Irish News

Bishops call for action on Africa’s ignored famine

A young girld pictured at St Mary's Primary Healthcare Centre in Kalokal in northern Kenya. The clinic is supported by Trócaire. An estimated half a million children under five are facing severe malnutrition due to the drought in Kenya. Photo: David O'Hare/Trócaire

Irish bishops are beseeching parishes to take action as millions of people face famine in East Africa on a scale described as “absolutely frightening”.

Bishops north and south of the border are appealing for aid to be supplied and awareness to be spread of the growing crisis, after prolonged droughts destroyed life-saving food crops in several countries. This has left 23 million people facing starvation and 100,000 people in South Sudan already suffering famine, with a further one million on the brink.

“The scale of the famine in East Africa is absolutely frightening, and really its proportions are very hard to take in when you live in Europe,” said Bishop John McAreavey, chair of the bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace.

Reach out

“It’s really important that the Irish public would begin to first of all be more aware, and then would try and reach out as best they can,” he added.

Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan said that people still respond “very generously” to these types of crisis, but spreading awareness is now the real issue.

“The foreign news agenda is dominated by Brexit and Donald Trump so generating awareness of the crisis has been a real challenge,” he said. “Once people know what is happening, they are as generous as ever. The images coming out of east Africa at the moment are heart-breaking. They couldn’t fail to move you.”

Trócaire’s chairman Bishop William Crean said the “scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in East Africa is unprecedented and demands an urgent response from governments and the public alike”.

Critical

He said the situation in Somalia is “critical”, with more than 6.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

“An estimated 346,000 children under five are severely malnourished. Malnutrition rates have sky-rocketed – the number of sick children being treated for severe malnutrition has tripled in the last three months.” He added that behind the numbers “are real people – families with hungry children unable to provide food for them”.

The countries affected are South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, who have had two seasons of insufficient rainfall – which has increased food prices and decimated water supplies.