After The Last Famine In Africa The World Said 'Never Again'. Yet Here We Are, Again.
Here we go again: another African crisis with 20 million people on the point of starvation -- hunger from South Sudan and Somalia, to Nigeria and Yemen.
Here we go again with the UN calling for $4.4 billion from donor governments to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but less than a tenth of the money -- $423 million -- received by the end of March, as the Trump administration prepares to make sharp cuts to its foreign aid budget, at a time of unprecedented aid need.
The UN says it needs $4.4 billion -- less than a tenth of the $54 billion increase that President Trump is seeking for the United States military budget -- to deliver food, clean water and basic medicine like oral rehydration salts to avert diarrhoea 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.
Here we go again with the dreaded F word -- Famine.
After the last famine, in Somalia in 2011, in which 260,000 people died, the international community said it would never again wait so long again before acting. And yet here we are again, watching and waiting.
After 14 years in relief and development I am surprised at my own jadedness and even cynicism. I understand from my own detachment that most of the world is shrugging and saying 'not my problem'. I get it when newspaper editors tell me that Trump sells newspapers because readers have endless fascination with his Tweets and outrages, but that Africans dying from drought and conflict do not sell newspapers and do not outrage us.
Perhaps you have to be there. It is much harder to be disinterested when you are staring at a child whose life is hanging in the balance, whether it's because of conflict or because the rains have failed for two years and now the only water is the water that comes by truck.
Australia has cut the aid budget to the lowest level in our history: 0.22 percent of gross national income. Morally, it is unconscionable. We have taken food out of the mouths of the poorest people on Earth. It is also bad policy. Aid, well spent, has the power to reduce the world's enormous tide of refugees fleeing war, persecution, hunger and thirst.
In Ethiopia last week, after witnessing the onset of famine in South Sudan and a drought that threatens to tip into famine in Somalia, I saw a remarkable example of aid well spent: an 11-year-old program called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration that is repairing whole eco-systems by regenerating trees, with the result that farmers who previously depended on food handouts from the World Food Program in times of drought are now not just cultivating enough for themselves but selling their excess to the WFP.
There are countless other examples. Aid agencies are constantly called on to pick up the pieces after natural or man-made disaster, it is core business, but enormous resources go into alleviating poverty and building communities to reduce the risk of disaster.
As a strong, wealthy, compassionate nation Australia has a responsibility to contribute to international peace, prosperity and security and to promote and protect human rights. It is who we are. We are a nation created on the concept of a 'fair go'.
But in today's deeply interconnected world, Australia's national interest is also best served when our region -- and the world -- is peaceful and prosperous. It is no accident that a Conservative government in Britain has kept its overseas development budget at 0.7 percent of gross national income, on homeland security grounds, as prime minister Theresa May made clear in Philadelphia in January when she linked Britain's aid spend to national "security and prosperity".
Global challenges continue to transcend national borders and require international action and cooperation. The states of the world are increasingly bound together by complex ties of trade, diplomacy and security. Australia's interests are served through all states constructively functioning in a framework of internationally agreed rules, standards and norms concerning equality, human rights, good governance and the rule of law.
Decades of economic integration with regional and international markets has linked Australia's economic prospects, inextricably, to the continued social and economic progress of the world's emerging economies -- particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia, due to this complex web of economic and security interests, benefits when our region and, by extension, the world, is peaceful and prosperous.
It is not only morally the right thing to do, it is also an investment in the world we all live in.
Tim Costello is Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia
First published in The Huffington Post, 6 April, 2017
Picture: As famine and drought spread across East Africa, girls in Kilifi County, Kenya, have had to give up school to carry water 21kms from its limited source to their homes, April, 2017.
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