World Bank calls Horn of Africa famine manmade

BERLIN Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:36pm EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - The famine in the Horn of Africa is manmade - the result of artificially high prices for food and civil conflict, the World Bank's lead economist for Kenya Wolfgang Fengler told Reuters Tuesday.

"This crisis is manmade," Fengler said in a telephone interview. "Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine."

Some 12.4 million people in the Horn of Africa - including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti - are affected by the worst drought in decades, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands of people have already died.

Fengler said the price of maize, or corn, was significantly higher in east Africa than in the rest of the world due to controls on local food markets.

"In Kenya, the price for corn is 60 to 70 percent above the world average at the moment," he said. "A small number of farmers are controlling the market which is keeping prices artificially high."

The World Bank said Monday its Food Price index increased 33 percent in July from a year ago and stayed close to 2008 peak levels, with large rises in the prices for maize and sugar.

High food and energy prices have stoked inflation pressures around the globe, but the problem has been more acute in developing nations.

"Maize is cheaper in the United States and in Germany than it is in eastern Africa," said Fengler.

Somalia's two-decade long war is also seen as exacerbating the famine in the Horn of Africa.

Some 3.7 million Somalis risk starvation in two regions of south Somalia controlled by militant group al Shabaab, which has blamed food aid for creating dependency and blocked humanitarian deliveries in the past.

The group has accused the United Nations of exaggerating the severity of the drought and politicizing the crisis.

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