Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Responding to Famine

As it stands, 1 million men, women and children are on the brink of starvation in South Sudan. And 4.9 million people -- more than 40 percent of South Sudan's population -- are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. This figure is likely to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis. -The Huffington Post
South Sudan
There is no substitute for experience. How else could we wrap our heads around the fact that South Sudan is currently experiencing famine? Lacking that direct experience, the United Nations offers a set of statistics that allow us to put the situation in perspective .According to the UN, if the first three of the eight conditions in the Food Security Phase Classification Reference Table are present, then there is famine. The UN has determined that these conditions exist in southern Sudan, and are very close in three other areas:  the southern part of Somalia, northern Nigeria and Yemen.
  • 20 percent of population has fewer than 2,100 kilocalories of food a day
  • 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished
  • Two deaths per 10,000 people, or four deaths per 10,000 children per day
  • Pandemic illness
  • Access to less than four liters of water per day
  • Large-scale displacement
  • Civil strife
  • Complete loss of assets and source of income
I doubt that almost all of us who grew up in a developed country have ever even come close to experiencing a day when our intake is less than 2,100 kilocalories per day. (Even on days when we fast, our bodies have reserves of calories to help us through that period of prayer and fasting).

Pray, Donate, Educate
So what are we called to do as people of faith? Yes, fasting is a good way to show solidarity and might be part of the prayer that we choose in this situation, particularly (but not exclusively) during the Lenten season. So yes, prayer is good. 

However, we are also called to some sort of action. Sending a donation to the non-governmental organizations that are trying to address the situation is also good.  Charity Navigator provides a partial list of NGOs that are responding to the famine and threat of famine.

Our third task is education and awareness. Our holy scriptures call us to share, not only from our personal wealth, but from our collective wealth.  In late February, the UN warned that 20 million people would fall into famine if his aid agencies could not raise $4.4 billion by the end of March. "The United Nations says it needs the $4.4 billion to deliver food, clean water and basic medicine like oral rehydration salts to avert diarrhea deaths among children. Only 8 percent of the money the agency needs for Yemen has been funded; for Nigeria, 9 percent; for South Sudan, 18 percent; and for Somalia, 32 percent," said The New York Times in its March 23 edition. "Of the 20 million who are at risk of famine are 1.4 million children, who are most vulnerable."

The UN had received about $423 million by the end of September, only about one-tenth of the required amount, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This means that the Western countries are not coming through with humanitarian assistance. Let's put that request for $4.4 billion with the increase of $54 billion has proposed for the U.S. military budget in the next fiscal year. On top of that, the Trump budget makes deep cuts in the funds for the State Department, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which disburses emergency relief.

 (Oh yes, Britain has sold $4.1 billion in armaments to Saudi Arabia over the past two years. The Saudi intervention in Yemen has contributed to near-famine conditions in that country).

The countries of the world have the resources to respond to famine.

Another element of education and awareness is a study of the root causes. Drought and war are the main causes of the dire conditions in the four countries. And yet, we know that this is a preventable tragedy. How can we promote peacemaking to avoid conflict? How are extreme variations in the climate contributing to recurring devastating droughts.  How can we use resources that we currently spend on war to help find creative solutions to food production?

We all know how we are capable of responding according to our means. Indifference should be the unacceptable response for people of faith. 

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