Famine in Africa – 2011


Again today’s famine in Horn of Africa is making it clear that massive hunger is caused by a conflict, not just drought. Between 1984 – 87, I was called up by the Geneva based World Council of Churches to act as the co-ordinator of the world wide churches’ action against the famine in Africa. The main focus of the action was Ethiopia, where an estimated number of deaths was thought to be about one million people. At the time, a serious war was being waged between the forces of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Tigray.

People like me who lived through the World War II in Europe and Japan must remember the hunger during and after the war. When I went to Southern Africa to work in 1968, people still spoke about, “Save the starving people in England” campaign after the WW II. Food was sent from Africa to Europe. The situation is reversed now. I wonder why we don’t speak about absence of peace as the major cause of hunger often enough.

The drought can be dealt with to minimize its effect. Alberta experienced a serious drought a few years back that lasted for a few years. Remember? There was no war here, of course. So drought was dealt with. Though a serious damage was done to farmers’ lives, but no famine. Today, Ethiopia is going through the same serious drought as Somalia. But the hunger is not as serious as it is in Somalia. In Ethiopian, lessons were learned during the 1980’s: how to avoid the effect of natural disaster to the food supply with the measures like the early warning system, a stock-pile of emergency food, etc. That’s why today Ethiopia is being spared of more serious problem like its neighbour’s. Most importantly, there is no war in Ethiopia. I believe the conflict is the major reason for famine in Somalia. Humanitarian aid is a band-aid solution, though essential to save lives in a short term.. Hunger is basically a challenge of politics. Peace is the solution.

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