Irish president: We have moral responsibility to avert famine in the Horn of Africa


MOGADISHU, Somalia - The world should not watch people die in the Horn of Africa by failing to act in time despite available information and substantive data, Irish President Michael D Higgins has affirmed, just in the middle of the worst drought in as many years within the region.

For the last 12 months, sections of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia have been battling drought, even as the respective governments continue to call for help from members of the international community. The response has rather been slow and bureaucratic.

In fact, countries like Somalia have gone ahead to declare a state of emergency and even appoint a special envoy to handle matters of drought. Newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has since appointed Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame to head the special docket.

And in a detailed article, President Higgins poked holes at the international community, citing previous instances where the world failed to offer an immediate solution to the famine in the Horn of Africa. A decade ago, he noted, several people were subjected to hunger despite early calls for proper mitigation.

The world, Higgins adds, should now chip in immediately and help the countries to avert an impending famine that could affect millions of people in the three countries. The response, he noted, should be tangible and helpful to the people.

Statistics indicate that the number of people experiencing extreme hunger in these countries has more than doubled since last year — from more than 10 million to more than 23 million today, with nearly half a million people in parts of Somalia and Ethiopia facing famine-like conditions.

Most of those affected, Higgins said, are children and already, the UN has warned that in Somalia alone up to 350,000 children may die unless action is taken and taken now. "This is, what is unfolding as I write, already being called the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War," he notes.

"The growing impact of climate change, compounded by conflict and the fallout from Covid-19, and an unparalleled period of drought, has devastated crops and destroyed livelihoods, forcing millions of people to leave their homes," he says in his detailed article.

Also leading to the current impasse, he said, is the war in Ukraine. Food and fuel prices have already increased and where understandably our attention has been deflected from other global crises to the site of the war, its consequences for the most threatened in Africa cannot afford to be ignored.

"We as a nation — and the global community — cannot avert our gaze. We have a moral and ethical responsibility as a country that has historically known terrible deprivation and hunger ourselves to reach out and support our brothers and sisters in need," the Irish president passionately pleads to the world.

Hunger, he says, represents the grossest of human rights violations and one of the greatest ethical challenges facing the world today. We urgently need a renewed effort to help prevent the deaths of millions of poor and marginalized people.

As a matter of extreme urgency, he adds, the international community needs to make the funds required available to stave off a pending humanitarian disaster and to get immediate aid to people who are starving in Africa. The UN estimates that humanitarian funding of US$4.4 billion [€4.16 billion] is required to provide life-saving assistance and protection in the region. To date, the appeal is drastically underfunded.

"The international community is challenged by this threatened famine and all famines to honor its obligations to climate change mitigation and adaptation, ensuring a robust regulatory framework to protect our fragile and threatened environment, and that respects the right of small landholders to remain on their land and retain access to water sources," he argues.

For many years, Irish humanitarian organizations, missionaries, and the Irish Government through Irish Aid have been providing effective assistance to millions of people across the Horn of Africa region, and other parts of the world.

The reputation of the Irish in the region is immense, based on our record of practical solidarity and not just words. That this support is maintained and increased is now more important than ever.

"We cannot let famine in the Horn of Africa slip down and off the agenda of those who have most to give, such as the G7 participants," he argues. "Smaller countries have been leading in response to the very poorly supported $4.4 billion needed now. For example, Ireland is the seventh-largest contributor to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund."

The G7 has announced an investment of $600 billion for developing countries. The sum needed immediately for famine relief in the Horn of Africa is tiny in comparison with what is being promised elsewhere.

"Globally, we have the capacity to anticipate and prevent regional and global famines, giving meaning to the words “never again”. The transformation we need is possible and overdue," Higgins adds in his lengthy plea.


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