East Africa – “The Children’s Famine”

As I write this, East Africa is in turmoil. Roughly 12 millions people, almost 5 million of which are children, along the Horn of Africa are experiencing the worst drought in sixty years. Tens of thousands have already died and millions more are at risk, especially children, who are dying at such a rate this disaster has already been named “The Children’s Famine.” Within weeks, more than half a million children will die in Somalia alone if they do not receive immediate aid and attention and already the under-5 death rate has increased six-fold from last year.

Outside of the immediate threat to life, this drought has ruined the livelihoods of millions living a pastoral and simple agricultural lifestyle. Rainfall has plummeted for two straight years, drying up remote water holes and devastating crops. Cattle and livestock death rates have reached 40% to 60% levels in some areas, wiping out the entire wealth of small communities. Refugees from these hard hit areas are now walking dozens of miles, losing children along the way, for the slim hope of aid at refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Experts have speculated that this drought and the resulting dislocation of millions could unwind an entire decade’s worth of agricultural advances in this arid region.

Tragically, however, this famine also has a strong man-made component. Al-Shabaab, an Islamic terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, rules over almost every region that the UN has declared to be officially in a state of famine. Yet al-Shabaab denies there is even a problem, calling official reports of a famine, “an exaggeration.” Instead of helping their people, they are busy banning Western aid workers and setting up their own internment camps bereft of supplies and hope. When aid workers do venture into the southern Somali regions controlled by this terrorist group, they are often harassed or killed (42 aid workers were killed from 2008 to 2009). They have for years refused vaccinations for children in their territory, leaving them vulnerable to measles and other easily preventable diseases now that malnutrition saps kids’ immune systems. Now the militants are imprisoning Somalis attempting to flee to refugee camps and blocking off rivers and streams, strangling poor local farmers. Al-Shabaab has dramatically failed to build up its market strength and infrastructure in order to better weather these drastic environmental events, as Kenya and Ethiopia have done, often in partnership with the World Food Program, UNICEF, and other groups. This is why al-Shabaab controls area that accounts for 2.2 million of the 2.7 million in officially designated famine areas. The cruelty of people against people is truly shocking.

Yet there is hope. Currently over 11 million people are being reached with some form of aid. Countries around the world are starting to realize the true severity of this crisis and beginning to respond accordingly. Proudly America stands again as the single largest donor, but we still need help. I will have more details in the days to come, will share more ways to help, but for now please take a look at this great rundown of aid organizations currently operating in the Horn of Africa. Read about how they are helping and, if able, donate to one.

Bill Frist