Eastern Kenya is home to Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. Built two decades ago to house 90,000 people, today it shelters 420,000.
And more than a thousand others are arriving every day. Why? Because the worst drought in 60 years is spreading across the Horn of Africa, in the continent’s northeastern corner.
At the epicenter is Somalia, where Al Qaeda-inspired Islamist group Al Shabab has been making delivery of humanitarian aid difficult. Already more than 29,000 children under the age of five have died in Somalia due to drought and famine. Some 12 million more Somalis of all ages risk of starvation.
Glimmers of good news can be seen. Al Shabab apparently has pulled out of Mogadishu, the capital city, which should make relief efforts easier. And the United States has made an exception to a provision in the Patriot Act that prevented it from sending aid to places like Somalia, where it might fall into the hands of terrorists such as Al Shabab.
What’s needed now is for those who pledged food aid to the region at the 2009 G-8 Summit to make good on their commitments. So far the United Nations has raised less than half of the $2.4 billion it asked for from donor countries.
The US has provided $580 million in aid to the region this year, making it the largest single donor.
This leadership role is one that the US should welcome and the American people expect.
“Humanitarian assistance is in the American DNA. It is one of our core values, and the American people have shown time and again that we will give to help people in dire circumstances,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday in a speech about the crisis.
But much more needs to be done – and quickly.
Private donations can play a crucial role. The website for Interaction (Interaction.org), the largest alliance of US-based international aid groups, is one place Americans can go to find a list of reputable organizations responding to the drought crisis.
Americans might find inspiration in the example of 11-year-old Andrew Adansi-Bonnah, who lives in Accra, Ghana. According to the Associated Press, he’s raised about $6,500 in pledges so far for his Save Somali Children from Hunger fund. His father, a schoolteacher, has contributed $600 – his entire July salary – to the fund.
Annual incomes in Ghana, in west Africa, average only $2,500.
“There are hungry people in Ghana but our situation is not as desperate as the people of Somalia,” the boy told the AP. “This is a moment that mankind can touch lives. There is no point for others to have so much to eat while others have nothing to eat. It is not right.”
Long term, the solution means heading off famines before they can start. Many promising avenues are already are being explored. They need consist, sustained backing.
Besides promoting political stability, always an essential, solutions include developing drought-resistant crops that are also rich in nutrients; reducing barriers to trade among African countries; and helping the populations in general to adapt to the region’s increasingly erratic and hotter climate.
The goal must be to help the region get on its feet and able to help itself.
“We need to rise to the level of this emergency by acting smarter and faster than we have before to achieve both short-term relief and long-term progress,” Mrs. Clinton said. As donors do that those in the Horn of Africa will begin to “become [our] partners to do even more to help people [there] live up to their own God-given potential.”
Only when Dadaab refugee camp can be closed, no longer the size of Atlanta, can the world declare its work in Somalia to be done.