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Hunger in the Horn of Africa

July 2011

More than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa face a humanitarian emergency—the most serious food insecurity situation in the world today. Parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia are struggling with high food prices, political instability, and the worst drought to hit the region in 60 years—a deadly combination that’s likely to worsen over the coming months. (For a more in-depth look at this crisis, see “Lives at Stake: Protect Global Food Security Programs” in this issue.)

Immediate and Long-term Responses

Thousands of Somalis have already died of causes related to malnutrition, most of them children. Indeed, the United Nation reports that malnutrition rates there are currently the highest in the world—hitting 50 percent in the country’s southern areas. Unless the global response increases dramatically, the famine will spread.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OCHA), about (US) $2.5 billion in aid is needed to save the lives of those at risk—mostly women and children. Less than half this amount has been committed.

Hunger Crisis in the Horn of Africa / UN Photo/Stuart Price

“The current humanitarian response is inadequate to meet emergency needs,” said Faustine Wabwire, foreign assistance policy analyst for Bread for the World Institute. “Tens of thousands of lives could be saved, but the window of opportunity to do so is extremely limited. A massive, strategic response is critical to prevent death, total loss of livelihood, and social collapse.”

Bread for the World is urging Congress to not only increase its emergency response, but also to protect funding for investments in the region’s long-term development.

“Emergency aid is vital right now, but we must think beyond the current crisis. It’s better and cheaper to prevent calamities than to respond to hunger emergencies,” said Wabwire. “We must pay greater attention to long-term investments in women and children and in country-led initiatives that lay foundations for sustainable agriculture and livelihood strategies.”

More—Not Less—Foreign Aid

Famine in the Horn of Africa

This situation makes clear that members of Congress need to invest in foreign aid—not cut it. Yet the deal lawmakers reached on funding for fiscal year 2011 cut total poverty-focused development assistance by 7 percent, or $1.5 billion. Food aid was cut by 17 percent. And about 25 percent of the members of the House of Representatives voted to eliminate food aid altogether.

Longer-term programs that focus on enabling poor people in developing countries to earn a living and provide for their families also faced drastic cuts. For example, 2011 funding for the Millennium Challenge Account was 19 percent less than 2010 levels.

These cuts will do little to balance the U.S. budget, since foreign aid—which includes emergency food aid—accounts for less than 1 percent of it.

“Any cuts to funding for international food aid programs will not significantly reduce the deficit,” said Rev. Derrick Boykin, associate for African American Leadership Outreach at Bread for the World. “It will cost us more in the long run, undermining the progress already made in reducing maternal and child deaths and severe malnutrition—especially in the Horn of Africa.”

On August 2, President Obama and congressional leaders reached a deal to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years. The bill—the Budget Control Act of 2011—prevents the United States from defaulting on its debt, which would have had disastrous economic consequences, especially for hungry and poor people. But the bill contains significant spending cuts that aren’t specified—we don’t know which programs will be cut or by how much, which leaves us with challenging and important work.

As Congress makes decisions about these spending cuts, it’s critical that programs for hungry and poor people are protected—especially foreign aid programs needed by our neighbors abroad. Bread for the World and other faith leaders and activists involved in the Circle of Protection movement have been urging Congress and the administration to recognize that a commitment to protect vulnerable people is a moral—not partisan—concern.

Cuts to food aid and other critical programs affect some of the most vulnerable women, men, and children in the world. We must continue our work to form a circle of protection around funding for these programs. For more information, see www.bread.org/hunger/budget/circle-of-protection/.

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