Africa Can't Be a World Apart

A tsunami of hunger is washing over sub-Saharan Africa this year, caused by drought, conflict, and inept government. More than 20 countries are in need of food aid, especially 2.6 million refugees from Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur province.

But this continent-wide crisis is so spread out and out of the media spotlight that it's hardly receiving the same intense level of private and government aid as did the survivors of last December's tsunami in Asia.

Such disparities in global giving have officials scratching their heads over why Africa's hungry are treated so differently.

"There is a built-in discrimination," said the chief UN relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, before a private briefing to the UN Security Council last week. "If we all agree that a human life is the same value wherever he or she is born, there should be the same attention to northern Uganda as to northern Iraq, the same attention to the Congo as there was to Kosovo. That is not the case."

What's needed is less pessimism and an equality of compassion toward Africa in order to relieve food shortages in the world's poorest continent. Mr. Egeland has asked Western governments for $3 billion more in aid, citing food crises from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel to southern Africa.

The greatest need is for Darfur's refugees. They have been forced to flee since 2003 when Sudan's Arab-led government tried to suppress a Darfur independence rebellion by supporting attacks on non-Arab villages by roving Arab militias.

The US, which estimates the conflict has left some 160,000 dead, has labeled it genocide. But that hasn't pushed the international community to solve this crisis quickly by making Darfur safe for the refugees to return.

As a result, harvests are way down and the coming rainy season will make it very difficult for aid agencies to deliver food over Darfur's inadequate roads. While international aid has been pledged for Darfur by various governments, aid workers say they need to see the cash quickly if famine is to be avoided.

Most of the UN's aid projects in Africa remain woefully underfunded. That's poor reward for efforts made by Africans to do more for themselves. Economic growth in sub-Saharan African rose last year to 5 percent, the highest in eight years. And more than two-thirds of governments have had multiparty elections.

Donor nations shouldn't just give more when a crisis plays well on TV. African needs may not be all that visual, but they are huge.

Compassion must be universal, just as he idea of loving one's neighbor is.

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