Red Cross Thinking Long Term in East Africa

President of the Austria for Africa Association John Morris looks at the crisis in Africa and asks what can be done in this special report.

Like me, do you look at Africa and feel De je vu? History seems to be repeating itself in East Africa: drought, famine, civil wars, excessively high unemployment, more than 50% living in abject poverty and we sit here and just resign ourselves to thinking this is inevitable and we cannot help. I sit here in Vienna and the rain beats on my roof top windows in a somewhat perverse twist of fate as the searing heat in East Africa parches the land causing famine in two areas and leaving nearly 12 million in need of serious humanitarian assistance. Pictures of emaciated children can be seen throughout the press as well as graphic pictures of the civil war in Somalia which is exacerbating the crisis. The daily death book at the refugee camp in northern Kenya is a tragic never ending list of victims. I get criticized for posting the images of dying children as this does not reflect an image of Africa that represents the continent. This may be true, but you cannot ignore 12 million people fighting for survival in dire need whilst many in Nairobi party and enjoy the high life just a stone’s throw away from Africa’s largest slum, according to UNDP, at Kibera neighbouring Nairobi’s airport where an estimated 1 million people live in squalor. Kibera was made famous in the film “The Constant Gardener” some 5 years ago. Since then Kibera has grown exponentially with the flood of refugees from drought stricken regions of East Africa. Things seem to be worsening! We have got it wrong somehow and we seem to be missing the plot. Does this need to be? Are there realistic solutions? How can we make a change? What can you and I do to assist the process? I am no longer willing to let it be. We have to get to the root cause and act smartly.

Last week in London, Marieme Jamme of the Africa Gathering organization led a leading group of specialists to discuss the crisis. Africa Gathering supports short and long term actions in Africa and wants to see solutions that bring about long term change.

Austria’s Red Cross believes there are solutions and is acting. I contacted Dr Wolfgang Kopetzky, General Secretary of the Austrian Red Cross and he explained that Austrian Red Cross has been highly active in East Africa for many years. Responsible for Austrian Red Cross work in East Africa is Walter Hajek. Walter Hajek pictured a Red Cross that acts as a serious player trying to bring about long term solutions in the region. Austrians support water sanitation projects and assist relief in the short term but the Austrian Red Cross with its partners in Ethiopia and Kenya are focusing on sustainable projects to help prevent future famines and disasters.

OXFAM International is likewise targeting short term and long term actions in a bold move to bring about sustainable development. OXFAM is facilitating immediate relief and also focusing on longer term preventative projects.

But why hasn’t this prevented the current crisis? Why despite this knowledge and aims to assist with long term preventative measures are we now experiencing the worst famine in living memory?
Journalist colleague Andrew Harding and I believe there are 10 drivers for the current disaster affecting Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa:

1. Drought: two rain seasons have failed devastating crops and the harvests are insufficient to feed the people already reliant on subsistence farming.
2. Population Growth: birth rate in East Africa is extremely high with 6.35 births per woman in Somalia compared to just 1.4 in Austria. Experts agree that 2.3 births per woman is needed for the population to remain in balance. Somalia is producing 3x this.
3. The Media: newspapers and TV can influence governments by publishing and forcing them to act. This is not being done effectively.
4. Western Powers:  Major nations are reticent to throw in aid in fear the extremist groups will get the funds. The USA is the single greatest donor but funding is hampered by the compliance to anti terrorist laws and regulations.
5. The word “Famine”: the public is now like Pavlov’s Dog. The word “famine” or disaster is mentioned and people give without seeing the whole picture and thinking long term. We respond out of pity and not smart and strategically. The Famine is a symptom of a much greater crisis.
6. Extremists: groups such as Al-Shabab are confronting violently and waging war. AID workers have been kidnapped and killed. Supplies have been hampered from reaching their targets.
7. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG): The TFG is a top down system propped up with outside funding. It is not at the roots where actions are needed. Arguably, its existence is also inflaming the civil war and fueling violent opposition. In this respect it’s a hindrance.
8. UN’s World Food Programme (WFP): WFP is dependant on US funding and is struggling to impact in extremist held territories. Many WFP field workers have been killed and this has tempered its effectiveness.
9. Kenya: According to correspondent Andrew Harding of the BBC, Kenya’s government has woefully, scandalously underinvested in livestock support, education, and basic infrastructure in its most vulnerable communities. This allegation needs to be looked at more closely and diplomatically resolved if found to be verified.
10. Everyone Else: Too many people are standing back and not intervening. There is an absence of a global consensus. China, Russia, the major African powers and everyone else have a moral obligation to work closer together to find solutions and act.
Ambassador Johnnie Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State defended US actions and strategies in the Horn of Africa stating, “We are determined to work with the African Union, the United Nations, and the Inter-governmental Authority for Development to help stabilize the situation in Somalia and to help address the current humanitarian crisis”.
This may be the case or not depending on which side of the fence you are standing. What is clear is that there is no effective international consensus and strategy to alleviate this current emergency and further more allow a long term sustainable development program to emerge.
Organizations such as the International Red Cross, OXFAM and the UN World Food Programme need support of the Global community so the experts can achieve what many of us want: an end to this poverty and suffering.
Its time for a Global summit meeting and time for consensus at the highest levels. We are Humans not playful dancers!
John Morris
Austria for Africa

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