Church World Service steps up response to East Africa famine

July 27, 2011

Nine-year old Habiba Husseim Hassan, a Somali girl whose family fled drought and war at home to trek for a month across east Africa, waits with her family on July 21 to be registered in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Tens of thousands of newly arrived Somalis have swelled the population of what was already the world's largest refugee camp. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

Nine-year old Habiba Husseim Hassan, a Somali girl whose family fled drought and war at home to trek for a month across east Africa, waits with her family on July 21 to be registered in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Tens of thousands of newly arrived Somalis have swelled the population of what was already the world’s largest refugee camp. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

NEW YORK, N.Y. and NAIROBI, Kenya –– With famine in the Eastern Horn of Africa worsening, global humanitarian agency Church World Service is continuing its initial response to the crisis and today announced a U.S. fundraising campaign for critically needed food and water initiatives.

This year marks the driest period in the Eastern Horn of Africa region since 1995, with the lowest level of rainfall in more than 50 years and more than 10 million people in some way affected by the growing crisis. As a result, food security — the access to and availability of food, as well as its utilization — has deteriorated for most households in all arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia as well as other countries in the region.

The situation has become a complex crisis. Crops have failed, large numbers of livestock needed for survival have perished, and local food prices have increased substantially.

From Nairobi, Sammy Matua of the CWS East Africa staff, says, “There is no doubt humanitarian workers will have to ‘up their game’ this time around if we have to reverse the recurring famine crisis in Africa.” Matua said the current crisis is proof that “the impact of climate change is here with us and it is hitting the most vulnerable people in the world the hardest.”

(A full interview with Matua is available here).

Last week, the global coordinating body for nutrition, called the Nutrition Cluster under the leadership of UNICEF, noted that recurrent drought “resulting from consecutive years of inadequate rains, poor harvests, soaring food prices and the ongoing armed conflict in Somalia have resulted in acute food shortage in parts of Kenya and Ethiopia and famine in Southern Somalia.”

It said: “In Somalia, a total of 3.7 million people are affected. The most recent nutrition surveys have shown that the prevalence of global acute malnutrition ranged from 23.8 percent to 55 percent. The severe form of acute malnutrition ranged from 5.9 percent to 29.8 percent, which is exceptionally high as a rate of 5 percent is already worrying.”

Church World Service’s response includes both immediate relief and longer-term food and nutrition security and water initiatives. Work is focused in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

In Kenya, CWS-implemented assistance is focused on the Mwingi and Kibwezi areas and will include immediate relief (for five months) involving provision of family food packages, Unimix nutritional supplement for children under the age of five, and storage of water in tanks for use by drought-affected communities.

Longer term water initiatives already part of NGO’s disaster risk reduction work

In the longer-term, CWS will initiate food and nutrition security and livelihoods efforts and permanent water initiatives that are part of the agency’s already-existing disaster risk reduction initiatives in Kenya.

Looking into the future – and back at the past– CWS’s Matua called attention to past criticisms of how aid agencies respond to famine situations.

Matua said CWS is intent on following international guidelines for quality, including food aid, and in assistance that does a lot more than just tossing out food bags. “CWS has been working in this region long enough to appreciate the cultural sensitivities and preferences of different communities,” he said.

“Food aid should be provided in an empowering way, so that it does not continue a cycle of dependency. So, yes, for a time emergency food assistance is needed, but we need to move a step further and support recovery and rehabilitation interventions that can reverse the impact of climate change as well, Matua explained.

“We do need to be aware that there are some actions needed now, immediately, because the situation is dire. But those actions need to be appropriate and restorative, for example, for children, lactating and pregnant mothers who have very high malnutrition levels. They need food now that can be utilized — sufficiently nutritious food and supplementation that their bodies can absorb and use to reverse their critical states and prevent permanent damage in developing children.

“Otherwise, the future for a severely malnourished infant or child in a Horn of Africa kind of crisis is somber,” Matua concluded.

On water solutions that go beyond crisis relief jerry cans, Matua said, “If you provide communities with the skills, materials and means to conserve water and have them construct water retaining structures that can slow down water runoffs whenever there is a shower or storm, that will go a long way in reversing the impacts of drought,” he said.

While CWS’s main response focus is in Kenya, the agency also is supporting efforts of fellow members of the global ACT Alliance who are responding in Somalia and Ethiopia as well.

CWS-supported efforts in Somalia are focused on contributing to the work by fellow ACT Alliance members Lutheran World Federation and Norwegian Church Aid. CWS-supported work in Ethiopia is focused on response efforts by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus Development and Social Services Commission, a long-time CWS partner.

Members of the ACT Kenya Forum, including CWS, are combining efforts targeting some 97,526 households in various emergency response and drought recovery interventions. The initiative plans to provide food aid for 5 months to 14,000 households; monthly food vouchers for 5 months to 25,500 households; a 5 months’ supply of fresh drinking water for domestic use for 36,000 households; and water for livestock for 47,500 households. The ACT group also plans to de-worm more than 100,000 heads of cattle.

In Somalia, CWS is supporting partner Norwegian Church Aid in providing emergency food, non-food items (shelter, clothing, hygiene materials), psychosocial support and water and sanitation in the crisis phase. In the post-crisis phase, the agencies will assist farming and pastoral communities with livelihood recovery.

At Dadaab camp in Kenya, which currently houses some 358,000 refugees, about 1,300 refugees are arriving daily from Somalia. CWS is supporting emergency and post-emergency work by Lutheran World Federation.

The monthly ration size per individual beneficiary consists of 15 kg wheat, 1.5 kg of beans, as well as cooking oil, which is calculated according to the government relief food ration standard. As well, children under five, pregnant and lactating women are being prioritized to receive 1.5 kg supplementary food, known as Famix, per person.

Last week, the United Nations declared that famine exists in two areas of southern Somalia, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle. (Famine is declared when acute rates of malnutrition exist among children, exceeding 30 percent; when more than two persons per 10,000 die daily; and when people are not able to access food and other basics and their bodies are not able to utilize the food they do consume.)

HOW TO HELP:Donate online; by phone: (800) 297-1516; or by mail: Church World Service, 28606 Phillips Street, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN, 46515. On your check, write, “Attention: East Africa Drought, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. (Appeal #642-L)