If you have followed my travels or have read my blog over the years you know that Ethiopia is my favorite country in the world. There is something about the people, the culture, its beauty and the sheer size of the country I love. Even though I love Ethiopia I have never been under a grand illusion that it is a unified country. There have been mass arrests and killings in Oromia, journalist and freedom fighter imprisonments, and now a civil war with mass atrocities and forced starvation against the people of the Tigray region. In fact, just this week reports of an airstrike on a market near Tigray’s capital Mekele killed at least 64 people and wounded over 100.
Even as war is still happening in Ethiopia’s northernmost region, its national election officially wrapped on Monday without voting in Tigray, of course. Now, ballots are being tallied across the country with the likelihood that the current prime minister Abiy Ahmend will be reelected.
Since last November, Ethiopia and Eritrea’s militaries as well as militia groups from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have imposed heavy atrocities on the country’s northern Tigray region. Reports from the ground from journalists and aid agencies reveal mass rapes, murders, and intentional starvation of 350,000 of the region’s 6 million people. Farmers are not being allowed to plant their crops and food trucks are being turned around at gunpoint.
Yesterday, the New York Times published photos by conflict photographer Lydnsey Addario who captured some of the sufferings in Tigray including rape survivors to children who have been caught in the crossfire.
It’s difficult to fathom that 20 million people are on the brink of starvation in Sub-Sharan Africa and the Middle East, but the statistic is true. In fact, the region is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in over seventy years and if no help is provided 1.4 million children are at risk of death. Not only is weather to blame for the lack of crops, but political unrest, regional conflicts, and displacement have all placed a heavy burden on countries that cannot feed vast swaths of their citizens.
“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year, we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council in March.
In order to save men, women, and children from starving to death in South Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, and surrounding countries, a mass appeal to the American people by eight of the largest global NGOs is currently underway. The appeal is being called now because if more time goes by more people are at risk of dying.
Called the Global Emergency Response Coalition, CARE, Save the Children, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, World Vision, Oxfam, and Plan International have collectively created the Hunger Relief Fund. The Fund allows American citizens to donate to hunger relief through July 28. Their donations will be matched dollar for dollar by corporate partners including Pepsico and BlackRock. Other partners include Google, Twitter, and Visa.
“Drought, displacement, and conflict have converged with alarming consequences,” according to the chief executive officers of the organizations in the Global Emergency Response Coalition. “In the 21st century, innocent children should not be dying from hunger. People caught in this crisis are generously opening their homes and sharing what little they have, but they have run out of time and resources — they need our help now.”
The Hunger Relief Fund appeal only lasts through July 28. No donation is too small. Donate today! For every dollar you donate, Pepsico and BlackRock will match all donations up to $2 million dollars.
In February the United Nations officially declared a famine in South Sudan. What is most disheartening about this most recent famine in the world’s youngest country is it’s largely man-made. Constant infighting among South Sudanese opposition forces and the government makes growing crops nearly impossible. And, the instability in the country continues to drive up food costs. 100,000 people are directly suffering from famine, and another 4.9 million are living in extremely food insecure situations according to the United Nations. One million children in South Sudan are malnourished.
In April, Congress unanimously called upon the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the World Food Program to continue food aid to the millions affected by the famine. Congress, however, did not appropriate new relief funding to the region keeping in step with the Trump administration’s continued cuts in foreign aid.
The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said last week that if nothing is done, 20 million people could starve to death within the next six months in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northern Nigeria combined.
“Famine does not just kill people, it contributes to social instability and also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and aid dependency that endures for decades,” said the UN FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva.
While the problem is monumental there has been a budget put aside for famine relief by the international aid community. Governments will also have to do their part to help stabilize the region including the United States, even though the task of some in Congress to attach new funding to the cause seems well-intentioned, but probably a pipe dream for now. There are organizations that you can support with your own donations to support famine relief.
There are organizations that you can support with your own donations. Here are five I recommend because I have seen their work in the field and have always remained impressed by their infrastructure and aid relief. Links go directly to donation pages.
Last month, a United Nations team travelled to Western Equitoria, Central Equatoria, and Western Bahr El Ghazal in South Sudan to assess road conditions, an important task when famine looms in a region that is mostly agrarian. Without passable roads it is impossible for lifesaving, critical health supplies, health workers, aid agencies, and most importantly food to reach remote areas that are cut off from main city centers especially during the rainy season and when the need is most critical for vulnerable populations.
Aid agencies including UNICEF, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and the World Food Program have warned the world that a famine is quickly nearing in South Sudan amid continued failed peace talks and violence. Famine is an extremely strong word to use when it comes to food insecurity and no one wants to utter it until the very last moment when people, especially children, are already on the brink of dying.
Logistics Clusterposted a telling map of South Sudandated from May 2, 2014. In Western Equitoria, Central Equatoria, and Western Bahr El Ghazal there is little infrastructure save for some primary roads, which are questionably passable, and a few primary cities. The lack of reliable infrastructure continues to make humanitarian relief difficult to fulfill.
According to UNICEF, nearly one million children in South Sudan will require treatment for acute malnutrition this year and according to Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, 50,000 may die from malnutrition in the coming months.
“The world should not wait for a famine to be announced while children here are dying each and every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a statement, speaking after a visit to the devastated city of Malakal, where tens of thousands of people still take shelter on a UN base. “Today we spoke to mothers who have struggled through conflict, displacement and hunger to stop their children from dying. We all have to do more, and quickly, to keep more children alive.”