Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Not Just White Noise
By U.S. Rep Karen Bass
Published August 29, 2011


Africa–the cradle of civilization; a land with breathtaking natural scenery and perhaps the richest history of any place on Earth. It is said that all people, from any nation, can trace their origins back to Africa. It is because of this lineage that we all feel an instinctive bond to this region, and when there is suffering in Africa the world must rally to help.

Currently, the continent faces another humanitarian crisis. Because of below average rainfall in the spring of 2011, the Horn of Africa has experienced a drought and subsequent food shortages at levels unseen since the famine of the 1980’s, placing over 12 million people at risk for starvation. The situation is particularly dire in Somalia, where a civil war between the Transitional Federal Government and rebel forces has created essentially a lawless and insecure nation free of any practical governance, displacing hundreds of thousands of Somalis.

The terrorist group al-Shabaab, which has a long and bloody history within Somalia, has not only been preventing aid and aid workers from entering the country, they are preventing–through the use of force–refugees from fleeing. Those who do manage to escape have made their way to neighboring the neighboring nations of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya–putting enormous pressure on their already strained aid networks. But we cannot use al-Shabaab’s actions or their history as an excuse to not send humanitarian aid to the region.

Make no mistake–the famine in Somalia is without question the most severe humanitarian crisis facing the world community today.

Where there is famine, where there is food insecurity, there is humanitarian devastation, and I am glad to say that the Obama administration has stepped up to send aid in all forms to this struggling region. Just last week, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that the United States government is making available $122 million in emergency aid to address the crisis, with $12 million of those monies specifically dedicated to help the people of Somalia. This is on top of the emergency money already allocated to the region.

Perhaps the most tragic part of this crisis is who bears the brunt of the suffering–children. Beginning in late July, the World Food Program has conducted six airlift operations to bring over 86 metric tons of food supplements to the children of Somalia, and other international aid organizations have collectively distributed over 3,000 metric tons of food. This will feed approximately 162,000 Somalis for the month.

But it still will not be enough.

Of course we need to invest in Somalia–and much more needs to be given to the continent–but we must move past investing on a “crisis by crisis” basis. Currently, the new 2012 budget contains–due to partisan demands- an 18% cut in funding from this year’s spending levels towards the region, which is fully 29% under the Administration’s requested amount.

Furthermore, these cuts represent a reduction of $250 million to the Feed the Future program, which helps ensure food security in developing regions. By helping to create a strong agricultural infrastructure, droughts and natural disasters may still hurt the region, but they will not decimate it.

With our nation still embroiled in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and our economy still going through a painful recovery, the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa can almost seem like white noise against the din of the nightly news. But given the history of our country, we are inextricably tied to our African brothers and sisters, and it is incumbent upon us to make sure our nation delivers the resources that are needed.

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Categories: Op-Ed

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