This week, Oxfam Ambassador Actress Scarlett Johansson visited Kenya to see the devastating impact of the drought in East Africa. More than 13 million people are at risk because of a severe drought that has hit parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. In Somalia, the crisis has escalated to a famine.
She visited the Dadaab refugee camp, where tens of thousands of Somali refugees have arrived:
“The scale of poverty in Dadaab is overwhelming,” said Johansson. “I met countless women like Hawa, a local community leader, who lamented the seemingly endless struggle of the Somali people, as refugees of war and starvation are now left to suffer everyday life with the very barest of essentials.
She also visited the Turkana region of northern Kenya, where communities suffer from chronic droughts that have destroyed their lives and livelihoods.
“This is a long-term and escalating crisis exacerbated by political conflict, famine and drought that can no longer be ignored. Over half the Somalis that have died are children; an entire generation lost. This is no longer an issue that can only garner some attention, some of the time. Extreme action must be taken by the global community now.”
An Oxfam Ambassador since 2004, Scarlett visited the region to see Oxfam’s life-saving work. Oxfam aims to reach 3.5 million people with emergency relief, as well as helping with long-standing threats to livelihoods and building the resilience of the communities where it works.
More than 13 million people are at risk, facing desperate food shortages across the Horn of Africa as some areas are suffering the worst drought in six decades. The UN has declared a famine in several regions of Somalia and warned that this could spread if donors don’t act fast.
Tens of thousands of people have already lost their lives – more than half of them children. Women and children fleeing Somalia have been walking for up to 3-4 weeks across the desert, with very little food and water. Thousands are still fleeing each day over the border to Kenya and Ethiopia, while others have ended up in makeshift camps in and around conflict-torn Mogadishu.
This crisis is certain to get worse. Below average rainfall is predicted for the October to December rains in the greater Mandera triangle (where Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia meet) as well as for the November to January rains in south and central Somalia. Recovery may not start until the next harvest in August 2012.
This tragedy has been caused by people and policies as much as by weather patterns. Consecutive poor rains on top of poverty, conflict, rising food prices, years of marginalization and lack of investment have left millions of people unable to cope. Staple food prices are at record levels. In Somalia, the price of sorghum is up by 240% from last year. In northern Kenya, milk prices have risen by 300%. Many people across the region are pastoralists who rely on livestock. In parts of Kenya and Ethiopia 60% of herds have perished. Without livestock, they have no income, and no money to buy food.
A rapid increase in emergency aid is needed right now to save lives and protect livelihoods, so that people can rebuild once the crisis is over. For the longer term, national governments and donors must prioritise addressing the issues that make people vulnerable in the first place. A hole of $1 billion remains to meet immediate humanitarian needs this year and even within the money committed, donors must focus on translating commitments into action on the ground for prevent further unnecessary loss of life.
As well as saving lives today we need to make sure people have a future. That starts with delivering humanitarian assistance which also helps communities build back their resilience -but it will also be a long-term task. Tackling poverty, investing in ways to help people feed themselves, especially small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities, the ones most badly affected by the drought today, will be essential to prevent such terrible food security crises in the future, when drought will inevitably hit again.
Oxfam has been scaling up since the beginning of the year; we now need donors’ funds to get food, water, sanitation and healthcare to people in desperate need, and to secure a future beyond this emergency. Oxfam is providing water, sanitation and hygiene services, emergency food and cash-for-work schemes, buying up weak livestock to provide income for their owners and meat for the community. Oxfam aims to reach 3.5 million people across the region with emergency relief, as well as helping with long-standing threats to livelihoods and building the resilience of the communities we work with.
Oxfam partners are now operating the single largest public health program in Somalia, providing clean water to more than 329,000 displaced Somalis in camps outside Mogadishu. Our partners also operate the largest therapeutic feeding program for children and mothers in Mogadishu, which admits more than 3,000 malnourished children every week. 56,000 children have been treated at the site this year.