African Famine

Nathan Brandwein

Deep in the middle pages of the paper, beyond the daily frivolity on the front cover, lies one of the most daunting human crises in history – a food shortage threatening the Horn of Africa. The numbers are so staggering that prior to global assistance, an estimated 11,000,000 victims were among the ill-fated. After years of drought and high costs of food, many are now suffering anguish, malnourishment, and defeat. Scores of people have already died. The combination of one of East Africa’s worst droughts in sixty years and Somalia’s ongoing conflict has depleted the country’s food supplies. This has prompted the United Nations to officially declare a famine, before this catastrophe escalates further.

The countries in this realm of turmoil include Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. In Somalia, the malnutrition rates are the highest in the world, reaching 50% in some areas.

What’s striking about this famine is that the children are the ones most prone to disease. The scarce rain meant that many people are surviving off dirty, germ-infested water, which is how cholera spreads. The U.S. government estimates that 30,000 children below the age of five have died over the summer, and, in November the rains will arrive, bringing epidemics of malaria and measles.

The smallest bit of hope for those living is to go to remote refugee camps to gather provisions. Many parents living in Somalia have to walk with their small children by foot to Kenya to find two weeks of modest rations. When they finally reach the camps, they must wait for hours, and, after consuming those rations, wait for months before receiving anything else, as there are millions of others living in parallel circumstances.

A major drawback to this upheaval is that the Islamic militant group Al Shabbaab has made it challenging for the UN to mediate control over aid. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement in July saying that, “Relentless terrorism by al-Shabaab against its own people has turned an already severe situation into a dire one.”

The last time the UN declared a famine was 25 years ago in Ethiopia. The 1985 famine sparked a global outcry and a charity single, We are the World, by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. $63 million was raised just from that song for humanitarian aid and resulted in long term initiative projects. Unfortunately, those projects have long faded amidst the disorder in the Horn. 

When the Canadian government’s deadline to donate to the relief efforts expired over a month ago,Canadawas criticized by our own International Co-operation Minister, Bev Oda, for our subpar monetary contributions. Many people believed that donating to an overpopulated, far away and military-occupied area was simply a waste of money. Some believed that the funds were reallocated to the donor country and seized by the militants. Some even suggested that Prime Minister Harper was aiding and abetting terrorists with money.

However, this worrisome attitude should not be blamed onCanada, but on the UN. If the UN can figure out ways of making this famine more noticeable and closer-to-home, perhaps the shortage of aid flowing into these countries will augment. Woefully, whenever a child goes hungry in a far-off land, first world countries have failed to respond effectively. Despite tough economic times and political backbiting, Canada needs to contribute its share to a region where illness has proliferated like warfare, and famine has become inescapable.