Africa in cri­sis

As Trump’s pro­posed bud­get slashes for­eign aid, famine grows

The Denver Post - - NEWS | NATION & WORLD -

nairobi, kenya» The world’s largest hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in 70 years has been de­clared in three African coun­tries on the brink of famine, just as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed for­eign aid cuts threaten to pull the United States from its his­toric role as the world’s top emer­gency donor.

If the deep cuts are ap­proved by Congress and the U.S. does not contribute to Africa’s cur­rent cri­sis, ex­perts warn that the con­ti­nent’s grow­ing drought and famine could have far-rang­ing ef­fects, in­clud­ing a new wave of mi­grants head­ing to Europe and pos­si­bly more sup­port for Is­lamic ex­trem­ist groups.

The con­flict-fu­eled hunger crises in Nige­ria, So­ma­lia and South Su­dan have cul­mi­nated in a trio of po­ten­tial famines hit­ting al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Nearly 16 mil­lion peo­ple in the three coun­tries are at risk of dy­ing within months.

Famine has been de­clared in two counties of South Su­dan, and 1 mil­lion peo­ple there are on the brink of dy­ing from a lack of food, U.N. of­fi­cials have said. So­ma­lia has de­clared a state of emer­gency over drought and 2.9 mil­lion of its peo­ple face a food cri­sis that could be­come a famine, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. And in north­east­ern Nige­ria, se­vere mal­nu­tri­tion is wide­spread in ar­eas af­fected by vi­o­lence from Boko Haram ex­trem­ists.

“We are fac­ing the largest hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis since the cre­ation of the United Na­tions,” Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian chief, told the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil af­ter a visit this month to So­ma­lia and South Su­dan.

At least $4.4 bil­lion is needed by the end of March to avert a hunger “catas­tro­phe” in Nige­ria, So­ma­lia, South Su­dan, and Ye­men, U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res said in late Fe­bru­ary.

But ac­cord­ing to U.N. data, only 10 per­cent of the nec­es­sary funds have been re­ceived so far.

Trump’s pro­posed bud­get would “ab­so­lutely” cut pro­grams that help some of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple on Earth, Mick Mul­vaney, the pres­i­dent’s bud­get direc­tor, told re­porters last week. The bud­get would “spend less money on peo­ple over­seas and more money on peo­ple back home,” he said.

The United States tra­di­tion­ally has been the largest donor to the U.N. and gives more for­eign aid to Africa than any other con­ti­nent. In 2016 it gave more than $2 bil­lion to the U.N.’s World Food Pro­gram, or al­most a quar­ter of its to­tal bud­get. That is ex­pected to be re­duced un­der Trump’s pro­posed bud­get, ac­cord­ing to for­mer and cur­rent U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“I’ve never seen this kind of threat to what oth­er­wise has been a bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus that food aid and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance pro­grams are morally es­sen­tial and crit­i­cal to our se­cu­rity,” Steven Feld­stein, a for­mer deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

In an in­ter­view last week with the AP in Washington, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell rejected the pro­posed cuts to for­eign aid. “Amer­ica be­ing a force is a lot more than build­ing up the De­fense De­part­ment,” he said. “Di­plo­macy is im­por­tant, ex­tremely im­por­tant, and I don’t think th­ese re­duc­tions at the State De­part­ment are ap­pro­pri­ate be­cause many times di­plo­macy is a lot more ef­fec­tive — and cer­tainly cheaper — than mil­i­tary en­gage­ment.”

The hunger crises in Nige­ria, So­ma­lia and South Su­dan are all the more painful be­cause they are man-made, ex­perts said, al­though cli­mate change has had some im­pact on So­ma­lia’s and Nige­ria’s sit­u­a­tions, said J. Peter Pham, leader of the Africa Cen­ter at the At­lantic Coun­cil.

South Su­dan has been en­trenched in a civil war since late 2013 that has killed tens of thou­sands and pre­vented wide­spread cul­ti­va­tion of food.

In Nige­ria and So­ma­lia, ex­trem­ist groups Boko Haram and al-Shabab have proven stub­born to de­feat, and both Is­lamic or­ga­ni­za­tions still hold ter­ri­tory that com­pli­cates aid ef­forts.

A boy named Giel wears a small white bracelet on his an­kle in­di­cat­ing that he has just fin­ished treat­ment at an out­pa­tient ther­a­peu­tic pro­gram, as he stands on the out­skirts of Ud­haba, South Su­dan. Macken­zie Knowles-Coursin/UNICEF

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