While Americans gather to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, all signs point to a food crisis in West Africa that could eclipse the current epidemic impacting the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia Djibouti and Somalia). As reported by the Christian humanitarian organization, World Vision, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network points to inconsistent rain, insect attacks, and the resulting poor harvest in Sahel countries, including Niger, Mauritania, Chad and Mali.
The question raised in the title of the Unicef-UK documentary Eddie Izzard - Didn’t We Fix Famine? begs the question: Despite a host of fundraising events and awareness campaigns conducted since the 1980s to benefit Africa, why does famine remain a persistent crisis in Africa?
Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organization that has worked uninterrupted in Somalia since 1991, offers this concise summary of the situation in the Horn of Africa where this famine has impacted over 13 million people.
“The conflict that began two decades ago in Somalia continues, and its consequences are currently exacerbated by drought--one of the worst on record in the country. Thousands of people have been forced to flee Somalia, and are seeking humanitarian aid in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. A measles epidemic is spreading. The lack of infrastructure and services is worsening the population’s vulnerability. In recent weeks, civilians have endured new military offensives launched in southern Somalia and in the capital Mogadishu.”
When one starts to explore the stories of faith-based relief organizations working in this region, a tapestry of interfaith cooperation emerges. For instance, World Vision partners with groups of all faiths throughout the Horn of Africa to implement programs together on the ground. In Ethiopia, the World Vision staff conducted several inter-faith workshops to help staff learn good skills in peacebuilding, conflict management, and diversity awareness as they work with people and organizations of different faith backgrounds, including Islam. Also, they serve in refugees camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, and camps for internally displaced Somalis in Puntland and on the Ethiopia border. One finds similar patterns of cooperation with other Christian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in this region.
Here in the United States, the anti-poverty advocacy group, the ONE Campaign’s ONESabbath program provides interfaith resources for every religion and a variety of ideologies to raise awareness and mobilize their community about the US government’s emergency response and longer term solutions to end famine by investing in agriculture.
Despite ONE’s advocacy efforts that focus on government support, Interaction, an alliance of over 190 US-based international NGOs, documents that private giving for East Africa falls short overall. However, Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) reported they received a record number of donations during Ramadan with the majority of donors giving to the East African crisis appeal.
Fr. Michael Evans, SJ, National Director, Jesuit Refugee Services-USA (JRS-USA), understands donor fatigue as he has been working with Somalia since 1982. He observes, “The American donor is extremely generous when you have a natural disaster that happens immediately. We had overwhelming support after the Tsunami and the Haitian earthquake. But an ongoing drought that isn’t immediate doesn’t gain traction.”
For those who feel charity doesn’t work because the food situation in Somalia remains the worst in the world, and the worst in the Horn of Africa country since the region’s 1991-92 famine, note that aid to this region has reduced the number of famine zones in Somalia in half. Also, during Fr. Evan’s visit to the Horn of Africa this summer, he observed signs of programs and projects that are leading to small scale sustainable development like a distance-education project with US universities that gives refugees access to higher education. Along those lines, the Christian international relief and development organization, Food for the Hungry is partnering with the World Food Programme and the German Society for International Cooperation for the distribution of fuel-efficient stoves to 6,200 Somali families in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. Other NGOs report similar signs of hope in developing innovative solutions and training refugees to enable the local populations to achieve self-sufficiency.
Becky Garrison | Nov 22, 2011 6:42 PM