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Fighting East African Famine Requires both Immediate and Long-term Solutions

Food aid has begun to reach people in East Africa who are severely afflicted by the worst drought in 60 years. This emergency food aid is vital to prevent thousands more deaths in Somalia and to support the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia that are now home to hundreds of thousands. But longer-term, structural solutions are also vital if famine in Africa is to be prevented in the future.

Droughts, the famines that follow, and urgent relief efforts are not new to East Africa. The current drought is the third in the region since 2005.  But the discouraging repetition of disaster and emergency response can be successfully addressed. A drought does not have to become a famine, which is a disaster, not of nature, but of a lack of good governance and planning.  Droughts occur worldwide, even in the U.S., but they do not become famines unless governments fail to act. Even as we work to help those who need immediate care, we must learn from and expand long-term solutions for areas vulnerable to drought and prone to famine.

A Glimmer of Hope Foundation has launched an Emergency Relief Campaign for Ethiopia to help reduce human suffering in the areas affected by the drought.

Aid for Africa members address both needs. Two examples are highlighted here.  A Glimmer of Hope Foundation is raising funds to provide emergency food aid  in Ethiopia.  In northern Kenya, The BOMA Project is monitoring the benefits of their development projects that are helping people cope without food aid during this current emergency.

A Glimmer of Hope Foundation is partnering with other leading international NGOs and relief agencies that have a long-standing presence in Ethiopia and a proven track record of delivering emergency food, water, medical care, and shelter. Glimmer’s co-chair, Phil Barber said, “When people, particularly children, are collapsing and dying because there is no food and water, you cannot just turn the page, and turn a blind eye. This is a harsh reality that is not going away overnight.”

Northern Kenya has experienced three droughts since 2005. Credit: David duChemin for BOMA.

The BOMA Project is monitoring events in northern Kenya where communities have been learning how to adapt to recurring droughts.   During the 2008-9 drought, 90 percent of the livestock—the traditional source of food and income—died.  With little income to buy food to feed their families, the region was devastated. Since 2009, BOMA has provided small start-up grants to more than 500 small businesses that have brought income and stability to some 12,000 people who are now able to purchase the food they need to feed their families.

According to BOMA’s founder, Kathleen Colson, “We’re giving residents the tools they need to help themselves, and they’re putting those tools to remarkable use . . . we need to invest in programs that support adaptation and the diversification of incomes for people who live on the front lines of climate change in rural Africa.”