggle for Food in the Middle East

by Joe Stork , Karen Pfeifer
published in MER145

Access to food, and at what price, is a potent political issue in the Middle East today. The question is posed most starkly in conditions of war and armed conflict. The recent blockade of Palestinian camps near Beirut over many months reduced the inhabitants to starvation and compelled Palestinian forces to withdraw from Lebanese villages further south. Last year southern Sudan provided other images of blockade and hunger as government and rebel forces contested that region’s political future. Articles in this issue discuss the politics of famine relief in Ethiopia and Somalia -- famines that to begin with resulted from the degradations of war in the Horn of Africa.

Primer: The Food Gap in the Middle East

by Martha Wenger , Joe Stork
published in MER166

As the Middle East enters the 1990s, the food situation cannot be easily captured in catch phrases like “dire emergency." Outside of the Horn of Africa, no country confronts wide-scale starvation, though poor people throughout the region face personal food emergencies daily.

Agricultural production continues to grow at a respectable rate -- often better than the world average -- in most of the region. Many countries have increased average daily calorie supply per person to levels equal to or better than the industrialized West. Where 22 percent of the population (35 million people) were undernourished in 1969-1970, this had dropped to 11 percent (26 million people) in 1983-1985, a ratio that compares favorably with other parts of the Third World.

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The Famine This Time

by Gayle Smith
published in MER166

Gayle Smith coordinates the Africa program at the Washington-based Development Group for Alternative Policies. In the past ten years she has worked extensively in the Horn of Africa on relief and development issues. Her most recent trip to Ethiopia and Sudan was in June 1990. She spoke with Joe Stork in Washington.

Compared to the famine of 1984-1985, what is the scope of the problem in the Horn today?

In terms of numbers, the famine is somewhat less severe than it was five years ago. There are an estimated 5 million in need as opposed to 7-9 million in 1984-1985. Just over 1 million of these people are in Eritrea; another 2.2 million live in Tigray. The rest live elsewhere in the north of Ethiopia, areas now also affected by the war.

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Absolute Distress

Structural Causes of Hunger in Sudan

by Mark Duffield
published in MER166

Most discussion of the food crisis in Africa is a model in which subsistence economies remain essentially intact and food insecurity is a transitory phenomenon, the result of external factors such as drought or war which temporarily upset the normal balance between sufficiency and dearth. My experience suggests that in Sudan subsistence economies have all but disappeared. Food insecurity no longer defines one or another period but is a constant condition of the market economy that has come to dominate the country.

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