Hundreds of Somalis are dying everyday. 750,000 will die over the next few months if the international community does not take dramatic action to help ease the suffering due to the East African famine. Thirteen million people throughout East Africa are in need of emergency help, and four million are living through the worst famine in 20 years.
More people are at risk of death than in the combination of the Japanese Earthquake, the Libyan Civil War, and catastrophic American weather events of 2011, but the international community has not done nearly enough to help. East Africa is experiencing a famine of epic proportions, and the global community can do much more.
The crisis is a long time in the making, and has been spurred on by a variety of environmental and political factors. It was induced by a drought that is the worst in 60 years and has been exacerbated by the political situation in Somalia, perhaps the world’s most dysfunctional failed state. The nominally democratic government in the north of the country is extremely weak, and though it lets in foreign aid it also loots and steals the food aid. The extremist al-Shabab government in the south refuses to let foreign aid into its regions, leaving its residents with few options other than to flee to overloaded refugee camps in Kenya.
The failed state exists in a large part because of a lack of attention from the international community. For years, foreigners have been more interested in the East Africans’ tenuous relationship with terrorists than the geopolitical and human consequences of a failed state in the region. Thus, we have spent a sizable sum on drone strikes and counterterrorism operations in Somalia while failing to invest in creating sustainable institutions in the region. As Nicholas D. Kristof recently wrote, it is no coincidence that the famine is hitting Somalia, a country with no functioning institutions, much harder than it is hitting countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, where sophisticated famine warning systems and strong agricultural institutions have cushioned them against the worst of the famine.
We can learn a useful long-term lesson from this famine about the necessity of working with the global community to help build functional states in chaos-torn areas, but right now there is little time to dwell on long-term foreign policy goals. Every day hundreds of Somalis are dying, and this issue must become an urgent, front-page priority for wealthy governments and societies throughout the world.
According to USAID, more people are at risk than the combined populations of New York City and Los Angeles. In Somalia, one child dies every six minutes. The U.N. has estimated that $2.5 billion is needed in aid to fight the immediate crisis; until now the international community has donated $1.7 billion, with $600 billion coming from the United States.
The aid needs become more dire every day, but even ordinary students can help in meaningful ways. Donating $10 to the consortium of charities linked at usaid.gov/fwd can feed a family of six for two days. Writing your Congressmen and Senators and urging businesses to give is also vitally important; $800 million is a large gap to fill for individuals, but it is a drop in the bucket of cumulative corporate profits and the annual federal budget and would be a small investment to save an enormous number of lives.
Given the fact that the Al-Shabab are not even allowing foreign aid workers into south Somalia, some might see donating further to efforts as futile. However, much of the care goes to fleeing Somalis in Kenyan refugee camps, as well as to families fleeing into Mogadishu, and is undertaken by foreign aid groups.
It might also seem that $600 million is more than enough aid from the U.S., and other countries should step up to do their part. It is true that new powers such as China have done a pitiful job of stepping in to help, but with the famine in an urgent crisis, it is not enough to point fingers when aid is literally needed at this moment. As a country, we have both the compassion and the power to make an even greater difference in this famine, and regardless of whether others do, we should.
The world is facing its most urgent humanitarian crisis in decades, and there is a great amount to do to help out. Donate to feed a family right now; tell all your friends about the issue, and encourage politicians to appropriate more funds to USAID’s efforts. Whether in the Japanese Earthquake, the earthquake in Haiti, or the tsunami in Indonesia, the American people and their government have been leaders in foreign disaster response. In a crisis where hundreds of children and their families are starving everyday, there is an urgent need for Americans to much more aggressively lead the response.
Ravi N. Mulani ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Winthrop House.