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BRIEFING  - September 7, 2011

To learn more about the Millenium Development Goals, click on the graphic

Past Briefings:

August 24, 2011
Time for action: 20th anniversary of Earth Summit

August 10, 2011
Examining the request for statehood for Palestine

June 22, 2011
Pray for peaceful independence day for Southern Sudan

June 8, 2011
‘Divine blessings’: Meeting Dominican sisters in Africa

May 11, 2011
Protecting indigenous peoples protects the earth

April 27, 2011
Harmony with Nature: Respect for Mother Earth

April 6, 2011
Consultation on the Human Right to Peace

March 23, 2011
Military spending does little to secure peace

March 9, 2011
Report on the Commission on the Status of Women

February 9, 2011
The role of civil society in eradicating poverty

January 26, 2011
Social development: Making people, not profits, a priority

January 12, 2011
Climate change: ‘There is much to be done’

Somalia: Statistics are sons and daughters, boys and girls

“I have read in the last few days a number of articles noting a decrease of interest in the Horn of Africa… This must not happen. We cannot let a kind of disaster-fatigue set in. The statistics can be mind-numbing, but remember that the data is sons and daughters. The statistics are little boys and little girls, every one of them.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake

The Horn of Africa has been much in the news lately. This area, which includes the countries of Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, is in the grip of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. We are witnessing the most serious food insecurity situation in the world today, exacerbated by the worst drought to hit the region in over 60 years, and political instability and high food prices only make matters worse. At least 12.4 million people are affected, the most vulnerable being those who rely on livestock. More than half a million children are dangerously malnourished.

Somalia, which has not had a central government for the past two decades, has been the hardest hit, with approximately 3.2 million citizens facing intermittent starvation. The United Nations has declared two regions of southern Somalia as famine areas, and reports that malnutrition rates there are currently the highest in the world, reaching 50 percent. Unless the global response increases dramatically, the famine will continue to spread. Every day, thousands of desperate Somalis flee to Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya. One quarter of Somalia’s 7.5 million people is displaced. The largest refugee camp in the world is presently located in Dadaab, in northeastern Kenya, where there are an estimated 1,295 new arrivals per day. The situation is likely to deteriorate over the coming months, given the current levels of malnutrition and mortality, and the likelihood of increasing food prices and a harsh dry season.

It is clear that this humanitarian crisis is the result of a confluence of factors. An article in the Aug. 19 edition of International Business Times entitled “The Somalia Famine: 5 Things to Know,” highlights the complexity of the situation. I found the information helpful, and thought I would share it with you in this briefing. Here are the five things to know:

  1. The unrelenting drought in East Africa is the major cause. But the collapse of the state of Somalia itself has made effectively dealing with this natural disaster exceedingly difficult. Since 1991, there have been numerous attempts at stabilizing the nation, without any measurable success. As a result, many areas of the country are controlled by warlords and rebels, while others are simply lawless.
  2. Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda backed Islamic militant group, has filled in the void left by political instability. It rules over the famine-stricken areas, controls the humanitarian aid that enters certain parts of the country and hijacks food packages. Because many Western powers, including the United States, regard Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization, the U.S. will not provide direct aid to areas under the rebels’ control.
  3. “Famine” is a technical term that describes a situation in which child malnutrition is above 30 percent, at least two in 10,000 people die per day, and where there is no access to food and water.
  4. The UN has estimated that $2.5 billion is needed immediately to pull Somalia out of famine. The U.S. has given $430 million so far; the United Kingdom $90 million, and the British people an additional $80 million.
  5. If the West ignores the crisis, or grows slack in its commitment to provide assistance, hope for an entire generation and millions of people is lost.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake offered these words at a news conference at United Nations headquarters to mark World Humanitarian Day:

“I have read in the last few days a number of articles noting a decrease of interest in the Horn of Africa… This must not happen. We cannot let a kind of disaster-fatigue set in. The statistics can be mind-numbing, but remember that the data is sons and daughters. The statistics are little boys and little girls, every one of them.”

The article concludes by reminding us that even if the famine is brought under control by humanitarian aid, another disaster will soon follow, unless Somalia can control its own chaos. Somalia has been in a perpetual state of war… and there can be no prosperity without there first being peace.

For more information on the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and suggested ways to respond, please visit the following:

I encourage you to pay particular attention to Bread for the World’s background paper: “Lives at Stake: Protect Global Food Security Programs,” by Michele Learner. The paper reminds us that those who support cuts to food security assistance feel that the United States needs to cut spending and reduce the budget deficit. However, international development assistance did not cause, nor can it fix, our current budget crisis. The paper goes on to explain that the cut to fiscal year 2011 food aid amounted to $354 million, compared to the $1.7 trillion 2011 U.S. budget deficit.

It is abundantly clear that cuts to food aid and other food-security efforts harm some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world, without coming anywhere near to solving our budget deficit issues. It is good to keep this in mind amidst the mean-spirited rhetoric we hear all too often in our very polarized political discourse.

Related articles

UN Officials Say Famine Is Widening in Somalia
New York Times
Sept. 5, 2011

Margaret Mayce

Margaret Mayce, OP (DLC/Amityville)
NGO in Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
Dominican Leadership Conference
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New York, NY 10017
email: Margaret Mayce, OP

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