Kristalina Georgieva: Our generosity can end this African catastrophe

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:09

More than 10 million people are struggling for survival in one of the world's most fragile landscapes. The victims of north-east Africa's worst drought in 60 years, exacerbated by decades of conflict, include pastoral farmers, goat herders and their families whose way of life has been devastated. Now their very survival is at risk.

The stories of suffering are endless. I was tremendously moved by the story told by Fatima last week to one of my field officers at a refugee centre in Mogadishu, the strife-torn capital of Somalia. She walked for 30 days with her five children in search of food, water and shelter.

She left her home in the Lower Shabelle region after losing all her crops and cattle. By the time she reached Mogadishu, three of her children had perished. But even on arrival the suffering continues. Every day, she queues for six hours with her two surviving children for food rations.

The greatest focus of this humanitarian drama in recent weeks has been on Dadaab in north-east Kenya, where three refugee camps originally intended to house 90,000 people are now home to nearly half a million. The government and people of Kenya have been enormously generous towards these victims of circumstances beyond their control. Kenya will soon open another refugee camp in the Dadaab cluster. The need for a global response to match this catastrophe is urgent. But even amid the despair, there are grounds for optimism, thanks to the generosity of those of us who live in more fortunate places and circumstances than the people of the Horn of Africa.

I am heartened by your response to the crisis: more than £8m has been raised in a week by the Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK. Your government yesterday announced £52m aid in addition to £38m relief already earmarked for Ethiopia. Galvanised by the prospect of such large numbers of people on the brink of starvation, we all need to dig deeper. The European Commission has distributed close to £62m of aid through our humanitarian partners so far this year, but we must – and will – do more.

Last week I made an emergency allocation of nearly £5.3m to assist the immediate needs of providing shelter, clean water and sanitation to those arriving at the gates of the Dadaab camps. I will soon be announcing a major new funding initiative, but I am determined to secure even more for the Horn of Africa. The example already given by the UK is an inspiration to everyone throughout Europe.

Our urgent priority is to help all those who, through no fault of their own, have been forced to take the long road to Dadaab. But we must not lose sight of the millions still inside Somalia who are currently without access to humanitarian support. It is vital that we reach them before their journeys begin. I pray that a decision by Al-Shabab militants to allow humanitarian workers to resume their activities inside Somalia is a serious commitment, but it will be tested with prudence.

We will do everything possible to reach inside Somalia, but increased assistance is also urgently needed in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya to combat the worst food crisis in the world today. The hour is late, but there is still time for us to act. We must seize this moment if we want to put an end to the long walk to survival facing so many Africans today.

Kristalina Georgieva is the European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid

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