Humanitarian emergency: Africa's famine & drought

by Diana Chandler, posted Monday, March 20, 2017 (7 days ago)

Josephine, a starving South Sudanese girl who weighed only 24 pounds at 7 years old, is among the millions facing famine and food shortages across large portions of the African continent.
CBS News 60 minutes screen capture
KIMUSU, Kenya (BP) -- Hunger and thirst often prevent members of Kamakowa Baptist Church in Kimusu, Kenya from attending worship, pastor Tom Ogalo Ngoya told Baptist Press in an appeal for aid to the country where drought is a national disaster.

"It's [disheartening] to watch your children beg for water and food," Ngoya emailed BP after Kenya's government declared the drought a national disaster in February. Members of the congregation "are often not in the church due to lack of food and water for them to drink and for the animals. Children are malnourished due to lack of food to eat. Adults are helpless because they cannot feed their family."

Kenya, where 2.7 million people are termed "food insecure" by the United Nations, is included in large swaths of the continent suffering famine and food shortages, extending from the Horn of Africa south through sub-Saharan Africa and into South Africa, according to the U.N. and various humanitarian aid organizations including Baptist Global Response (BGR).

The U.N. has described it as the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N. in 1945.

"Famine is already a reality in parts of South Sudan," U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Feb. 22. "Unless we act now, it is only a matter of time until it affects other areas and other countries. We are already facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a catastrophe."

South Sudan, where the U.N. said more than 7.5 million people need assistance, is perhaps the hardest hit. As many as 100,000 people there are facing starvation, CBS' 60 Minutes reported March 19.

Among the most dire U.N. statistics, 20 million people are facing famine or "at the tipping point" of famine in northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, including 1.4 million children at imminent risk of death from severe acute malnutrition in those four countries combined. In Ethiopia, 5.6 million people are food insecure. Civil wars and terrorism are to blame for the crises in some of the areas.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien appealed to the international community for help on March 10, reiterating Guterres' plea.

"We stand at a critical point in history," O'Brien told the UN Security Council. "It is right to sound the alarm early, not wait for pictures of emaciated dying children ...."

While parts of sub-Saharan Africa have suffered cyclic droughts and hunger every five to seven years, the current drought is one of the worst in decades, Baptist Global Response CEO Jeffrey Palmer told Baptist Press.

"Part of the issue has to do with more intense El Nino effects and the other has to do with increasing populations and more concentrated population centers," Palmer said.

BGR has helped drought victims by establishing several aid projects in Lesotho and in Madagascar, off Africa's east coast. BGR, through its Global Hunger Relief (GHR) program, has provided aid in cooperation with partners already there and with teams of Southern Baptist volunteers from the U.S.

"I am so thankful to Southern Baptists and our convention for having the foresight to have a program such as Global Hunger Relief (GHR)," Palmer said. "GHR has allowed us to quickly allocate resources to some of the hardest hit areas by providing food as well as demonstrating the love of Christ to those in need."

Micah Fries, pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., met recipients of food aid in Lesotho during a trip to finalize the adoption of his son Haddon in January, just months before the mountainous country's rainy season.

"Where we were doing the food distribution was an extremely impoverished area," Fries told BP. "They were ecstatic. They were relieved."

The drought is unknown to many Christians in America, Fries speculated, and pointed to the Gospel as the reason to help those in need.

"The drought that's occurring or has been occurring for a couple of years across Africa is almost not on the radar at all for many, if not almost all, Americans," Fries said, "and yet massive numbers of African people have been at risk because of it. For those of us who are pro-life, who care about the world and who care about the Gospel, it ought to matter to us."

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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