Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Darfur - on 1,050 calories a day

A few weeks ago, the United Nations announced that they were forced to reduce the daily food rations in Darfur due to lack of funds. Until then, food aid was established at 2,100 calories a day per person. It’s now 1,050 calories. In order to achieve that calorie reduction the United Nations was forced to reduce the amount of cereals, fortified foods and oil by one-half. Pulses (legumes), sugar and salt are now at ¼ of their original levels.

So what will 1,050 calories get you? Not much. It’ll provide you with ½ cup of dried rice, ½ cup of soy beans, ¼ cup of lentils, ½ cup of flour, a cup of milk and a banana. You’ll note the lack of meat – too expensive. Protein has to come from the legumes – that’s right – one of the categories that has been cut by 75%.

Need to understand 1,050 calories in terms of a Western lifestyle? That’s a McDonalds quarter pounder, medium fries and medium Coke. It’s 3 slices of Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza. It’s one large Dairy Queen Oreo blizzard.

How many calories do you need? If you’re a man, 5’8”, weigh 150 lbs and lead a very sedentary lifestyle, you need 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight. If you’re taking in only 1,050 calories a day, you’re losing 2 pounds a week. The United Nations says that it doesn’t expect locally grown food to be available until the September harvest. During those 5 months until harvest, you’ve lost about 40 pounds and now weigh 110 pounds.

If you’re a woman, 5’4” and weigh 110 lbs. (not an unusually low weight considering you’ve already been undernourished for that last couple of years in Darfur), you need 1,600 calories a day. IF you’re sedentary. But if you’re a woman in Darfur, you are anything but sedentary.

Roles and responsibilities for men and women have changed with displacement and continuing insecurity. In Mornei, most of the income generating work is carried out by boys and by women and girls, despite the dangers of gender based violence. For men the price of being caught by Janjaweed outside the camp/town is death. This means that men, both old and middle aged, generally stay within the confines of the town and undertake some of the traditional female roles of child-care and domesticity.

Some men claim to be cooking, cleaning and washing while women are collecting firewood or grass for sale, making bricks or attending to charcoal making, the latter two activities, traditionally, being almost exclusively male activities. Some women in the groups agreed that this was so, yet others dismissed these claims, saying that in general their menfolk did nothing for them or the children. Women often spent the whole day working and then came home tired and hungry only to find their husbands demanding food
There are about 1.8 million displaced people in Darfur and the numbers keep growing. In 2005, massive international aid in the form of food, medical supplies, shelters, and infrastructure averted mass starvation. By September 2005, malnutrition levels were half of what they were in the previous year.

But this was nutrition based on 2,100 calories a day, not 1,050.

The UN needs $ 746 million to feed the Sudan. It has $238 million of which $ 188 million came from the US. The United States has also just pledged an additional $ 350 million, but it may be too late for many Sudanese. It’s estimated that it takes almost four months from the time aid is pledged to the time it actually shows in the form of food in Darfur. And what was Canada’s contribution to that $ 238 million? - a paltry $ 4 million.

This isn’t humanitarian aid. It’s slow death by starvation.

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