Fight­ing the famine

Element - - Global Bulletin - By Janna Hamil­ton, Ox­fam

Stand­ing amongst the hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees forced to call Dadaab refugee camp in east­ern Kenya home, I won­der how, in 2011, we can ac­cept that thou­sands of peo­ple are dy­ing in an­other famine.

Famines are a thing of the past on ev­ery other con­ti­nent, with the ex­cep­tion of Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. East Asia’s last famine was in the six­ties, South Asia’s in the 1970s – and Europe hasn’t had a famine in over 60 years.

And yet famine has been de­clared in five ar­eas of So­ma­lia and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries are suf­fer­ing the worst drought of the 21st cen­tury. Over 12 mil­lion peo­ple are at risk. It is all too easy to dis­miss the cri­sis as an in­evitable fact of life here in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, but it is not only the drought that’s to blame.

As well as the re­peated fail­ure of the rains, po­lit­i­cal ne­glect of small­holder farm­ers has been re­spon­si­ble for the cri­sis. It is no co­in­ci­dence that the worst af­fected ar­eas are the poor­est, least de­vel­oped and most ne­glected, lack­ing the ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture of wa­ter sys­tems, roads and health­care that would help peo­ple cope.

In So­ma­lia, a coun­try still suf­fer­ing from con­flict, peo­ple have been hit dou­bly hard by the cur­rent drought. Two decades of law­less­ness have robbed So­ma­lis of ba­sic rights to food, wa­ter and shel­ter, and made it dif­fi­cult for hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies to reach those in need.

But there is hope. Ox­fam and lo­cal So­mali part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions op­er­ate the largest pub­lic health pro­gramme in the coun­try, pro­vid­ing clean wa­ter to 300,000 dis­placed So­ma­lis in camps out­side Mo­gadishu. Our part­ners op­er­ate the largest ther­a­peu­tic feed­ing pro­gramme for chil­dren and moth­ers, ad­mit­ting 3000 mal­nour­ished chil­dren ev­ery week. Over­all, Ox­fam aims to reach 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple in So­ma­lia – and three mil­lion through­out the re­gion – by the end of the year.

Be­yond So­ma­lia, Ox­fam pro­vides emer­gency food, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in north­ern Kenya and south­ern Ethiopia. We’re fo­cus­ing on long-term so­lu­tions to help build peo­ple’s re­silience to drought and the food and fuel price rises that will be­come all too fre­quent in an era of cli­mate change. There is still time to help peo­ple in their vil­lages and pre­vent more deaths. In the hard-hit Kenyan re­gion of Turkana, Ox­fam main­tains bore­holes and in­stalls so­lar wa­ter pumps, sav­ing com­mu­ni­ties from hav­ing to spend mea­gre in­comes on high-priced fuel for pump­ing wa­ter dur­ing dry months. Ev­ery drop of wa­ter is utilised, with run-off used to ir­ri­gate veg­etable gar­dens.

The cur­rent cri­sis was not in­evitable and the so­lu­tions al­ready ex­ist to en­sure that crises on this scale are avoided. We can build suc­cesses, as we have been do­ing even in the tur­moil of So­ma­lia. This famine must be a wake up call to gov­ern­ments and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to address the is­sues that make peo­ple vul­ner­a­ble to hunger in the first place. Ox­fam is call­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion in the way we grow and share food so that ev­ery­one al­ways has enough to eat now, and al­ways. In a world with enough to eat there is no good rea­son why any­one should go hun­gry. Above left: Janna Hamil­ton re­ports from the famine-stricken Horn of Africa where for­eign aid is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. Above: A Kenyan boy

re­joices at hav­ing ac­cess to a clean wa­ter sup­ply.

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