Somali children are dying of starvation as their families flee the drought conditions in their homeland.
The massive drought in Eastern Africa is putting around 10 million people in desperate need of aid in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and parts of Uganda. The drought has ruined food supplies for an already impoverished population.
Somalis, who also bear the brunt of conflict in their country, are being forced to flee in search of food and water and are crowding into refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
These host nations are also under severe duress due to the drought. The UN World Food Programme, UNICEF, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, and other aid agencies on the ground are overwhelmed and are short of funding.
Children under five years old are most at risk of starvation or irreversible physical and mental damage due to lack of food. Miracle foods like plumpynut, if supplied quickly enough, can save small children.
The East Africa crisis is a stark reminder of a past tragedy, the Great Russian Famine of 1921-23, a story that was recently profiled on PBS. America’s great humanitarian tradition had some of its earliest roots in the response to the Great Russian Famine. Under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, America came to the aid of millions of Russians who were at risk of starvation.
Dr. Boris Bogen, who organized relief during the Russian famine, wrote an appeal which was published in his hometown newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio during 1922. He was able to convey the suffering of people far away from American shores, in this case the town of Berdyansk in the Ukraine. Bogen wrote, “Cincinnatians have never turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the sick and starving. I know that my home city will not fail us now.”
That same American humanitarian spirit came through again to help Europe and Asia after World War II and has continued whenever disasters have struck parts of the globe, such as the earthquake in Haiti.
America can lead the world once again in responding to the cries of the starving and sick. It does not take much for one to get involved. Even a dollar sent to an aid agency can buy four or five meals, of which there are precious few right now in East Africa.
A Somali refugee who made it to the camps asked about the future. What will I be able to give my children? The relief effort has to also focus on preventing an emergency like this from happening again. The fight against hunger needs to be sustained.
Josette Sheeran, the director of the UN World Food Programme, says, “We also urge the continued support for the longer term initiatives that will help communities living in the Horn of Africa to break out of the vicious cycle of drought and disaster. Such efforts in Karamoja, in eastern Uganda – in advance of this full-scale emergency – have helped to build resiliency there and require less emergency action now.”