Do those suffering famine only have themselves to blame?

Famine in one country is a disaster.  Famine in four countries simultaneously is unprecedented.  Yet that is what is happening now in East Africa.

Many of you would have seen a plea by Australia’s Catholic Bishops for donations to the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal.  23 million people – a population almost equal to that of Australia – are affected in South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi and Somalia.  In the appeal, Archbishop Denis Hart mentioned that the plight of our brothers and sisters in Eastern Africa has had very little attention.

Plan International, a charity operating in more than 50 developing countries to provide basic needs to needy children, is one charity seeking to help.  As part of its fundraising efforts, it conducted research into the attitudes of Australians towards the crisis, based on social media comments about the famine.

The review drew out eight common attitudes presented by people as they wrote publicly in comboxes about the famine, and attempted to answer them.  The full report is worth reading, but I have highlighted the key points below.  Unfortunately, it received very little media coverage, and so my hope in reproducing the main themes here is to equip us all with the relevant facts.

We have a responsibility to be informed.  The truth matters, and helping remove the veil of ignorance which surrounds this crisis could actually remove the excuses we have made to not heed the Bishops’ call and support our brothers and sisters in Eastern Africa.

Overpopulation is the cause of the famine

“The food crisis in East Africa is the result of a complex combination of civil war, economic collapse, and internal displacement rather than over population. Famines in the modern world have almost all been conflict driven, which is why they are consistently referred to ‘man-made’ famines.”

Domestic issues are more important than providing aid to other countries

“Australian aid – which is now at its lowest level on record - at only 0.22% of our gross national income – has now been cut five consecutive times. In the 2017 Budget, it was announced $303 million will be ‘reallocated’ to other government departments from the foreign aid budget over the next four years... .In a world where conflict is causing the greatest displacement of people since WWII, ensuring people are safe, protected in their country of origin and are not forced to move is the right thing to do.”

The money never arrives to those who need it

“Aid is getting through, Plan International is ... providing food, nutritional assistance, support to farmers to replant crops, and education programs to ensure children’s educations are not disrupted. While there is great scrutiny of the humanitarian sector for its administration of public and government funds, International Non-Governmental Organisations are often far leaner than the corporate sector.”

Famine is always happening in Africa

“Famine is a very extreme situation that can only be declared once two adults or four children die out of 10,000 every day. Prior to the current emergency, famine had not been declared anywhere in the world for six years.”

People affected by famine deserve it

“The suggestion that the people of East Africa and Nigeria are worthy of this crisis because it is their own doing, or because they are “criminals,” is dehumanising... People who can leave areas experiencing severe food insecurity tend to go as soon as possible, but moving requires funding for transport and food... Those left behind are often those most the marginalised, the most vulnerable, and the poorest. People living in dangerous conflict-ridden areas for many years are always those who have no resources to leave. The people who instigate and propagate war are never the ones who suffer from famine. No one chooses to live this way and the world’s most vulnerable pay the highest price.”

Why give money when people in the developing world should simply help themselves?

“People in situations of famine and food insecurity do help themselves and are often incredibly resourceful. People will employ many strategies to cope...  Once these options have been exhausted people will start employing extreme strategies just to survive. Mothers will often skip meals to ensure their children can eat, and in some of the most severe cases, women and girls can be forced, out of desperation, to exchange sex for food. Employing such coping strategies takes an enormous toll, diminishes what resources families do have and leaves them more vulnerable to future crises... The unfortunate reality, however, is that to survive such crises children and their families often do need humanitarian assistance but then also need support to recover and rebuild their lives and prevent future crises.”

Providing humanitarian aid indentures people into poverty

“Dead aid is the practice of providing immediate assistance without a long-term strategy, however this is not the norm... Ultimately, we have a responsibility under the humanitarian imperative to provide emergency relief that saves lives and alleviates suffering when crises occur. Turning away from people when they are at their most vulnerable will not resolve famine or conflict in East Africa or the displacement of people out of these areas.”

Islam is to blame for the crisis

“South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya are all Christian majority countries. Famine and severe food insecurity is caused by interference in food production. The key thing in this case has been conflict in South Sudan and three years of drought in Ethiopia and Kenya.”

Monica Doumit, catholicTalk contributor

Wednesday, 26 July 2017 09:17 Written by 


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.