12 Million Caught in Africa Food Crisis

Date Posted: 8/4/2011

The level of severe malnutrition in the Horn of Africa worries even seasoned aid workers like Maurice Bloem.

Church World Service, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and other members of the faith-based ACT Alliance are coordinating their response to the hunger crisis – deepened by civil strife and the worst drought in decades – that is affecting 11 million to 12 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti.

A July 22 “call for action” report by the Global Nutrition Cluster, a U.N. inter-agency standing committee, showed the prevalence of “global acute malnutrition” among the population of Somalia ranged from 23.8 to 55 percent – an estimate that Bloem, deputy director of Church World Service, said he considered “really alarming.”

Anecdotal stories that CWS staff have heard through their office in Kenya and through the U.S. network of those resettled from Somalia and Kenya paint the same picture. 

There are two declared areas of famine in Somalia. “It’s heartbreaking, (these) stories of people walking for 25 days, having lost half of their families, having survived by drinking their own urine,” Bloem told United Methodist News Service. “That’s the situation we’re talking about.”

Problems with food shortages in the Horn of Africa have been building over the years but came to a “critical mass” in recent months, said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR executive for international emergency response.

 “This is not a sudden onset disaster, but it’s one that is finally getting the media attention that it needs to generate awareness and the subsequent support,” she added.

Taking action

UMCOR is appealing for donations to help the relief agency and its partners address the Horn of Africa crisis.

 UMCOR’s board of directors on Aug. 1 approved four grants for $20,000 each to support:

·         CWS-implemented work in the Mwingi and Kibwezi areas of Kenya, which includes five months of immediate relief measures, such as family food packages and nutritional supplements for young children, and initiatives to improve food security and livelihoods

·         ACT Alliance members in Ethiopia responding through food distributions and food for work, malaria prevention and capacity building

·         ACT Alliance members in Somalia providing for a variety of emergency needs – food, shelter, clothing and water – along with long-term assistance to promote agricultural, income-generating activities

·         GlobalMedic, bringing in water purification tablets to Kenya and Somalia to provide 9.6 million liters of clean drinking water as well as purifier sachets for an additional 1.85 million liters of clean water

Crutchfield said that UMCOR also is discussing cooperative efforts with interfaith partners, such as Muslim Aid, which have better access to some of the communities affected by the crisis.

CWS, which has launched its own appeal for the Horn of Africa, also is supporting the emergency response in Somalia by fellow ACT Alliance members Lutheran World Federation and Norwegian Church Aid. Support in Ethiopia is going to response efforts by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus Development and Social Services Commission, a longtime CWS partner.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an ACT Alliance member and a full communion partner of The United Methodist Church, has contributed $400,000 to relief efforts through the Lutheran World Federation and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church’s commission.

Daily deaths from hunger

In the two regions of southern Somalia where famine has been declared, more than two people per 10,000 die each day, according to the Global Nutrition Cluster report. No improvement is expected before the next harvest at the end of the year.

A huge wave of people, mostly women and children, are fleeing the country. An average of 1,300 Somalis arrive in Ethiopia and 1,700 arrive in Kenya each day seeking assistance, the report said. The long-established Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, originally intended for 90,000 occupants, now has 440,000, Bloem pointed out, and “it’s increasing every day.”

Countries that border Somalia are suffering with their own droughts and hard-pressed to respond. Districts in Northern Kenya have reported rates of global acute malnutrition at 15 to 30 percent. Elevated rates of malnutrition also have been found in Ethiopia.

As of July 29, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had appealed for $2.4 billion from the international community to address the emergency, which is expected to continue for three months or longer.

The World Food Program and UNICEF airlifted hundreds of tons of specialized nutritional food for malnourished children in Somalia. The World Food Program now is feeding more than 1.6 million people in Kenya.

In such circumstances of severe malnutrition, quick action is required. “You need to focus on nutrition interventions, especially paying attention to the most vulnerable,” Bloem explained. Waiting too long to provide proper food to children ultimately means “those children have no future,” he stressed.

Long-term interventions range from assistance with better agricultural practices and other forms of livelihood to assessing the impact of various factors on global food systems. “You need to insure that, ultimately, people can better take care of their own needs,” he said.

In a July 27 interview with CWS’s Chris Herlinger, Sammy Matua, based in the agency’s East Africa regional office in Nairobi, said his office already is at work helping communities implement adaptive agricultural methods that improve household food security. 

The current crisis demonstrates “the impact of climate change is here with us and it is hitting the most vulnerable people in the world the hardest,” Matua said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.

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