.- The Catholic Church has announced a range of humanitarian initiatives to help alleviate the consequences of drought, hunger and armed conflict in the Horn of Africa.
“Having lived and worked in this part of Africa for over 35 years I am deeply saddened to witness again a tragedy of biblical proportions that is unfolding,” said Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services at an Oct. 7 Vatican press conference.
“I thank the Holy Father for calling the Church’s and the world's attention to the plight of hungry and distressed people across the Horn,” he said.
The Horn of Africa refers to the group of countries situated on the Somali peninsula in the northeastern part of the continent. The region includes Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.All three states plus Kenya, which borders to the south, are currently facing severe drought.
Somalia is also affected by conflict and a lack of government, leading to hundreds of thousands fleeing the country to neighboring states. The U.N. estimates that some 13 million people are now in need of emergency assistance.
“The Holy Father is supporting efforts made by local churches in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, donating $ 400,000 for preliminary assistance to victims, while special collections have been made at parishes in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France and Ireland,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” told the press conference. Globally, the amount given by the Catholic Church so far totals over $81 million.
That money is going towards “food aid, supplies of tents, medicine and first aid, and supplying water,” said Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella body for the 164 Catholic relief services around the world.
He said water is of immediate importance for improving hygiene and sanitation. Roy also added that “spiritual and psychological care” were also crucial as “these people also need a human response beyond the material response.”
Cardinal Sarah said the present situation is one of the main concerns of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made various appeals to the international community in the past few months, most recently during his Oct. 5 general audience.
“The millions of displaced persons who are currently wandering in an attempt to survive, will become tomorrow's refugees, illegal migrants, stateless persons, people without a home, job or community,” said Cardinal Sarah. He stressed the need for increased investment in education when the present crisis passes so that it will hopefully be less likely to happen again.
“For this reason, today I would like to launch an appeal, most of all to Christians. Let’s commit ourselves to building schools,” he said, coining the slogan “one school for every village!”
“It’s not just about building primary schools,” Hackett explained to CNA, “but educating for peace and reconciliation to thereby create opportunities.”
“We're not saying we're going to fix everything, all the problems, but education in the broader sense is always an important thing,” he said.
The press conference panel also stressed the need for developing water sources such as wells, investing in better agriculture, improving veterinary care for herd animals and strengthening political structures.
In the shorter term, they said things should get better if the rains arrive this autumn. However, they cautioned, it will take time and support for drought-affected families to recover from the loss of livestock and of one or two crop seasons.
They also hoped Catholics in the developed world wouldn’t be too enveloped in their own financial crisis to help their fellow human beings.
“While millions in my own country suffer from job layoffs, loss of homes and income,” said Hackett, “I can only expect that their compassion, their concern for those who suffer at death’s door after weeks of journey under harsh conditions will be appreciated now that the Holy Father has called their attention to it.”