We must fight these famines

In this photo taken Friday, March 10, 2017, women pick leaves from a tree that they will later cook for dinner in the small village of Apada, near Aweil, in South Sudan. The world's largest humanitarian crisis in 70 years has been declared in three African countries on the brink of famine. (Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/AP)

A terrifying humanitarian crisis is on the brink of occurring—a crisis bigger than any in living memory, according to the United Nations (UN). Four famines are threatening to strike simultaneously; the food and water shortages will affect 20 million lives.  South Sudan is already amidst a famine, while Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria soon face the same fate. These crises are multifaceted situations involving drought, disease and warzones. Drought often dries up land both for crops and general life, forcing people to leave their homes. Camps of displaced people form, but a lack of sanitation, food and water in a crowded place creates a hospitable environment for diseases to spread. Scientists have stated for years that climate change will increase the frequency of droughts, yet none of the crisis regions have a considerable carbon footprint. As a country that enjoys smartphones and watching nature films more than exploring nature, we must acknowledge that we have contributed to these tragedies occurring across the world.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that over $5.6 billion is needed to address the situation throughout this year alone. Usually, the United States offers the most disaster relief.  Yet, these crises occur as President Trump encourages Congress to cut foreign assistance and aid to the UN. It is easy for us to separate ourselves from the problems in countries that seem so far away, justifying this through statements like “We have our own problems” and “It’s not our place.” However, this is part of a problem our country played a large part in creating, so it is our responsibility to aid in its relief.

Sadly, the UN has only received $90 million to provide aid during these crises. That is only two percent of the necessary funds to alleviate the suffering. Water treatment tablets, soap and plastic buckets are all basic, necessary materials that could save lives. Other efforts this money goes to include building more latrines and transporting huge amounts of water.  It is evident that this problem is larger than a single fund or even country can address, but it is the responsibility of the Western world not only as large contributors to climate change, but also as humans who have the capability of lightening the pain of other humans.

The previous efforts listed can address disease and water problems during these famines, but another necessary effort should be in educating the people experiencing these famines. At a treatment center for cholera in Somalia, a man named Mr. Adobi was asked about the cause of his mother’s sickness. He answered that “it was the hot season.” Providing resources to address the shortage of clean water and sanitation is one important aspect of supplying relief to the people this famine is affecting, but educating them is another significant aspect. It is dirty water that often causes cholera, a bacterial infection, and it is spread by an exposure to contaminated feces.

The regions these famines are affecting already have complicated humanitarian situations. South Sudan and Yemen are amidst tragic civil wars which have raged on for years. Nigeria also has military conflict between Islamist militants and the Nigerian military. Somalia is unstable as well, being under control of a fledgling government and African Union troops. These situations hinder and endanger the efforts of both those trying to provide aid and those who need it. An ambush last Saturday in South Sudan resulted in the death of seven aid workers. In January, a refugee camp was bombed mistakenly by the Nigerian Air Force, killing at least 52 people. They claimed they believed the camp was a Boko Haram hideout. It is a horrible reality that those seeking and providing aid must face dangers beyond the famines themselves. This must not deter aid efforts, but underscore their necessity.

It is too easy when hearing about these tragedies to separate ourselves with excuses of distance and circumstance. Yet, we are a part of this problem both because of our treatment of the environment and inherently as human beings, and we must be a part of alleviating this famine.


Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.