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As drought situation worsens, church leaders launch 'Call to Action' in the Horn of Africa

Churches, aid groups partner to respond

[Episcopal News Service] In Somalia, 3.2 million people -- by some estimates almost half the East African country's population -- are in need of "immediate life-saving assistance" and another 11 million in the Horn of Africa have been affected by the region’s worst drought in 60 years, according to news reports and the United Nations.

Famine and conflict have driven hundreds of thousands of Somalis across the nation’s borders in search of asylum and assistance, with some 400,000 inhabitants at Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world, located in northeastern Kenya, according the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, African ecumenical faith leaders Aug. 10 launched a 'Call to Action and Appeal' for people affected by famine in the Horn of Africa.
 
The move came after a two-day meeting led by the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa and involving the All-Africa Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance, World Vision and others, according to the Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy, which organized the meeting.
 
As the first Africa regional ecumenical and interdenominational gathering in response to the food insecurity and humanitarian crisis, according to the alliance, the group paid tribute to the heroic work of the humanitarian agencies, churches and others who had saved millions of lives working in difficult circumstances to meet the needs of people fleeing drought, famine and war.

The faith leaders made three specific requests in their call to action:

  • That the international community meet the US$1.4 billion humanitarian funding gap; provide necessary technical support to meet the needs of the affected population, especially women and children, and ensure that global food security is given a high priority at the G20 meeting in France in November.
  • That the U.N. give higher priority to policies to provide sustainable food supplies and to work with the Arab League to address the root causes of the conflict that has affected the region for so long.
  • That the African Union bring forward its donor conference, increase budgetary support for agriculture, and bring forward strategies to address the crisis affecting refugees in the region, and ensure that there is safe passage for humanitarian purposes.

On Aug. 9, in a telephone interview with ENS from Christ Episcopal Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Suffragan Bishop David Mutisya, who oversees the Anglican Church of Kenya's missionary district in Garissa, described the situation on the ground.

"There are a lot of people who are dying, starving to death. There has been a prolonged famine and drought in that area," said the bishop, who was in Wisconsin to attend a retreat at Nashota House. "As a church we are assisting where we can. A lot of food is needed there, water … the water, we've been trying most of the time [to] drill boreholes … we have been doing it slowly, slowly."

Garissa is about 200 miles from Dadaab, which opened an extension July 25 to accommodate some 70,000 new arrivals in the past two months. (Click here for a slideshow, "Dadaab: life in a refugee city," posted by ACT Alliance.)

Christ Church, led by the Very Rev. Canon Dr. Patrick P. Augustine, has partnered with Mutisya and commissioned a parishioner, Diana Gorgos, a retired nurse, to assist in running a medical and education ministry in Garissa. Gorgos, who accompanied Mutisya to Wisconsin to further her medical training, said she often treats people infected with parasites and bacteria from contaminated water, in addition to malaria and typhoid.

In one year, Christ Episcopal Church has raised $11,000 to buy medical supplies to treat woman and children, scholarships for the education of Somali refugee children and to send two people from Garrissa to attend an ECHO workshop in Tanzania on how to grow food in the desert, Augustine said in an e-mail.

The Sunday school raised money to buy goats and is working on collecting additional funds to dig a well in the desert to provide water for human needs, animals and to grow food, he added.

Also speaking by telephone from Christ Episcopal Church, Gorgos described the situation as dire. "As you travel the roads you see children standing with a liter bottle begging for water. And the influx coming out of Somalia … people looking for water and grass to graze their herds, "she said.

The United Nations is warning that famine conditions are likely to spread from two southern regions of Somalia to the entire country, as well as to parts of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia over the coming weeks as the 19-month drought continues.

According to a statement posted on its website, Episcopal Relief & Development is working through its network of Anglican and Episcopal partners in northern Kenya to meet the needs of drought-stricken villages, and to provide support for Somali refugees crossing the border, where the local government and NGOs are responding to the widespread famine by supplying food aid.

In coordination with these efforts and to address unmet needs, Episcopal Relief & Development is working with other partners, such as Christian Community Services Mount Kenya East. Water is being provided to drought-stricken villages in the eastern Province of northern Kenya, allowing medical centers to provide critical care and decreasing the incidence of disease resulting from the use of unsafe water. The organization is also distributing feed for livestock, which are crucial to people’s livelihoods and provide essential nutrition. CCS-MKE’s water provision and livestock protection efforts will assist an estimated 6,000 individuals in northern Kenya, according to the statement.

Episcopal Relief & Development is also working with local partner Ukamba Christian Community Services to provide food aid (including maize, beans, and cooking oil) to as many as 1,320 households in four areas of northern Kenya over the next five months. As an initial step, the organization will be purchasing maize from farmers in central and western Kenya for distribution to those hardest hit by the drought in Wanzauni and Makaa, with special focus on orphans, widows and the elderly. The program will also support community efforts to prepare the land for the next rainy season with soil and water preservation measures such as terracing and sand dam construction. Rains are expected between November and December 2011, the statement said.

The faith leaders meeting in Kenya also committed their churches to long-term support for people and communities affected by drought and famine and launched an appeal for financial help. 

"In showing solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters affected by the current crisis, we the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa hereby launch an appeal for financial aid from all good people and well wishers. This appeal will be used to support local partners that are working in the affected areas. Because our intention is not only to deal with immediate needs, but to find long term solutions, this appeal will extend up to the end of 2012," said the Most Rev. Ian Ernest, chairman of CAPA and archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean, in the Anglican Alliance statement.

-- Lynette Wilson is a reporter/editor for Episcopal News Service.

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