Fighting the famine
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.