Oxfam: first famine of 21st century an urgent wake-up call

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 21 Jul 2011

The UN announcing famine in parts of Somalia, the first in the region in the 21st century, must be an urgent wake up call to the rest of the world for greater action in East Africa, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

The crisis has been building for several months but the response from international donors and regional governments has been mostly slow, inadequate and complacent, and the aid response is still US$800 million short of what is needed.

Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said: “There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world’s collective responsibility to act. An exodus of 3,500 people a day are fleeing Somalia and arriving in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya that are suffering one of the driest years in six decades.

“Food, water and emergency aid are desperately needed. By the time the UN calls it a famine it is already a signal of large scale loss of life. We must now ensure that aid comes quickly to prevent people dying in massive numbers.

“Emergency aid is vital right now, but we also need to ask why this has happened, and how we can stop it ever happening again.

“The warning signs have been seen for months, and the world has been slow to act. Much greater long-term investment is needed in food production and basic development to help people cope with poor rains and ensure that this is the last famine in the region.”

Yesterday the Australian Government announced an extra $30 million in aid to help the people affected by the drought crisis in East Africa, bringing the total Australian commitment so far to $41.2 million.

Mr Hewett said Oxfam welcomed Australia’s contribution to the crisis so far. “We hope the Australian Government continues its generous support of those people in need of life-saving aid in East Africa, and urge the Government to use international forums such as the G20 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings to encourage other countries to do the same.”

Across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, 12 million women, men and children are in dire need of food, clean water and basic sanitation, following two years of failed or poor rains, and in some parts of the region the driest conditions in 60 years.

To donate to Oxfam’s East Africa Food Crisis appeal go to www.oxfam.org.au, call 1800 034 034 or visit any Westpac branch.

Photos from Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are available. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795.