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REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya, courtesy Trust.org - Alertnet.

LWR Special Report

Drought and Hunger in East Africa

By Nikki Massie

The news seems to get worse by the day in East Africa.>/p>

More than eleven million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti are at risk of starvation in the midst of the region’s worst drought 60 years. Famine has been declared in parts of southern Somalia.

By acting quickly and compassionately to help, we can save lives in East Africa.

Lutheran World Relief has committed an initial $500,000 to its longtime partner, The Lutheran World Federation, to help meet the growing needs. Much more is needed.

A Crisis Compounded

For families who rely on their crops for survival, the drought that took hold late last year caused a devastating domino effect.

“With the rains failed, crops failed,” explains Evariste Karangwa, LWR’s director for Africa programs. “Animals have no grazing areas and are dying off. At the same time, food prices are skyrocketing. Without crops or livestock to sell, families don’t have enough money to buy food and are in very real danger of famine.”

Ongoing civil unrest, which has displaced many families in parts of East Africa, has also contributed to the devastation. Left with few resources, families are fleeing their homelands, some traveling on foot for weeks, to seek refuge. Many are going to the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, arriving weary and hungry. Many, especially children, are malnourished.

Health concerns aren’t the only problem at the Dadaab camps. The facilities were only built to hold 90,000 people Due to the scale of the crisis, more than 420,000 people have crowded into the camps, with more than 1,300 new arrivals each day.

Meanwhile, the communities surrounding the camps are suffering too. Disparities in aid between refugee camps and the surrounding communities can cause conflict and lead to bigger problems.

In other parts of East Africa, such as Ethiopia, some rural communities go untouched by humanitarian assistance. And the rising hunger compounds other serious problems in the region — like malaria.

Immediate action is essential. But, as LWR president John Nunes notes, “It’s only the first step. While a lack of rain is the immediate cause of the drought and food shortages, the region remains chronically vulnerable. To truly help, we must also work to protect and promote the livelihoods of rural people.”

A Sustainable Response

LWR and LWF have been working together in the Dadaab refugee camps since 2008, with the support of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration. LWR and LWF will expand the existing project, which connects vulnerable refugees to food rations, clean water, shelter and other life-saving services and also promotes sanitation and provides latrines in surrounding communities. LWR and LWF hope to provide water to these communities as well.

LWR and LWF will also reach out to underserved Ethiopian communities with basic food items such as beans, rice and cooking oil. Young children and pregnant and nursing mothers will also receive supplementary food rations. And through a “food for work” program, people will receive additional food by engaging in activities like soil conservation that will help their communities recover and move forward.

“Food for work programs serve two very vital functions following an emergency,” said Tim McCully, LWR’s vice president for international programs. “They provide the food families need to survive now, but they also make residents active partners in the long term recovery of their agricultural livelihoods.”

You Can Help

The next rainy season in East Africa doesn’t begin until October. Until the rains come — if the rains come — families will remain in dire need of help. But they also need a better way forward.

With a gift to LWR’s East Africa Drought fund, you support both efforts by providing the critical support families need now — like water, food and shelter — while making it possible to work toward longer term solutions that help reduce vulnerability to future droughts.

“There is hope for the people of East Africa,” says Nunes. “Our prayers, our compassion and our action will see them through this crisis. And our investment in sustainable solutions will help them realize the promising future God intends for all of us.”

As the drought wears on in East Africa, LWR expects more people to seek refuge in Dadaab and in other places. Help LWR respond quickly and compassionately to this crisis with a gift to the East Africa Drought fund today.

Nikki Massie is LWR’s Staff Writer.

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