East Africa food crisis a ‘tragedy of biblical proportions’

A Somali refugee woman and her child wait to be processed at a camp near Dadaab, Kenya. Photo: Laura Sheahen/CRS

Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services (a Caritas member in the USA), spoke about the Horn of Africa food crisis at a press conference held in Rome on 7 October.

Having worked in East Africa for over 35 years, I am deeply saddened to witness a tragedy of biblical proportions unfolding again. I thank the Holy Father for calling the Church’s–and the world’s–attention to the plight of hungry and distressed people across the Horn of Africa.

Catholic Relief Services, along with local Church and Caritas organisations at the diocesan and national levels, as well as non-Catholic groups and host governments, have been helpful in bringing short- and long-term interventions to families in distress.

In response to the situation facing the people of the Horn—including Somalis both in Somalia and those who have had to flee to neighbouring countries for safety—CRS has committed to expanding our long-term development and immediate assistance programmes over the next 12 to 18 months.
This is in addition to the many programmes we have there that reach millions of people. All of this is done with and through the local Church and other groups.

The problems in Somalia are complex, pervasive and persistent. Solutions demand intelligent, sophisticated, thoughtful and persistent attention. The international community gave up on Somalia in 1993. It was placed in the category of ‘failed state’ and “must be contained” rather than “must be doubly engaged” because the solutions are complicated. Now, almost twenty years later, we see the consequences.

Our call is for a focused, determined engagement of the international community for a just peace in Somalia.

In countries that border Somalia, we can point to villages and communities where our investments in water, improved sanitation, tested agricultural practice, better access to credit, and a focus on women as important breadwinners have made a difference. It has shown that when there is a bad drought, communities that we have engaged with in these ways are more resilient. But the problems persist. Our contribution, while significant, cannot bring about a full solution.

In the year 2011 it is a mark of shame on us as a people that hundreds of thousands are allowed to suffer and die of hunger, disease and deprivation because it is difficult or complicated for us.

While millions in my country suffer from job layoffs, or loss of jobs, homes and income, I believe their compassion for those who suffer at death’s door–after weeks of journey under the harshest of conditions–should not be underestimated.
Your prayers, your engagement and your generosity are most appreciated.

Caritas Internationalis

President: Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle
Secretary General: Michel Roy

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