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In a 'World of Plenty,' Africa should not be in famine
June 12, 2017, 11:00 am

Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, which was held in Sicily, Italy on 26 – 27 May, non-governmental organizations (NGO) urged world leaders to urgently address the unprecedented level of famine currently affecting four African countries.

World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. "Political failure has led to these crises and political leadership is needed to resolve them. The world's most powerful leaders must act now to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch," she said.

In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions; this number is more than the entire population of London.

After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided. In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought that was likely exacerbated by climate change has left almost seven million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.

Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians in the north-east of the country have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, where they once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that the ongoing conflict and drought conditions in Yemen will place nearly 17 million Yemenis in famine unless the world sends urgent humanitarian help.

These widespread crises are not confined within the four countries' borders. According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost two million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world's fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.

Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding and focus on the crises by upholding their 2015 commitment to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just below 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. Oxfam estimates that if each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded.

However, some of the recent actions by G7 nations do not bode well for accelerated action on famine. For instance, the US government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II for Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over US$1.7 billion in food assistance.

International Rescue Committee's (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing US foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad. "Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn't just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow," he stated.

President Trump also called for the elimination of the US African Development Foundation which provides grants to under-served communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, UK's Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.

In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, including on climate change. "History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of clear warnings have again been issued," Oxfam stated.

The NGO went on to add that the international community has the power to end such failures by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers. However, they need the will to do so.

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