Nearly one-quarter of the 385 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are hungry, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization. More than 20 million are at risk of death from starvation. There are many reasons for the food crisis. First among them are severe drought, rapid population growth and inept agricultural policies as demonstrated in reports on East African nations covered in this series. But, as the accompanying maps show, there are two other reasons why many are hungry.
*First, the creeping growth of useless land. Desertification is caused not only by drought but by land damage caused by overcutting forests, overgrazing and poor irrigation practices. The Sahara Desert has been moving south by up to 120 miles a year in some areas since the early 1970s. Each year, 24,000 square miles of land is lost to desert, affecting about 135 million rural Africans this year, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
*Second, civil violence has combined with drought in many African nations to create a massive refugee problem that exacerbates Africa's hunger. There are about 2.7 million refugees registered in Africa with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Hundreds of thousands of others do not show up in official counts. Sudan, for example, has 700,000 refugees -- nearly half a million of them from Ethiopia, 195,000 from Uganda, and others from Chad and Zaire. Despite U.N. refugee projects, feeding and housing the growing numbers of malnourished refugees is beyond the capacity of countries that are failing to feed their own people.