Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eastern Africa: Drought and Famine

Part I

"Give them something to eat."

35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ 37But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ (Mark 6:35-37)

Jesus’ instructions to the disciples no doubt resonated with many of us reading today’s Gospel lesson as stories and pictures from Somalia and other parts of Eastern Africa are in our news. We have been seeing television reports such as this one from NBC News:

While the root cause of the famine in Somalia is drought, it is complicated by the political situation there. Hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees, going to centers in neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia, and in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu. This report from Episcopal Relief and Development tells about the refugee situation, as does this update from the UN Refugee Agency.

This video from the UN Refugee Agency shows the Daadab refugee camp in Kenya and tells the story of one woman’s journey with her children to the camp:

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon helps us understand the severity of the situation:

This is a wake-up call we cannot ignore. Every day I hear the harrowing reports from our U.N. teams on the ground. Somali refugees, their cattle and goats dead from thirst, walking for weeks to find help in Kenya and Ethiopia. Children who arrive alone, terrified and malnourished, their parents dead, in a foreign land.

From within Somalia, we hear terrible stories of families who watched helplessly as their children died, one by one. One woman recently arrived at a U.N. displacement camp 87 miles southwest of Mogadishu after a three-week trek. Halima Omar, from the region of Lower Shabelle, was once considered well-off. Today, after three years of drought, she barely survives. Four of her six children are dead.

Episcopal Relief and Development is providing aid to Somali refugees in Kenya through Episcopal and Anglican partners working with local agencies. Donations to Episcopal Relief and Development may be made here. Donations to the ERD Disaster Relief fund at this time are being directed to an ecumenical agency working with refugees in Kenya.

Donations to ERD or other established aid organizations are the way we can respond to Christ’s words “You give them something to eat.” This immediate response is essential.

Ban Ki-Moon also said this in his LA Times piece:

Even as we respond to this immediate crisis, we need to find ways to deal with underlying causes. Today's drought may be the worst in decades. But with the effects of climate change being increasingly felt throughout the world, it surely will not be the last. This means practical measures: drought-resistant seeds, irrigation, rural infrastructure, livestock programs.

The assistance program supported by ERD includes preparing the land to grow crops in the next rainy season. That is the next step once food has been provided.

With further droughts on the horizon, the church needs to think about how we insure food for God’s children in the longer term. Some thoughts on that in the next post.

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