Africa’s poor res­cu­ing peo­ple from famine

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - WASHINGTON POST

IN SO­MA­LIA, South Su­dan and Nige­ria, sites of the three largest hunger crises in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, over­stretched hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions have failed to raise suf­fi­cient funds to feed and house all of those in need.

An un­told num­ber of peo­ple – most of them chil­dren – have died of mal­nu­tri­tion and pre­ventable diseases. The UN has de­clared a famine in parts of South Su­dan, and says the other two na­tions are in dan­ger of suf­fer­ing the same tragedy.

But in each of those coun­tries, some of the world’s poor­est peo­ple have stepped in to fill the void. In the north­ern town of Ganyiel, in South Su­dan, where thou­sands of fam­i­lies con­verged in re­cent months to es­cape fight­ing and pos­si­ble star­va­tion in nearby vil­lages, there weren’t enough tents or huts, so the newly ar­rived slept out­side in the dirt.

The UN World Food Pro­gramme couldn’t keep up with the pace of ar­rivals, and mal­nu­tri­tion in the makeshift camp was a grow­ing prob­lem.

Yet the fam­i­lies of Ganyiel, with al­most noth­ing of their own, shared whatever they could. That meant split­ting tiny por­tions of maize or fish or fruit. It meant lend­ing bed mats to the el­derly, and space in cramped huts. Their gen­eros­ity saved lives.

Peo­ple ate who might oth­er­wise have gone hun­gry. Peo­ple found shel­ter from the 37ºC heat who might oth­er­wise have shriv­elled in the sun.

“We live thanks to the peo­ple of Ganyiel who share their food,” Veron­ica Nyariel said. She wore a pink shirt and a black shawl that had taken on the colour of the dirt that she slept on.

In Baidoa, So­ma­lia, at an­other dis­place­ment camp that had emerged out of noth­ing, thou­sands of peo­ple have fled a hunger cri­sis caused by both drought and vi­o­lence in­flicted by al-Shabaab mil­i­tants. Again, in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions have ar­rived, but they haven’t brought enough food or shel­ter for every­one.

Af­ter Mo­hamed Iman reached Baidoa in early March, he went wan­der­ing through the poor, em­bat­tled city, which was once con­trolled by al-Shabaab. Months ear­lier, he had been a farmer. Now, he was a beg­gar. The peo­ple of Baidoa gave and gave: food, clothes, shel­ter.

“Some of them know me, and some of them don’t, but they all help,” said Iman, 56.

It’s true that in each of the three coun­tries threat­ened by famine, the provider and the re­cip­i­ent of char­ity are of­ten mem­bers of the same tribe or the same eth­nic group or, at the very least, vic­tims of the same op­pres­sor.

But the other side of that fac­tion­al­ism is the co­he­sion within smaller com­mu­ni­ties and groups, and the char­ity it begets.

“When­ever there’s a dis­as­ter or a cri­sis, es­pe­cially in places hard to reach, these com­mu­ni­ties help them­selves be­fore in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions ar­rive to help,” said Pa­tri­cia Danzi, the head of Africa op­er­a­tions for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross.


Since clashes in April, the UN’s pro­tected camp in Wau, South Su­dan is the most con­gested in­ter­nally dis­placed camp in the coun­try, with al­most 40000 in­hab­i­tants. South Su­dan’s civil war, now into its fourth year, has killed more than 50000 peo­ple and plunged parts of the na­tion into famine, while ac­counts of gov­ern­ment soldiers killing civil­ians based on their eth­nic­ity have fu­elled des­per­a­tion.

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