Leading article: Go to independent.co.uk/giveadayspay

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Today this paper renews its appeal to our readers to save lives in the Horn of Africa. Specifically, we are asking you to consider donating a day's pay to the relief effort if you can afford it. It is asking a great deal in these straitened times but the scale of the tragedy in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, where lives are being lost every day, demands a commensurate response.

We can put the matter no more bluntly than to say that lives can be saved by our donations and a day's pay can do so much to keep starvation at bay: £1 can keep a severely malnourished child alive for a day; £10 can keep 14 animals alive; £50 can provide vaccinations for 2,000 children. The UN this weekend warns that the worst of the famine is yet to come: that means that our response must be all the more urgent.

An extraordinary group of individuals has responded to our appeal so far, from every walk of life. There are rather few causes that unite Tony Benn, Max Clifford, Vince Cable and the Bishop of Bury St Edmunds, but the effort to save innocent people from dying of famine is one of them. Let us also admit at the outset that our campaign and the work of charities cannot by itself address the underlying causes of the famine. What it can do is help keep people from dying of hunger. The desperate situation in Somalia is as much do with the bad politics of a failed state as with drought and natural disaster.

Somalia is the victim of poor rainfall, of course, but it is even more the victim of conflict following the collapse of the last plausible government led by President Siad Barre 20 years ago and the increasing strength of the fundamentalist Islamist militia group al-Shabab. This dangerous organisation has until recently made it impossible for aid organisations to function effectively in Somalia; it has also, more importantly, made it impossible for farmers to produce crops.

That is one reason why it is so important that troops from the African Union say they have driven Islamist militia from parts of the capital, Mogadishu, so that UN aid, airlifted directly into the capital only last week, can reach the hungry in the city. This consignment from the World Food Programme is exceptionally important because it goes to hungry people within Somalia, thereby relieving some of the pressure on neighbouring countries which are suffering drought themselves.

Indeed, it is important that the focus on Somalia does not take away recognition of the scale of the need in Kenya and Ethiopia. Our report today by Emily Dugan on the desperate plight of Kenyans in the Turkana region near Ethiopia is all the more striking because the crisis there is barely recognised. Even the Kenyan government can put no figures on mortality rates in a region where nearly 40 per cent of the population is dreadfully malnourished.

The situation in Somalia, however, must be addressed on several levels. Without political stability and the establishment of a comparatively sane government with the capacity to regain control of its own territory, there can be no long-term means of keeping famine at bay. But that is no argument against helping starving people from dying of hunger right now. Keeping severely malnourished children alive with peanut paste is a priority that is entirely compatible with the effort to launch another peace initiative.

Similar arguments were advanced at the time of the Live Aid programme, which was launched to help victims of the famine in Ethiopia at the same time as its government was in conflict with Tigrayan rebels. But Live Aid was an extraordinary success, notwithstanding ill-judged criticism of its work. It proved that it is possible, as most of us instinctively know, to help people who could die of hunger, while acknowledging the importance of resolving conflict and addressing corruption. It is not an either-or scenario; it is both-and.

So while our governments stress the importance of bringing stability to Somalia, we must continue to do our part by giving emergency help now and by giving families the means of making their own livelihood later. We can take pride in the huge contribution that the British Government and individuals have already made. But the need is huge.

That is why we are asking you to donate a day's pay, whatever you can afford, to the Disasters and Emergency Committee appeal, either by going online to independent.co.uk/giveadayspay, or by texting indy to 70000 to donate £5 or by making a donation using the form on p 32. The British have a great heart, so please help.