As I write, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa continues to worsen. Figures from the UN’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that the number of people affected by food shortages in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti has escalated from 10 million to 12.4 million. About 2.3 million of the region’s children are acutely malnourished and the UN Children’s Fund says more than half a million of them are at risk of death without urgent intervention. The United Nations has described the situation as the worst drought the region has seen in 60 years. As dreadful as this situation already is, the fear is that the worst is yet to come. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network forecasts worsening drought conditions for the coming months, particularly in northern Kenya, which has 3.2 million people who are “food insecure”.
As a mother, my stomach churns when I hear stories of mothers having to choose between which children to drag along with them to refugee camps and which ones they leave behind to die. But this is the reality that many mothers affected by the famine are faced with. And these are the cold facts that face African Heads of State ahead of a conference to raise funds to support the humanitarian relief work convened by the African Union at its headquarters tomorrow.
As the esteemed leaders of our great continent make their way to Addis, I am earnestly hoping and praying that they will seize this opportunity to further demonstrate their commitment to forging African solutions to African problems such as the crisis that faces their fellow Africans at this time of great need. We at ONE can already acknowledge the ways in which African leaders and their citizens have responded to the crisis so far. When an 11 year old Ghanaian schoolboy determined to help children facing starvation in Somalia raises more than $500 in a single week I know there is hope. Then there is the ‘Kenyans for Kenyans’ initiative, where ordinary citizens, contributing as little as 10 Kenyan shillings, pulled together a total of about $4m, and we’re still counting. The Gift of Givers, all the way from South Africa, loaded 500 tons of food to distribute to the hardest hit in Somalia. The governments of Sudan, Namibia and South Africa are amongst those that have responded to the call by the UN for funding. The Kenyan government has generously opened its borders to Somali refugees, arriving daily on its borders by the thousands, even when it’s beyond government’s capacity to manage the crisis. The African Union’s peacekeeping force, AMISOM, is treating an outbreak of measles and other diseases such as malaria and diarrhea in a camp for people displaced from their homes, while the AU Mission is securing both the seaport and the airport in Somalia, thus making it possible to bring in the much-needed humanitarian supplies. These stories attest to the generous spirit of us as African people and we at ONE are proud of the African engagement. However, there remains a lot more work to be done. The Horn of Africa drought appeal is only 46 per cent funded, requiring an additional US$1.4billion. As an African citizen nothing would make me more proud than to see all of our African leaders stepping up even more to help our fellow Africans in the Horn of Africa. Help is needed urgently and desperately.
Next to this immediate and short term agenda item at the AU Heads of State meeting today, should be the closely linked but more medium to long term agenda of accelerating the meeting of their commitments under the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security to spend 10 percent of national budgets on agriculture development. In this declaration made during the Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003 in Maputo, African Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the need for ownership of their own development agenda and agreed to achieve 10 percent within five years. However as of the 2008 deadline, only seven countries are currently meeting the 10 percent agriculture spending target. These countries are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Senegal. A number of other countries are making reasonable progress in the right direction. The question we have to answer is not if another season of drought will recur on the continent. Our experts tell us, it will. The question is rather, how ready is Africa to deal with the next drought season? With the knowledge that we have, the next drought need not be another humanitarian catastrophe of people dying and being displaced due to hunger. In other words, we need not wait for the next pledging conference to address a predictable recurring problem. The Maputo declaration gives us as Africans a fair shot at ending famine on the continent once and for all, in the long run.
Our last appeal for the AU agenda is a more definite plan to deal with the refugee crisis. An assessment by the World Food programme shows that the Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya continues to receive large influxes of refugees mainly from Somalia. Kenya currently has about 447,000 refugees in Dadaab with 1,500 new arrivals every day. These are not refugees of war as we more often see, but rather they are refugees of famine as they have been described by the World Food Program. The Kenyan Government deserves commendation for its generosity in hosting these refugees and we thank them. We hope that plans to open Ifo 2 are on track as this would help ease the congestion at Dadaab. At the same time we call upon other African nations to consider opening up their borders to the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, looking for a place of shelter.
When all is said and done, and the Horn of Africa remains mired in the humanitarian tragedy of famine which deserves the spotlight of international media attention it is important to remember that it is but one part of the continent. Let us therefore be mindful not to bundle the whole continent into a hopeless single image of starvation and penury. Let us also remember that despite Africa’s development challenges while many world economies have suffered a backlash in the economic recession that followed the global financial crisis, Africa countries escaped relatively unscathed. According to the International Monetary Fund sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow by an average 5.5 percent this year before accelerating to about 6 percent in 2012. Growth will be driven by low and middle income countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia with oil exporters such as Nigeria and Angola lending support. These are phenomenal stories that ought to be told.