The man in charge of the Scottish Church’s international aid agency has worked on humanitarian disasters for 25 years but he’s never seen numbers like the ones he’s seeing now.
“The stat we use is the number of children under 5 facing Severely Acute Malnutrition,” explains Alastair Dutton.
“That’s the point organs start to shut down. Usually, when it’s at 2.3% in a country it’s an emergency, you get the big appeals all over the TV. In Ethiopia right now it’s at 21%”
“The latest stats are that 45 million people are facing famine right now around the world,” he goes on.
”We’ve never seen anything like it. And it will get worse, as we’re about to go into the leanest months in Africa, just before the harvest. If nothing is done people will die in very large numbers.”
In some African countries, like Sudan, inflation is running at 200% this year, leaving millions struggling to buy food. Mr Dutton has no doubt about the fundamental cause. “It’s successive droughts in these countries in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.
“Weather patterns are changing because of climate change and a lot of countries produce less food.”
He adds that six months on from the COP26 Climate Change conference in Glasgow the UK’s leaders are ‘soft peddling’ on climate change.
“We said this had to be a decade of action on climate change at COP,” he said. “ And it doesn’t look like it will be. People are distracted by the cost of living and by War in Europe.”
Events in Ukraine are also directly worsening the crisis.
“Russia and Ukraine were providing 70% of food to a lot of places in the Middle East, especially Syria. A lot of the emergency food that was going there, is no longer arriving.
“So you’ve literally had tankers changing course in the ocean to get the food there. Which is raising the price of food all over the world.
“In this country, the price of food is going up and will keep going up, but because we’re rich it will still get through. But it will just stop going to poorer countries.”
He also says the media here bear responsibility for not raising the alarm as they are ‘preoccupied’ by the war in Ukraine.
“The fact is more people are facing famine in Africa than the population of Ukraine. Now people’s grandparents fought a war about that bit of Europe, so there’s emotional significance there,” he said.
“But there’s also an element of racism. Ukrainians are white Europeans whom we feel look like us. We don’t feel that immediate responsibility for our Black brothers and sisters in Africa.” “Why aren’t we jumping up and down about Africa,” Mr Dutton continued. “Why isn’t the great bond of fraternity not present there?”