Aid for East Africa

By 
  • July 27, 2011

During the summer months, when The Catholic Register reduces its publishing schedule to twice monthly, it can be a challenge to stay atop the news cycle because world events move so fast. Sadly, however, that is not a concern regarding the tragedy unfolding in East Africa.

There is no end in sight to the famine that has already claimed tens of thousand of lives in Somalia and threatens to spill over into Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The United Nations estimates that 11 million people are threatened by the deadliest situation in the region since the Ethiopia famine of 1984-85 killed one million people.

But particularly distressing about the current crisis is that it could have been lessened, if not altogether averted, had nations heeded several unequivocal early warnings. Famine does not happen overnight.  Experts have developed scientific models to forecast these types of natural crisis.   When drought was added to food shortages, rising costs and armed conflict already present in Somalia, the UN sent out an international SOS late last year. But even as the crisis alarms rang louder in recent months the international community stayed largely indifferent.  

A year ago, the UN appealed for $500 million to keep East Africa fed during a famine the experts knew was coming. The response was pitiful.  When famine was officially declared in parts of Somalia on July 20, the UN appeal had risen to $1.6 billion. “There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world’s collective responsibility,” said one official.

Once again it is taking horrifying images of dying children and grieving mothers to awaken the world to tragedy. Famine refers to situations in which there is no access to food, where “acute malnutrition” affects at least 30 percent of children and where daily death rates from starvation exceed two people per 10,000. In addition to the deaths, some 135,000 Somalis have fled their foodless country.

To its credit, the Canadian government is responding aggressively despite concerns that pro al-Qaeda militants in the most desperate regions of Somalia could disrupt relief efforts. In addition to $22.3 million committed months ago, Canada is sending East Africa another $50 million. The government will also match dollar-for-dollar contributions that individual Canadians make to recognized charitable organizations. Per capita, Canada has become the world’s most generous donor to the international relief effort.

Somalia is a corrupt, dangerous, dysfunctional nation. Large areas are controlled by Islamist extremists. Politically, Somalia’s most grief-stricken regions are pariah territory. But thousands of innocent people are starving. That single, tragic fact must become the world’s focus and trump all other concerns.

This isn’t a political problem; it’s a humanitarian crisis. World leaders must recognize that and provide the help East Africa so urgently requires.

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