Women wait for food to be distributed at the Government Girls Secondary School IDP camp in Monguno, Nigeria, last year. (Jane Hahn/For The Washington Post)

Regarding the April 12 article “Wars have left 20 million people on the brink of starvation” [The World]:

In Africa and the Middle East, where 20 million people are in danger of starving to death, famine may seem like a result of “natural” catastrophes such as drought, but it cannot be addressed without looking at the consequences of human action or inaction.

As a nonprofit organization operating in northern Kenya, where the government recently declared a national disaster encompassing 23 counties, we see every day the impact of food insecurity. The struggle for disappearing resources sets the stage for conflict, which worsens the impact of famine.

The arid and semi-arid lands of northern Kenya have seen cycles of humanitarian aid over the past 50 years, and, although these efforts have saved lives, they treat residents as passive beneficiaries, trapping them in cycles of vulnerability and dependence. Humanitarian aid is also often limited in its ability to reach remote areas and is at risk of being diverted by opposing factions.

While humanitarian response is important, it must be coupled with proven, holistic, resilience-building programs to help residents make a meaningful transition from dependence to self-reliance, even in the face of severe and frequent shocks such as climate change and conflict.  

Kathleen Colson, Nanyuki, Kenya

The writer is chief executive
and founder of the Boma Project.