I usually roll my eyes when desolate photos of Africans dominate headlines. Here they go again, ready to ridicule Africa. This week however, several heart breaking headlines have forced me to pay attention to gaunt frames and withered children walking miles to find relief from a ruthless famine that has ravaged Somalia. Truth be told, I would rather be skimming through horoscopes and you would prefer to read about Jlo’s divorce, but here is why you have to pay attention. This is the gravest famine to hit East Africa in 60 years. The already desperate situation has been exacerbated by warlord blockades and regional politics.
In a typical famine, relief agencies intervene with food and medical aid. In the case of Somalia, an al-Qaeda splinter group called al-Shabab control the drought stricken areas and they are preventing aid from reaching the people. As a result, thousands of Somalis in the rebel controlled areas are fleeing to government controlled camps where they can receive aid. Sadly, these camps are overcrowded, and the resources cannot support the deluge of refugees. The drought has now spread to Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan – many more people are expected to suffer.
An immediate solution to alleviate the crisis is for neighbouring Kenya to open Camp IFO 2 which international donors built at a cost of $16million dollars. The camp can provide relief to about 40,000 people and is equipped with schools, a police station, and a medical facility. Unfortunately, the Kenyan government refuses to open the camp to Somalis because they are concerned that the exodus of Somalis from the al-Shabab strongholds poses a security risk to Kenya. The Kenyan government is also concerned that if they make the amenities in the camp available to Somali refugees, there will be a greater influx of Somali families into Kenya to take advantage of these facilities. The government is pressing for aid to be delivered directly to Somalia, but the warlords continue to bar humanitarian agencies from reaching the needy. This is a classic example of how one nation’s problem rapidly evolves into a desperate regional crisis. Meanwhile, the stalemate is costing lives. Refugees are forced to ‘self settle’ or wonder about in search of better living conditions. The farther they drift, the more vulnerable they become to rape, attacks and death by starvation.
They need aid, they need food, they need rain. This Saturday, one of those wishes was answered and torrential rains came down, but, it destroyed makeshift structures and tents in refugee camps. Currently, more than 11 million people are estimated to be in need but the Kenyan government refuses to budge. If Humanitarian organizations cannot act and governments will not help, what can we do? We can follow the example of ordinary Kenyan citizens who have bypassed their government and donated $200,000 by mobile phone banking to help the victims of this famine.
11 million starving refugees is an overwhelming image to digest. Whilst some erect blockades and others look away, I beg you to donate. Any amount will help heal this wound.