Nations Falling Short in Helping East African Famine Victims The drought and attendant food crisis come as no surprise, given political instability as well Image: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Warning that famine in Somalia is likely to get worse before it gets better, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday pledged an additional $17 million in U.S. aid to East African countries racked by the worst drought in 60 years.
The money comes on the heels of a $105 million relief package President Obama approved this week, bringing the level of U.S. assistance to the Horn of Africa to $508 million.
But, Clinton warned, the immediate needs of those in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, part of South Sudan and Somalia must also be met with long-term measures aimed at preventing future catastrophes. Calling the famine "the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world today and the worst that East Africa has seen in several decades," she said the suffering of millions of people -- particularly in Somalia -- is as much man-made as brought about by nature.
"Though food shortages may be triggered by drought, they are not caused by drought, but rather by weak or nonexistent agricultural systems that fail to produce enough food or market opportunities in good times and break down completely in the bad times," Clinton said in a speech at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
"In other words, a hunger crisis is not solely an act of God. It is a complex problem of infrastructure, governance, markets, education," she said. "These are things we can shape and strengthen. So this means that this is a problem that we can solve if we have the will."
Advocating an end to trade barriers, improvement in credit and land-use policies and new technologies to bolster resilience to drought, Clinton also called on the eight leading industrialized countries to make good on a 2009 promise of $20 billion for agricultural development.
Clinton's speech comes as U.N. agencies and international aid groups step up calls for emergency assistance funding to the more than 12.4 million people affected by the drought. Yesterday, U.N. humanitarian aid chief Catherine Bragg told the Security Council the body was more than $560 million short on funding for aid for Somalia alone.
More than $1B short of adequate aid
Regionwide, the United Nations has said almost $2.5 billion is needed to cope with the crisis. So far, it has received about 48 percent of that.
"Donors have committed more than a billion dollars to the response so far and continue to pledge more. We are very grateful, especially in these difficult economic times. But the magnitude of human suffering in Somalia today demands more," Bragg told Security Council members. "Despite the difficulty of operating in one of the most conflict-riven countries in the world, we cannot let people down."
This week, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned that famine had spread to three new areas of southern Somalia and could engulf the entire southern part of the country. The agency said famine is expected to spread across the entire region in the coming four to six weeks and could even persist through the end of the year.
Clinton called Somalia the "epicenter" of the crisis. While drought has struck throughout East Africa, U.N. officials and aid workers say the situation in Somalia -- where more than 3 million people are in need of aid and refugees are flooding neighboring Kenya -- is made more dire by internal conflict. The militant rebel group al-Shabab has violently prevented many aid workers from reaching starving communities.
Meanwhile, countries like Kenya and Ethiopia where the United States and aid groups have worked with governments to improve irrigation and other measures aimed at boosting food security are faring far better in the crisis. Clinton noted that in 2002-2003, more than 13 million people faced starvation in Ethiopia. Today, fewer than 5 million do -- a number she noted still is too large but is an "astonishing improvement" that shows investments in food security can pay off.