Double the chances for the Horn of Africa
> Andrew Hewett
6 October 2011
Yesterday's announcement that the Australian Government will match every
dollar donated to the Horn of Africa food crisis has cast a much-needed
spotlight on millions of people who will face starvation without assistance.
The situation in the Horn of Africa is a tragedy beyond comprehension.
Thirteen million people are in a fight for survival across Kenya, Somalia,
Ethiopia and Djibouti - that's more than half the population of Australia.
The number of people caught up in this emergency and the level of their need
is staggering - people are dying, their livelihoods have been lost and they
are desperately seeking food, shelter and security.
An image that will be forever burned into my mind from my visit to the Horn
of Africa this week is the sight of camels without humps; one of the many
signals of simply how dry it is here.
The severity of the devastating drought beggars belief. It is said to be the
worst experienced in more than 60 years. Rains that are scarce in the best
of times have just not arrived, pushing people who already live in poverty
over the edge.
My visit to some of the affected areas this week has shown the vast array of
impacts in different parts of the region. In the arid lands of Wajir,
nomadic pastoralists are being forced to radically change the way they make
a living. The lack of water has devastated their livestock - their main
assets and source of income - forcing them to abandon the lifestyle they
have had for generations, often with no alternative.
Whole regions of Somalia have been declared to be in famine - the first such
famine of the 21st century - but for Somalis their situation is not just
about food. Refugees from Somalia now living in Dadaab agreed the drought
was dire, but told me the critical factor for them was conflict back in
their home country.
In September there were still nearly 1,000 people a day fleeing across the
border from Somalia into Kenya seeking shelter and security. Many refugees
told me that they would not willingly return to Somalia until the continuing
violence and armed conflict in their home country ended.
I've also witnessed firsthand the difference humanitarian aid is making.
Oxfam's expertise is in water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, and in
Dadaab and Wajir - through different means such as drilling boreholes and
trucking water, we are helping ensure that people have the minimum amount of
clean water on a daily basis. The international standard for refugees in
camps like Dadaab is a mere 15 litres a day.
While aid is getting through, this crisis is testing all concerned. Oxfam is
one of the numerous agencies including the United Nations, the Red Cross,
and other national and international NGOs who are providing the essentials
of life in the most horrendous of environments. But the sheer scale of the
response is stretching our capacities.
Oxfam and our partners - local non-government groups whose networks help us
reach people we otherwise wouldn't be able to - are already reaching more
than two million people with life-saving aid, as well as long-term
strategies to deal with the impact of more severe and frequent droughts
which have in part caused the crisis. But we're aiming to reach more than
three million people affected by the drought, and we the need support to do
From my visit to northern Kenya this week, the most important lesson I've
come away with is that this is a long-term disaster that requires a
long-term response. In the various refugee camps in Dadaab, there are around
460,000 people living in makeshift, temporary accommodation. This makes it
the third biggest city in Kenya.
And even if the scheduled rains arrive later this month, the tragedy will
not go away. In the best of all worlds, crops will not be harvested until
early next year, and people will continue to suffer a lack of water,
nutritious food and security.
Now is the critical time to act to prevent this food crisis spiralling out
of control. The Australian Government has been generous and acted swiftly
and yesterday's announcement that they will match every dollar donated to
the Horn of Africa food crisis is a very welcome addition.
Australians should make use of this as a rare opportunity to double their
support to communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia who urgently need help
- because double the assistance will go a long way for people who are
struggling on the edge of survival.
> Andrew Hewett is
the executive director of Oxfam Australia.
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Received on Thu Oct 06 2011 - 17:22:44 EDT