The Silent Humanitarian Crises Beyond East Africa

The international response to the East African crisis is far short of urgent needs, yet the extreme deprivation being reported is only the tip of the iceberg – Published on Mammon Messiah, by Adam Parsons and Rajesh Makwana, July 22, 2011. (also on CommonDreams and Dissident Voice and Share The World’s Resource STWR).

The unfolding crisis in the Horn of Africa is yet another tragedy that reflects the dysfunction and injustice inherent in the structures of the world economy. Although the factors that are currently causing widespread hunger and deprivation across a large part of the region include the worst drought for 60 years, escalating food prices and continued regional conflict, the problem is largely man-made and entirely preventable if sufficient resources are redistributed to all people in need.  

Around 10.7 million people already need urgent humanitarian assistance, while many thousands are fleeing a devastated Somalia each day to take refuge in makeshift camps across Ethiopia and Kenya. The United Nations has now officially declared two regions of southern Somalia to be in famine – a situation in which at least 20 percent of households face a complete lack of food and other basic necessities, and starvation, death and destitution are evident. As the Famine Early Warning Systems Network makes clear (pdf), the currently inadequate levels of humanitarian response are likely to see famine spread across all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months and could lead to “total livelihood/social collapse”.

With food insecurity in the East African region remaining an ongoing concern for decades, many humanitarian agencies have been trying to draw attention to a potential famine in these countries for some time. The UN made an appeal for $500m in 2010 to assist with food security, but managed to secure only half from donors. Consequently, hunger levels have rocketed over recent months, and in some areas the number of young children suffering malnutrition is now three times the normal emergency level. At least half a million children risk death if immediate help does not reach them, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The humanitarian coordinator for Somalia has also described the lack of resources as alarming, with insufficient donations of food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need. The underlying problem is repeated by various aid organisations: that the international response is not commensurate with the urgent requirements of those affected by the humanitarian catastrophe, and there is a lack of international support to address the deep-seated causes of the crisis or to mitigate future crises.

Yet the extreme deprivation being widely reported across East African is just the tip of the iceberg. Needless impoverishment and death is an ongoing catastrophe that unfolds daily, largely without any attention from the world’s media or the public. At least 41,000 people in the developing world continue to die each day from easily preventable diseases that barely occur in high-income countries, such as diarrhoea, malaria or nutritional deficiencies. Despite the scale of these preventable deaths – amounting to 15 million lives lost each year, half of which affect young children before their fifth birthday – there is no official recognition that such extreme deprivation should also be considered a humanitarian catastrophe and treated accordingly.

These shameful mortality rates occur as a result of the ongoing silent disaster of world poverty, which receives a similarly inadequate international response to the periodic famines or food crises in countries like Somalia. For over a decade, international efforts to reduce poverty have centred around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of globally agreed targets that are set to expire in 2015. Although the MDGs have done much to focus attention on global poverty, they are widely considered an insufficient and superficial approach to economic development and saving lives.

A deadly lack of ambition: … //

… (full text).

(Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources, STWR a London-based NGO campaigning for essential resources – such as land, energy, water and the atmosphere – to be shared internationally and sustainably in order to secure basic human needs. He can be contacted at adam(at)
Rajesh Makwana is the executive director of Share The World’s Resources, (STWR), a London-based NGO campaigning for essential resources – such as land, energy, water and the atmosphere – to be shared internationally and sustainably in order to secure basic human needs. He can be contacted at rajesh(at)

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