Famine in East Africa: Who Cares?
More than 12 million people are at risk of starvation in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and other parts of East Africa, equivalent to the population of Ohio or Florida. Hundreds of thousands refugees have fled the drought-stricken region, and in the past three months, nearly 30,000 children have died. Yet the crisis has raised little attention in America. Private relief agencies are facing record low donations. The federal government is cutting its budget for humanitarian aid. And few Americans report even paying attention to the disaster.
Even though the need is great, some relief organizations are finding it difficult to raise the funds needed to assist the area. Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, said the Southern Baptist international relief fund is operating with just enough funds for six months. Contributions from Southern Baptist churches to the fund in 2010 were the lowest in 20 years, with the fund receiving only 40 percent of what it did just a year earlier.
"We are now at a 'red alert' time for our human needs funding," Palmer said. "These projects help the poorest of the poor, the most neglected and marginalized and some of the most lost people groups in the world. We are approaching a baseline where we are going to have to start denying funds to critical projects."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. is sending $122 million to the region, bringing the total U.S. assistance to the region to more than $580 million to help with food distribution, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and security. Overall, around 4.6 million people are assisted through U.S. funds.
"What is happening in the Horn of Africa is the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world today, and the worst that East Africa has seen in several decades," Clinton said last week at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
The listed organizations include World Vision, which has relief operations in northern Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, according to Mike Weickert, director of humanitarian and emergency affairs at World Vision. It plans on setting up an additional response center in southern Somalia, near the border between Somalia and Ethiopia. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that up to 140,000 Somali refugees have trekked through this region this year.
"Our World Vision assessment team visited Dolo last week and was struck by the extremely harsh conditions," said Weickert. "We met mothers who had delivered babies along the way, including one who had given birth on the hood of a car. Children are visibly ill and weak and urgent action is necessary to ensure their survival."
Samaritan's Purse is another relief organization working on the ground near the Somali border in Kenya, providing food, water, and other necessities. The relief organization is also running a work-for-pay program that provides employment for those in the area. Members of its staff report seeing animals left to die writhing on the ground, people walking miles just to get water to carry home, and families living in harsh conditions within refugee camps.
Government programs are facing cuts with the recent discussions over the national debt. Former U.N. ambassador Tony Hall wrote on Sojourners' God's Politics blog about how Congress is considering cuts to its food aid programs, programs that would help in the Horn of Africa. In April, the House passed a budget that made severe cuts to food, nutrition, and other relief programs. The budget included a 41 percent cut to U.S. disaster assistance programs, a 43 percent cut in funding for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, and a 30 percent reduction in international food programs.