TALK AFRICA: Fighting Africa’s famine



The UN renewed its call to donors for more funds saying it has only received 21 per cent of the USD4.4 billion needed to avert the risk of a repeat of the 2011 famine that led to mass starvation of close to 260,000 people in the Horn of Africa. Already, an estimated 20 million people across the continent are living in areas where rains have failed. Drought and on-going conflict have plunged parts of Africa into the worst food security crisis in 20 years with more than 6 million Somalis, over 1 million South Sudanese and some 7 million people in the Chad basin facing starvation. Children stand an even higher risk with 363,000 suffering from malnutrition in Somalia. The famine has led to massive loss of livestock and forced people from their homes. And, to discuss what factors have led to this dire situation and the possible interventions, Talk Africa engaged Abdi Ahmed Mohamed of Somalia’s National Drought Response Committee, and Al Haji Jallow, Uganda’s representative to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN. Al Haji singles out climate change and the La Nina and El Niño effects for the on-going famine.

And, responding to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta’s appeal to its development partners for assistance in combating starvation, the Chinese embassy and Chinese firms in Kenya donated food worth USD160,000. This follows an announcement of USD2.2 billion and a 21-million metric tonnes of relief food to Kenya by the Chinese government. Abdi blames the situation on weak regurgitating institutions, political events that have diverted the attention of the administration in Somalia and ill-preparedness by both the national government and the international community. The response by Somalis in the diaspora, he says, has helped compliment efforts by donors. Al Haji calls for more exchange of information between governments saying this will help in drought preparedness.

Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC’s director of worldwide operations echoed the UN’s call for more funds saying the need for adequate and quicker response cannot be overemphasised.  Stillhart says lessons have to be learnt from the 2011famine, where response was slow leading to the death, from starvation, of close to 250,000 people. Conflict, he notes, is a primary contributor to the current food crisis in South Sudan where more than 1.5 million people have fled the civil war and many continue to pour into northern Uganda.  Estimates put the number of refugees there at more than 5000 people, crowded together in unsanitary conditions. Many at the camp lack food and access to medical treatment.  Abdi says foresight and preparedness are key in the fight against drought. Al Haji believes the affected countries are handling the situation better but believes there is room for improvement, when it comes to sharing of information between countries.

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