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Forgotten famine

October 2011

Forgotten famine

The images of people starving on the Horn of Africa captured media attention earlier this year, but now seem commonplace or nearly forgotten.

The number of people caught up in the famine-stricken areas in Africa is set to rise, with more than 750,000 people at risk of dying this year, according to the United Nations (UN).
    Nearly 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia are at risk, with tens of thousands of people already numbered among the dead.
    Latest reports from the BBC revealed children are most at risk. The BBC’s Bashkas Jugsooday, reporting from Somalia’s Dadaab camp, said children were at risk of being attacked by hyenas at night.
    
Millions affected

The balance between man and beast has been upset and wildlife is also suffering. Photographs from Reuters at the end of August showed skeletons of giraffe and zebra — usually able to find some vegetation on trees — stripped bare by hungry wild animals.
    On 20 July, the UN declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia which has been particularly badly hit by internal conflict. By September, six more regions in that lawless nation were engulfed by famine.
    Figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated at the start of the crisis that more than 10.7 million people needed humanitarian assistance and 25 per cent of Somalia’s 7.5 million people are displaced.
    The ‘food insecure’ populations of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia stood at 2.4 million, 3.7 million and 4.56 million respectively.
    The UN has declared that the drought on the Horn of Africa is the worst in 60 years and it is feared that the isolated nation of Eritrea is now also in the clutch of famine.

Manmade

However bad the natural disaster of drought, the problem is more one of man’s making. Administrative delays, political factions, red tape and military posturing have turned a natural disaster into a crisis of epic proportions.
    There are growing military and political tensions on the borders, as the Somali diaspora spills into Kenya at an alarming rate. According to reports from Al-Jazeera and Reuters, warring factions in Somalia have prevented aid from getting through.
    There was always a steady trickle of Somalis into northern Kenya, mostly fleeing violence, but in recent months thousands have entered looking for food. And then theft and violence drove homeowners there to protect themselves with arms.
    The lack of transport and trade in other parts of Kenya means farmers cannot sell their vegetable crops and are having to give these to their livestock instead of feeding the people.
    Food prices in the region are now higher than in the peak commodities boom of 2008, according to charity World Emergency Relief (WER). A WER statement said, ‘In ordinary times, families in Kenya spend 60-70 per cent of their daily income on food, but many can no longer afford to feed themselves, even if they are working’.
    
Red tape

The BBC’s Andrew Harding, reporting from Nairobi in Kenya, said there were too many human culprits to lay the blame at any single organisation’s feet.
    It’s not just individuals protecting their land and crops, or low rainfall and high food prices. He included diplomats, Somali officials, and foreign aid officials — especially the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), which is heavily dependent on US funding.
    These organisations are tied up in red tape and unable to access parts of the famine-stricken land.
    The WFP even admitted delaying airlifting food to Somalia’s capital for administrative reasons, while Islamic fundamentalists banned the WFP from their strongholds, sparking international outrage.
    ‘Where does my help come from?’ the psalmist asked. ‘From the Lord’ was the response (Psalm 121).  Only God can change the heart of man to fill it with compassion for his fellow sufferers.
    Only God can give divine wisdom to the leaders of these countries and organisations to make the right decisions. Only God can send the rain and ensure that the promised $51million from the UN-managed humanitarian fund gets to the right people at the right time. Only the Lord of hosts can stop the militants and restore peace to the situation.
    It is written that Elijah said, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word’ (1 Kings 17:1).
    And God was true to his word, causing rain to fall even though at first the cloud was tiny — no more than the size of a man’s fist on the sea’s horizon.

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