Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eastern Africa: Drought and Famine

Part 2

Proper 13A

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’

Our Sunday Gospel reading (Matthew 14:13-21) is Matthew’s version of the story we read from Mark on Tuesday. Both accounts include Jesus’ clear instructions for the disciples: “You give them something to eat.” I posted Part I of this reflection about the drought and famine in Eastern Africa on Tuesday, talking about conditions in the refugee camps, the need for immediate aid, and the work that Episcopal Relief and Development is supporting there. The need is urgent; any compassionate response to the situation must include giving what we can to alleviate the terrible hunger and suffering in that part of the world.

But the size of this crisis in terms of both the number of people in need and the degree of the food crisis means that we need to do much more than send money in order to give our sisters and brothers in Eastern Africa something to eat. This week the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) called on Episcopalians to send a message to our representatives in Congress asking them to protect famine and drought aid to Africa. Noting that UNICEF has “called this the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world and the worst drought the region has experienced in 60 years”, EPPN reports that the House Appropriations Committee has proposed reducing humanitarian aid by 12% and food assistance programs by 18%. Along with sending our own dollars to aid agencies, we can advocate for compassion to remain as a priority in our national budget. A template making it easy to contact Congress is available from EPPN here.

Given that large-scale and long-term droughts are predicted to become more frequent as our climate warms, there are two more things people of faith are called to do in relation to drought and famine. First, we must continue to do all we can to curb global warming, working to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and being willing to make changes in our own lives so that others might live.

However, with 393 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and 350 ppm being the safe limit for human life, warming will continue for a significant time even if the nations were to put policies in place that would limit greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level. And so there is one more thing for people of faith to do: pray, reflect, and develop policies to meet the need for humanitarian aid that is expected to grow as the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and disappearing coastal lands, windstorms, and loss of fish populations – become greater.

Our plans must include even more than the traditional aid response of food, supplies, and aid workers. As these needs increase, and especially as the number of climate refugees grows, there may well be a temptation by some in wealthier nations like ours to tighten our borders and hold tightly onto what we have. Christian compassion and Christian service may be in short supply. Our plans should perhaps include ways to prepare ourselves spiritually to remain compassionate to those in need, to be welcoming to strangers, and to be certain in our hearts that God cares for all of God’s children and all of God’s creation.

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.