Oxfam reveals $800m black hole in aid response to East Africa

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 20 Jul 2011

Several rich governments are guilty of wilful neglect as the aid effort to avert catastrophe in East Africa limps along due to an US$800 million (AUD$745m) shortfall, Oxfam said today. With the gravity of the crisis increasing daily, the agency said both international donors and regional governments need to step up urgently their response.

Of the estimated $1 billion needed to stave off a major humanitarian catastrophe, only around $200 million in new money has so far been provided. With aid agencies battling to cope with the scale of the crisis, Oxfam said it was morally indefensible that several rich countries and donors had failed to contribute generously.

Oxfam Australia’s Africa regional manager Andrew Hartwich, said: “There is no time to waste if we are to avoid massive loss of life. We must not stand by and watch this tragedy unfold before our eyes. The world has been slow to recognise the severity of this crisis, but there is no longer any excuse for inaction.”

Last week the Australian Government announced AUD$11.2 million in aid to help feed people affected by the drought. Mr Hartwich said Oxfam welcomed Australia’s initial contribution to the crisis. “Given the scale of the crisis, donors and governments around the world need to pay their share,” he said.

“The Australian Government provided AUD$75 million in relief to Pakistan after last year’s devastating floods. We hope Australia continues its generous support of those in need of live-saving aid in East Africa, and urge the Australian Government to use international forums such as the G20 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings to encourage other countries to do the same.”

In a new Oxfam briefing note released today, East Africa Food Crisis: Poor Rains Poor Response, the agency says 12 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are in dire need of food, clean water and basic sanitation, and that there is “a very real risk” of loss of life on a massive scale.

The UK has so far led the way in pledging new aid. To fill the funding black hole, other traditional big donors will need to make comparable contributions. The European response has been surprisingly slow, with donors such as Italy and Denmark so far not providing anything new.

The French have been strong on words, calling for an Extraordinary G20 meeting on the issue, but have so far failed to back it up with any additional money. Other donors such as Germany and Spain have made initial contributions but these are small and need to be followed up with more resources as soon as possible.

Oxfam called for a radical shake-up of the international aid system, to break the cycle that leaves the poorest people limping from one crisis to the next.

Severe drought – the driest year in six decades in some parts of the region – has undoubtedly led to the huge scale of the disaster, however this crisis has been caused by people and policies as much as nature. A massive increase in emergency aid is needed now to save lives and protect livelihoods, but governments and donors must also do more to address the issues that make people vulnerable in the first place.

Mr Hartwich said: “A crisis of this magnitude must not be allowed to happen again. It is in no way inevitable and solutions do exist. The worst affected areas have endured decades of marginalisation and economic under-development. If more action had been taken earlier we would not now be at the stage where so many people are facing starvation.”

As well as chronic neglect, in some areas people’s ability to cope with drought has also been undermined by land policies that restrict access to grazing areas, and by the ongoing conflict in Somalia which has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and exacerbated the refugee crisis which has forced 135,000 people to flee Somalia this year. Tens of thousands more have had to flee into conflict-torn Mogadishu.

Malnutrition rates in the Dolo Ado camps for Somali refugees in Ethiopia have been recorded more than four times the level considered an emergency, and in some areas between 60-90 per cent of livestock have already died. Funds for water, sanitation, nutrition and agricultural or livestock responses are particularly low.

Notes to editors: The overall humanitarian requirements for the region this year, according to the UN appeals, are $1.87 billion. These are so far 45 per cent funded, leaving a gap of more than $1 billion still remaining: gaps of $332 million and $296 million for the Kenya and Somalia UN appeals respectively, and $398 million for the government-run appeal in Ethiopia.

In the past two weeks there have been new pledges of $205 million, leaving a gap of $800 million still remaining.

The UK has pledged an estimated $145 million in the past two weeks – almost 15 per cent of what is needed. The EU has pledged around $8 million so far, with more expected in the coming days. Spain has pledged nearly $10 million, Germany around $8.5 million. France has so far not pledged any new money, and Denmark and Italy have said no significant new sums are available.

All figures cited are in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

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. Click here to access the Oxfam briefing note. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795.