A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
With 13 million people affected by the drought across East Africa and with the UN suggesting that 750,000 people could be at risk of death in Somalia in the next few months, it’s easy to end up fatalistic about the issues. However, a group of NGOs including Oxfam, Save the Children and ONE have released A Charter to End Extreme Hunger which sets out actions governments and leaders should take to address the underlying causes of this crisis.
We are asking governments to do address the following issues:
• Responding early: the current crisis in East Africa was predicted months in advance, yet warnings were largely unheeded. Early warnings must result in early action to prevent a repeat of the tragedy playing out in East Africa.
• Supporting local food production: supporting local, small-scale farmers and livestock owners is one of the best ways to protect against hunger crises and guard against a changing climate and soaring food prices. Governments must make sure that local food producers are supported to protect against price and environmental shocks.
• Making food affordable: spiralling food and oil prices have complicated the current crises, leaving thousands of people unable to afford basic foods. Governments must create emergency food reserves that are available to the people who need them and limit the use of food export bans to prevent spikes in food prices.
• Protecting the poorest and most vulnerable: millions of people around the world live on the edge of survival. Governments should build social safety nets and invest fairly to ensure the poorest sections of society enjoy the same protections and services as the richest.
• Reducing armed conflict: violence is one of the principal causes of mass starvation. Governments must commit to allowing and providing access for humanitarian aid to regions where conflict is hampering development. They also need to engage in vigorous diplomacy to help end conflict and reduce armed violence. Without this it is hard.
If this programme was put in place, we would see far fewer people suffering when droughts come and go and there is a good chance we could avoid the levels of death that causes the UN to designate a “famine.”
Bridging the gap between rhetoric and action
The sad thing is many governments across the world have already committed to many policies, frameworks and declarations which are supposed to deal with these issues. But as always there is a big gap between rhetoric and action. In the region, initiatives launched after previous hunger crises that provide extra help to the most vulnerable so that they are able to cope when food is scarce, have proved with action you can save thousands of lives in the current crisis. But we still face an enormous problem in East Africa.
On Saturday Raila Odinga Prime Minister of Kenya became the first world leader to endorse the Charter to End Extreme Hunger. At the press conference, he was flanked by Valerie Amos head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Sir Bob Geldof along with Michael Elliot from the One campaign. As he signed the Charter Odinga said “We should never allow people to starve, sometimes to death, because of famine which is preventable,” and confirmed his "strong support for a global initiative that could help in breaking the cycle of drought and famine that periodically devastes the Horn of Africa." We hope that other governments and heads of state will now follow suit and show the leadership the world needs to break this cycle.
Indeed, although Sir Bob "doesn't do Charters" he set it in contrast to the "grotesque horror to what is happening in Horn of Africa" and said it was alarming that "this massive human problem is being ignored." In that context he said the UN, AU and EU should all adopt the Charter "and move forward immediately because the cost is negligible to ensure the safety of the citizens of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia."We want world leaders to endorse this Charter and take forward the changes to ensure that this level of suffering will not happen again.
Download the Charter to End Extreme Hunger (pdf, 14kb)
Read more about Oxfam's humanitarian response to the East Africa food crisis
UN Webcast: Raila Odinga Prime Minister of Kenya becomes the first world leader to endorse the Charter to End Extreme Hunger: