August 3, 2011

US urges global action on Horn of Africa famine

The famine caused by the worst drought in over half a century in the Horn of Africa will likely eclipse the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which claimed nearly a million lives, a US senator said Wednesday.

But in spite of the dire warnings and images of starving children coming out of the region, and especially war-torn Somalia, the international community has been slow in coming forward with aid, Democratic Senator Chris Coons said as he opened a hearing on the famine.

“It is the most severe humanitarian crisis in a generation, affecting food security for more than 12 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and surrounding areas,” Coons said.

People in Somalia are suffering the most, largely due to the strain brought on by 20 years of civil war and because hardline Shebab insurgents have been blocking aid to starving Somalis and preventing them from fleeing to neighboring Ethiopia or Kenya to escape the famine.

The United Nations estimates that 3.2 million people in Somalia require “immediate, life-saving humanitarian assistance,” Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), told the hearing.

All but 400,000 of Somalis in urgent need live in the south of the country, which is controlled by the Shebab and other militant groups.

Based on nutrition and mortality data coming out of Somalia, the United States estimates that 29,000 children in southern Somalia have died in the last 90 days, Lindborg said.

“This is nearly four percent of the children in southern Somalia,” she said.

Coons called the famine “a children’s crisis,” noting that hundreds of thousands of young ones are “on the verge of death” in the Horn of Africa due to malnutrition.

According to the UN Children’s Fund, around 2.3 million children in the Horn of Africa are acutely malnourished and the drought and famine have left half a million at death’s door.

The United Nations declared a famine in two regions of Somalia around two weeks ago, and warned Wednesday that famine could affect the entire southern part of Somalia within four to six weeks.

But even though the famine is expected to worsen and eventually dwarf the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, the public is not stepping up to try to help as it did in the 1980s, when the international community responded to the crisis with massive fundraisers like Live Aid.

According to Coons, only half of the $2 billion that the United Nations has said is needed to provide emergency assistance for famine relief in the Horn of Africa has been committed, with the United States the largest single donor, pledging $450 million.

“The international community must join the United States and many others in providing this critical aid in the near term in order to save lives, especially those of malnourished children and others in desperate need,” said Coons.

“Especially in difficult budgetary times, the humanitarian response to this crisis must be a shared, transnational obligation,” he said.

Jeremy Konyndyk, director of policy and advocacy at disaster response group Mercy Corps, described “landscapes full of dead and dying livestock” and “villages completely emptied by the drought because people simply cannot get water and they’ve had to go elsewhere.”

He deplored the “truly desperate situation,” saying the international community has yet to recognize the severity of the crisis, as aid and relief workers meet with families struggling to eat even one meal a day.

“We’re seeing just a fraction of the engagement and the level of resources that we saw after the Haiti earthquake,” Konyndyk added, even though more people have been affected by the famine in the Horn of Africa than make up the total population of Haiti.


1 Comment »

  1. Dear ……….
    Please avoid using a corrosive nickname to a historic region
    We refer to the European Union’s reply of 29 March 2011 to our initial letter of 18 March 2011. In a subsequent letter of 8 April 2011 we attempted to explain why EU’s response does not fully address our concern. ‘Horn’ still figures on its website. Others like the Independent, the BBC have, regrettably, followed the un-exemplary lead. . Our concern is best illustrated by referring to some authorities who came up with similar representative answers when faced with the task of naming the region. In the glossary of his book: Self made man and his undoing (1993) the Oxford University professor Jonathan Kingdon calls it The Ethiopian Region. Japanese scholars call it the Nilo-Ethiopian Region. In the increasingly interdependent world where identity is paramount and mutual respect the norm a name has to be as indigenous as possible. It is in that sense we re-examined the ‘Nilo-‘.prefix. ‘Nile’ is not an African word. It is Arabic. What is more Blue Nile, supplying 85% of the water that reaches Egypt every year and identified by the IMF as the major resource of the region, is regionally called Abbay. It deservedly means ‘father of all rivers’ in Afar, Amharic, Irob, Oromic, Saho, Somali and Tigre etc. All are indigenous languages of possibly more than 90% of the region’s population.
    We appreciate that EU’s ‘intend is purely to describe a group of countries that face interlinked challenges’. However, from the perspective of the Cultural and Study Unit of Abbay Ethiopian Region, by choosing the least common denominator that can lend itself to ridicule, EU has failed to be objective and deferential. That is especially so to a region that has unique historical legacies for Black people on one hand and as a cradle of Homo-Sapiens, for humanity as a whole on the other. The first successful anti-colonial resistance and possibly the first prehistoric polity that resulted in the office of the Negus are all matters that the European Union should give recognition to, for others to follow. It can do so by removing the belittling word ‘Horn’ from its website, stopping its further use and if need be giving a neutral name: East Africa..
    Thank you for attending to this matter.
    Yours Sincerely,
    ……………………, Director Abbay-Ethiopian
    * Names are omitted in accordance of Ethiopian Hillinawinet (conscientiousness).

    Comment by Abbay Ethiopian — August 11, 2011 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

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