Global Policy Forum

Aid Agencies Complain Lack of Funding to Battle Africa Famine

Though the Horn of Africa famine is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in over 60 years, aid organizations are lamenting the lack of aid being donated to address the crisis. While other international crises, like the Japanese Tsunami and the Haitian earthquake, immediately generated significantly larger amounts of aid donations, Caryl Stern, the CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF, states that because the famine is not a “sudden” crisis, but rather one that “slowly [got] worse,” there has been not been sustained media attention. As a result, Stern asserts people and governments have been less willing to donate the necessary amounts for such an ongoing crisis.

By Thamer Jendoubi

August 5, 2011

As the widespread famine in the Horn of Africa takes a turn for the worse, humanitarian aid organizations are lamenting the lack of aid being delivered to those in need and have called on the United States and the rest of the world to step up relief efforts, while redoubling their own efforts.

Caryl Stern, President and chief executive officer (CEO) of the U.S. Fund for the UN children's agency UNICEF, believes the shortfall in international aid stems from a lack of coverage in the media.

"Part of the reason is that there is comparatively little media attention on what is happening in the Horn of Africa. This catastrophe is not on the public agenda, but it urgently needs to be.", she told IPS.

"We estimate that some 100,000 Somalis, driven by drought and famine, have reached Mogadishu area over the past two months alone in search of food, water, shelter and other assistance," Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) told reporters in Geneva. On Wednesday the UN declared a famine in three more areas in drought-ravaged Somalia, bringing to five the number of regions in the country where acute malnutrition and starvation have already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, according to the United Nations. Asked why other international crises have resulted in massive outpouring of humanitarian aid, as opposed to the famine, Stern pointed to the fact that the famine and drought have slowly been getting worse as opposed to a disaster that results in sudden devastation.

"Unlike an earthquake, tsunami, or severe storm, what’s happening in the Horn of Africa is not the kind of emergency that happened overnight. Those types of disasters, which spring upon us suddenly, have resulted in large-scale media attention, which, quite understandably, can jolt public awareness and response.

One organization at the forefront of the relief efforts is UNICEF, which has delivered more than 1,300 metric tons of lifesaving supplies into southern Somalia, the epicenter of the crisis, including enough therapeutic and supplementary feeding supplies for thousands of children.

UNICEF has also started Measles, DTP, and tetanus toxoid vaccination in Somalia, and is also scaling up its activities in maternal and child health centers, health posts, malaria control, and supply of essential drugs and equipment with the goal of reaching 2 million women and children.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Christian, non-profit organization, based out of Minnesota, has been another leader in the efforts to provide food and aid to Somalis, Ethiopians and Kenyans.

FMSC has been sending food aid to Somalia since 2007 and recently sent a shipment of 272,000 meals on the ground helping refugees in Somalia.

Within the month of August, the organization plans to send 1.4 million more meals to the Horn of Africa, with the next immediate shipment going to feeding camps in Lower Shabelle, Somalia.

Mandi Cherico, a spokesperson for FMSC, has echoed Stern’s sentiments that the famine and the drought in the horn of Africa is receiving disproportionate attention as well as aid.

"…it does seem that some people hear about famine in Africa and they think, "this happens all the time, why is this situation different?" What they don’t realize is that the famine in Somalia is the first famine of the 21st Century". she said.

Cherico also emphasized that the problem is twofold, as not only is there not enough food in the region, but, for many, there is no employment either.

"People are not only struggling for food, they have lost their entire livelihoods to drought, meaning all of their cattle and crops are gone. Many Southern Somalis who are now in need had been self-sufficient farmers and herdsmen. They are not used to living in refugee camps or needing foreign food aid to feed their families."

Both UNICEF and FMSC have urged everyone to contribute, either through monetary donations, or with packed food. FMSC has set up over 100 events in 28 states across the country in which people can volunteer and donate food. Almost all the events have stated goals of 100,000 meals or more.

UNICEF estimates it will need more than $300 million for emergency and preventative programs in the Horn of Africa for the remainder of 2011 and has set up a system on its website which allows donors to automatically donate a certain amount every month via credit card.


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