Food rescue charities are receiving cold shipments of much-needed food from West Africa, often by sea
The ripple effects of Boko Haram’s brutal rampage are not confined to Nigeria: the “extremist group” also emptied grain silos in the state of Borno, where we help run one of three ColdHubs, the world’s first experimental cold stores.
Quick guide Big issues in development Show Hide How many people do the world’s poorest have? The World Bank estimates that there are 7 billion of us, but that doesn’t tell us everything. Governments calculate that there are 3.2 billion people in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, but that doesn’t take into account many millions more who live off incomes of about $1 or $2 a day. Many campaigners say that we should be thinking of poor people not as the poorest of the poor, but as the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Who do the poor represent? Once we have accepted that they are poor, we begin to understand them. If we think of people living below $1.90 a day as the poorest of the poor, then we begin to understand their rights, and the rights of their children and communities. Where are the poorest living? More than half of the poorest people live in Asia and Africa. Women account for a large part of the poor population and their numbers are growing in rich countries too. Where are the richest living? In China and Japan. How has the world changed in the last 30 years? We’ve made a lot of progress on life expectancy, literacy and the spread of electricity across the planet, but while progress has been made, much more remains to be done. What’s holding us back? We’re almost not sure, but the legacy of colonialism and poverty are proving hard to shake off. Read the full series A few years ago we set out a series of predictions for the decade ahead: what are they predicting now?
As a result, much of the food shipped in during the past six months has been enough to feed more than 1 million people for a month. Most of the food we collect is local – both governments and NGOs ship it in from other West African countries. Unicef, the UN children’s agency, and OXFAM are also vital sources.
We’ve saved more than 5 tonnes of food since January alone, with refrigerated shipping from Qatar and ice in Saudi Arabia.
Cold storage might not sound a high priority in the context of $26tn of humanitarian aid worldwide. But it is already a proven technology that has delivered food and emergency aid from Bangladesh, Haiti and Nepal to Sierra Leone and El Salvador in recent decades. And with a 15-year-old cold storage initiative in the US, US billionaire Bill Gates has been promoting the technology as a way to eliminate food poverty in the developing world.
To see what it’s like to save tons of food, I boarded a yacht in New York on Friday for a flight to Dallas to witness ColdHubs in action.
While trying to balance the fragile three-tonne space structure on his shoulders, I watched crews rip open bags of grain and fill separate ice chests for ice packs and biscuits. So far, I’ve noticed none of the hungry children I expected in trucks parked outside the shelters that we operate.
A baby eats ice cream from the shelf of a ColdHub in Yaoundé, Cameroon Photograph: Courtesy/Gary Rosenberg
Expectations are high for things to improve when just the lack of information is confounded by poor transportation. Of the 27,000 families living in all the camps, 1,600 families remain “food insecure”; one of them still eats grass from a latrine. “Poor transportation makes food distribution very difficult,” says Mr Wurm, executive director of the US-based non-profit Humanity 360.
Programmes that help get food to the hundreds of thousands of people who need it most are facing a funding crisis. Last month, after more than 10 months of study and debate, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation approved cold storage as one of the six steps toward ending famine.
Still, Mr Wurm says, “You have to get the situation stabilised before you can freeze a finger to see how many hours it will freeze”.