By Natashya Fernandez
20 million people are currently on the threshold of famine in six countries in East Africa and Yemen. This major crisis has been driven by droughts, climate change, inflation and ongoing conflict in some countries. There are millions of people without water and sustainable livelihoods and the situation facing all the countries is critical.
In an interview with The eRecord, Caritas Australia CEO Paul O’Callaghan who has recently returned from Kenya, speaks about the Africa Emergency Appeal, the urgency to donate and raise life-saving funds and why this appeal is considered a major humanitarian disaster that requires urgent action.
The Africa Emergency Appeal, Mr O’Callaghan said, started in April when Chairman of Caritas Australia, Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ AM DD wrote to all bishops in Australia and asked for their support in their diocese.
“That was when we were becoming aware of the 20 million people who were on the brink of starvation in the seven countries in East Africa and Yemen.
“Despite warnings from the United Nations that is the largest humanitarian crisis the world has faced since the Second World War, we could see that mainstream media reports were relatively few.
“So what we have tried to do is raise awareness in Australian dioceses and schools of the dire situations for so many people in East Africa and Yemen,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
While this in turn resulted in him making a short visit to Eastern Kenya, what he actually saw and experienced there was very distressing and sad, he said.
“During my visit, I met with local families and visited a very well run local health clinic in the diocese of Kitui. In this area of the country, people are very successful in farming on a small scale, they provide for themselves and are very diligent about taking care of their families.
“Two years of no rain, however, has meant that crops have not grown and without forage, livestock have perished. So essentially, two sources of food have been taken away from these people.”
With the lack of rain, scarcity of food and water, people and children are now dying, he said.
Mr O’Callaghan added that on visiting the health clinic, he encountered about 60 mothers specifically asked to come to the health clinic so that their children can be weighed and measured.
“The tragic thing is that all of those children were badly stunted. In other words they have simply not grown. Even though they were three years old, many had the weight and height of one-and-half-year old children.
“It was very upsetting to see and know that many of these children will die over the coming 6-12 months.
“With Caritas’ assistance, the clinic is providing food supplements to the children, and we have used footage from my trip to raise awareness of the crisis throughout with media coverage and build support for the response” Mr O’Callaghan said.
With pleas of help and support flooding in from the Bishops of South Sudan, Mr O’Callaghan said the situation is the gravest food security event since the 1984 famine that devastated the people of Ethiopia.
In raising much needed awareness about the Africa Emergency Appeal, Mr O’Callaghan said that they are trying to get as much information out across Australia as soon as possible.
“We have contacted the Australian bishops, our diocesan directors and Catholic media to keep everyone informed and know that there is a way they can contribute to support the people of Africa.
“This crisis is exceptional because of the huge scale and need in many countries in Africa and will be our biggest appeal this year outside Project Compassion. So we are doing what we can.
“Responding to humanitarian emergencies is a real area of expertise for us because of our network. For example, in the Kitui diocese, the Caritas group reports directly to the bishop there. They have 40 staff and know how to get things done locally, how to find the people most in need, where to source materials etc.
“Because we have such a strong presence of Caritas on the ground in all of these countries, who are from the place and know all the people in the village, it means we are able to make the best use of any donations we receive,” Mr O’Callaghan explained.
While these life-saving funds will go towards food, medicine, access to water, in some cases, Mr O’Callaghan said that the funds will also help communities get back into their livelihoods which is mainly farming.
“We want to stress to people that they can make a difference and can feel confident that their donations will achieve the maximum impact, going directly through our local partners who operate in these countries,” he concluded.
Click Here to donate to the Africa Emergency Appeal or phone 1800 024 413.