Photo courtesy of UK Department for International Development via Flickr []

End cycle of famine

  • April 21, 2016

Once again Africa is reeling from a hunger crisis and appealing for humanitarian aid. And once again the world’s sated nations have a moral duty to generously respond.

But that sense of duty needs to outlive this particular crisis. As the planet continues to get warmer, scientists predict the developing world will experience ever more drought and famine. It is folly to idly wait for each new disaster to arrive instead of making pro-active investments now to mitigate the harm the next time the rains fail.

People may argue about whether climate change is natural or man-made, but there is little serious dispute any more that the planet is warming up. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis plainly laid out what this will mean and, in particular, pointed out the potentially devastating consequences for the poor.

Although the current crisis is blamed more on the recent El Nino phenomenon than climate change, scientists note that seldom has there been an El Nino so severe. Typically, El Nino brings extra rain to eastern Africa and drought in the south. This time it has wrought parched land and high temperatures across the continent. Is that a consequence of a warmer planet? Who can say? But the devastating impact is clear.

The United Nations reports that more than 36 million Africans spread across 27 nations face hunger. That number is expected to rise, particularly in states where wars inflame already dire situations. Ethiopia, suffering from two years of drought, has 10 million people who require food aid. The combined hungry mouths in Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya tops 20 million.

These people need the international community to generously and immediately send aid. But that can’t be the end of it. African droughts come in cycles and may be more frequent and more severe as the planet heats up. Measures should be taken now to avoid tragedy when the next drought inevitably arrives.

Much of Africa requires long-term investment in infrastructure that can reduce poverty and support healthy societies in any type of weather. That includes development in the areas of transportation, energy, sanitation, education, housing and health, but also advances in fundamental governance and security to reduce corruption and promote peace. The best defence against drought and hunger is the development of stable, prosperous communities.

 The United Nations asks countries to contribute 0.7 per cent of gross national income each year to foreign aid. Just six countries meet that target. Canada wasn’t even close last year at a dismal 0.24 per cent. The world must do better.

The cycle of famine that buckles Africa every decade or so can be ended by a serious international commitment to aid. Drought may be inevitable but hunger needn’t be so.

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