Aid agencies are racing to save people from starvation in Somalia. UNICEF says that a child dies every 6 minutes in the famine-ravaged country. Severe drought in East Africa, coupled with the conflict in Somalia, has produced one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in decades.
Is Afghanistan next to be attacked by famine? Drought has struck the north and western part of Afghanistan. An Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”
Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan, says “Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope. The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this becoming a disaster, but only if we act now.”
The United Nations World Food Programme has been facing low funding for its Afghan relief operation this year, so there was already a hunger crisis firmly in place before this drought took hold.
WFP, at last report, was about $200 million short on funding for its 2011 operation. Earlier this year WFP had to cut school meals for about 500,000 Afghan children because of the low funding. For children in developing countries school meals are often the only meal they receive the entire day. Afghanistan is a country that needs a nationwide school meals program, not a reduction in child feeding. WFP programs to help small farmers are also impacted by low funding.
It is expected that almost 3 million people will need food aid this fall in Afghanistan, on top of a population of 7 million already suffering from hunger. In a country seeking to build peace, will it now be confronted with famine? Afghanistan needs an emergency response now as well as plans to prevent future tragedies.
This past week in New York Josette Sheeran, the UN World Food Programme’s director, urged actions to prevent famine from striking again. Where there are investments in food security, as well as open access, a powerful line of defense can be built against famine. The drought In East Africa is proof of this.
Sheeran says, “The fact is while droughts may not be preventable, famines are. In areas where the humanitarian community has access, millions of hungry are being reached with life-saving action and lasting hunger solutions.”
These actions range “from supporting small holder farmers to deploying anti-hunger safety net programmes like school feeding.” Sheeran adds, “In my own agency, through a community adaptation program called MERET, the Ethiopian government, with support by WFP has been has build a sustainable land management and rain catchment program that has vastly increased food production and mitigated the impact of the drought.”
These programs require enough funding from the international community. However, WFP has faced funding shortages for its operations all year, including in Somalia.
The international community needs to act fast in Somalia and Afghanistan. In addition to meeting emergency needs, long-term solutions have to be put in place. We cannot afford another humanitarian disaster.