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East Africa needs more than goodwill this Christmas

In the age of WhatsApp messages, emails and texts it’s no surprise that we send far fewer cards and letters these days. But sometimes a letter can be the best way of articulating something really important.

Last week one landed on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s desk that hopefully he took time to read and fully digest. It said, in no uncertain terms, there is a famine in all but name happening right now in East Africa.

Christian Aid’s Chief Executive Patrick Watt was among those to sign it, alongside representatives from other international development organisations and three former International Development Secretaries. It calls for urgent action and funding from the UK Government to help stop an already dire hunger crisis escalating further. It also sets out that though the UK previously provided over £800 million when the region faced a similar crisis (2017-18) so far it has failed to commit anything like the required funds.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are experiencing drought on a scale not seen for decades, compounded by other global factors including soaring fuel costs and the war in Ukraine which has severely disrupted food imports. But the coverage of the crisis in mainstream media has been limited so you could be forgiven for being unaware of just how many millions of lives are at stake.

Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

In July this year the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund recognised the severity of the situation and awarded £125,000 to Christian Aid for emergency work in South Omo, southern Ethiopia. This project has just come to an end and while it has clearly been impactful, and saved lives, the stories from those who have received funding make for very difficult reading.

More than 4000 people have benefitted from cash vouchers they can exchange for food. This has been a lifeline for people like Nayle Kamare, a mother of two, who has been unable to breastfeed her youngest son as her body isn’t making enough milk. Both children are now showing signs of malnourishment. The cash payment she has received has, for just a short time, allowed her to buy the food staples she and her children need to survive. But she remains desperately worried about her young family.

For Nasiya Gedecho Nantiti, who lives in the same district, one of his biggest concerns is that his children are too hungry to go to school. They can’t concentrate. In Scotland our education system ensures that children who might be hungry get a free school meal. There is no safety net for Nasiya’s family. And so gratefully he takes the cash payment but worries deeply about his children’s future.

Yitna Tekaligne, Christian Aid’s Ethiopia Country Manager, says the emergency Scottish Government funding has been welcome during a very difficult year: “It has been a very challenging year in South Omo, southern Ethiopia, and as Nasiya and Nayle’s stories highlight, the lack of food and water is having a devastating impact on ordinary families. Children aren’t getting the food they need to grow and thrive. It’s estimated that in this area alone around 55,000 children will drop out of school because of hunger. What is very concerning is that we are now seeing a fifth consecutive season with no rain.”

While the increasing variability of weather patterns affects us all, it affects some much more than others.

We speak of Christmas being the season of goodwill but our global neighbours in Ethiopia and the wider East African region need more than goodwill. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone and we can and must do more to ensure this hunger crisis doesn’t escalate, but also build community resilience and challenge global food production structures, so the cycle doesn’t repeat. As the letter on Rishi Sunak’s desk states quite clearly, ‘We implore you not to stand by as so many lives hang in the balance’.

Source : The Scotsman