Catholic aid agency appeals for help as 10 million face starvation in East Africa

Dolo Ado camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia. Credit: WFP/Judith Schuler
Dolo Ado camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia. Credit: WFP/Judith Schuler

.- The U.K.-based Catholic Agency for Overseas Development is appealing to the world on behalf of 10 million East Africans facing starvation and death due to a severe drought.

“As we are talking now, we're seeing 10 million people at risk,” said the agency's International Director Geoff O'Donoghue, in a July 9 Vatican Radio interview. “We are trying to get resources to put clean water, medicine and food alongside these communities – to get alongside people and support them to survive.”

Some aid workers say this year's drought conditions in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan are the worst in living memory. O'Donoghue noted that no rains will likely arrive until October, “and even then they're not guaranteed.”

The international director said his agency was working to provide “very basic provisions – water, food, medicine, shelter for those who've had to move, prioritizing the youngest and the elderly.”

He described the Catholic agency's work in East Africa as “urgent and immediate” in a “life-saving way,” and said the simplest way to donate is through the website at http://www.cafod.org.uk.

The United Nations World Food Program is also working to help those suffering the effects of the drought. On July 13, the program's East, Central and Southern African Spokesman David Orr told Vatican Radio about the “huge volume” of people trying to reach refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The influx of around 1,300 people a day is overwhelming the capacities of the three refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya. Originally set up to hold 90,000 people, the refugee camps now provide a makeshift home for over 380,000.

“They are walking for days, in some cases for many weeks to reach refuge in the camps,” Orr said. “They have very little food on their journey … and we do find that even after arriving in the refugee camps, children continue to die. There's a very high rate of malnutrition.”

Orr said the World Food Program could still help many of the drought victims, “particularly the children, by feeding them supplementary and very nutritious, special ready to eat foods, which can revive them enormously in the days after their arrival.”

He explained that the “extremely serious situation” had come about due to a lack of rain both in 2011 and at the end of 2010.

“In some cases in Somalia people will tell you that the last two or three years have been failures in terms of the rains which nourished their crops,” he said. “The pastoralists have herds of camels and goats and cattle which are dying or have died.”

“We estimate at the moment that we're feeding about six million people in the Horn of Africa. That could go up to ten million people, in coming months,” the World Food Program spokesman noted. “It is a dire situation.”

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