By Tim Costello, chief executive for World Vision Australia.
Published by ‘The Australian’ World Commentary Online on Thursday 29 March, 2012
LAST year the world waited and watched as thousands of people starved to death and millions went hungry as a result of a devastating food crisis that gripped East Africa.
Some 13 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya went hungry and even six months after a famine was officially declared by the United Nations in Somalia 250,000 still faced imminent death.
In a recent report condemning the inaction around that famine, former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, said: "the fact this needless haemorrhage of lives took place in spite of all our knowledge and experience is an outrage".
The report, "A Dangerous Delay: The cost of late response to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa", released by Oxfam and Save the Children, criticised donors for refusing to provide significant sums of aid until malnutrition rates hit around 40 percent and until the crisis hit the media.
Tragically, so early into another year, the world is again confronted with another food crisis this time in West Africa. It is a crisis that is rapidly escalating with around 15 million people in need of food assistance and some now surviving on wild leaves and animal feed.
Already 1.3 million children in the region are suffering from acute malnutrition, with 400,000 suffering from the most severe form.
But it is a crisis still in its infancy, if there is action now, lives can be saved and we can avoid the mistakes that cost so many lives in East Africa.
World Vision Australia this week launched its West Africa Food Crisis Appeal and is scaling up its response to a growing need in the region particularly in Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Senegal. Globally we are aiming to raise $60 million to assist more than 1 million people across five countries.
But a crisis on such a scale demands a global response if we are to save lives. Of course, the early warning systems we have today mean that it is very rare that these crises, such as famine, take the world by surprise.
Of course, in the last few days there has been a military coup in Mali and for the moment our relief work has had to be suspended. We hope it can be resumed soon. Nevertheless, this development must not distract the world from the need across the region.
It is my hope that the world may learn from the tragic failures stemming out of the slow and inadequate response to the East African tragedy.
To the Australian Government's credit it sent aid to respond to the East Africa food crisis. The initial aid was also bolstered by a unique initiative in which the government promised to match dollar for dollar any donations that Australians made to agencies responding to the crisis.
The dollar for dollar scheme amounted to a $13.5 million commitment from the government. It took the overall commitment to the famine to $141 million.
This time around the Australian government has made an initial $10 million contribution to the aid effort in West Africa through the World Food Program and other UN agencies. The new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, could do worse than make one of his first actions a greater commitment to the crisis in West Africa.
West Africa is a clear cut case where aid will save lives. It is the very essence of why most Australians support our aid program. It is also why so many individuals give donations. Despite the fact these people may be a world away, they are in dire need and our support can save lives.
Aid agencies in Australia are well placed and have the capacity to receive government funding for this crisis and quickly scale up their response in the region. The West Africa crisis provides the opportunity for the government to take a leadership role in the global community in responding quickly to this crisis. If the global community fails here, it simply amplifies the tragedy that played out in the Horn of Africa.
It would show that we haven't learnt from the thousands of needless deaths that occurred last year or that as a global community, we simply don't care.
World Vision's West Africa Appeal will fund an emergency response that includes life-saving interventions like feeding programs for acutely malnourished children, the delivery of food aid and replenishing village granaries. The organisation is also responding with long-term development solutions which include drilling bore wells, distributing seeds and helping families establish vegetable gardens.
To donate to World Vision's West Africa Appeal 13 32 40
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