...people in east Africa suffer one of the most acute famine crises in more than half a century.
A famine is occurring in several regions in the Horn of Africa as a result of a severe drought that is affecting the entire Eastern Africa region. The drought, said to be "the worst in 60 years", has caused a severe food crisis across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya that threatens the livelihood of more than 12 million people. A large number of refugees from southern Somalia have fled to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, where crowded, unsanitary conditions together with severe malnutrition have led to a large number of deaths. Other countries in and around the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and parts of Uganda, are also affected by a food crisis.
As of 3 August, more than 860,000 refugees from Somalia have fled to neighboring countries, in particular Kenya and Ethiopia. The UNHCR base in Dadaab, Kenya currently hosts at least 440,000 people in three refugee camps. The maximum capacity of the Dadaab camps is 90,000. More than 1,500 refugees continue to arrive every day from southern Somalia, 80 per cent of them women and children. UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that many people have died en route. Within the camps, infant mortality has risen threefold in the last few months. The overall mortality rate is 7.4 out of 10,000 per day, which is more than seven times as high as the "emergency" rate of 1 out of 10,000 per day. There is an upsurge in sexual violence against women and girls, with the number of cases reported increasing by over 4 times. Incidents of sexual violence occur primarily during travel to the refugee camps, with some cases reported in the camps themselves or as new refugees go in search for firewood. This has put them at high risk of HIV/AIDS.
Humanitarian agencies have requested US$2.48 billion to address the crisis, but as of August 1 have secured less than half that amount. The European Union announced it would provide €5.67 million to help millions of people in the Horn of Africa affected by the drought. On 16 July, the UK government pledged £52.25 million, on top of £38 million pledged earlier that month and more than £13 million raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee. On 23 July the Canadian government pledged $50 million in addition to an earlier $22 million commitment.
The U.S. has pledged an additional $5 million to help refugees from Somalia on top of a previously budgeted $63 million for general support in the larger East Africa region. However, the U.S. has withheld aid from the Somalia region, due to recent regulations which prevent the sending of food aid that risks "materially benefiting" designated terrorists, in this case the rebel group Al-Shabaab. The regulations came into force after reports that Al-Shabaab was "taxing food convoys", and as a result U.S. aid spending in Somalia has dropped from $150 million to $13 million this year. Mercy Corps has stated that "The aid effort will remain totally inadequate if legal restrictions force the US to remain on the sidelines". In addition, under U.S. regulations, international organizations may face prosecution under US law if their humanitarian aid materially benefits Al-Shabaab. However, on 2 August, the United States announced that it would no longer prosecute humanitarian organizations who attempt to enter rebel-controlled territory.
On 12 July, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called an urgent emergency meeting with the heads of UN agencies. He stated after the meeting that immediate action must be taken to prevent the crisis from deepening. According to Ban, "The human cost of this crisis is catastrophic. We cannot afford to wait." On July 13, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began a "massive" airlift of aid supplies to the Dadaab region in Kenya, including 100 tonnes of tents to help relieve the congestion at the overcrowded Dadaab camps. The United Nations carried out its first airlift of emergency supplies in two years to southern Somalia on Wednesday, 13 July. Health kits are also being sent through land routes. Among other measures being taken by aid agencies are the distribution of cash vouchers to residents, and discussions with traders to freeze rapidly increasing food prices.
On 20 July, the United Nations officially declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia, and on 3 August, famine was further declared in three other regions of southern Somalia. The famine was declared in response to new data from the UN's food security and nutrition analysis unit. This is the first time the UN has declared a famine since the 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia, when over a million people died. Under international law, there is no mandated response which must follow from an official declaration of famine. However, it is hoped that the use of the term will serve as a "wake-up call" to the rest of the world, who have so far failed to respond. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, stated that UN agencies lack the necessary capacity to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of drought-affected people from Somalia, and that nearly $300 million in relief supplies are required over the next two months.
Looks to me as though the U.S. has, more or less, two available courses of action:
1) Cobble together excuses for why it shoudn't, or can't, involve itself further in the crisis, not the least of which may include "concerns" of "cutting spending," "propping up corrupt governments," "prioritizing domestic cases of hunger before international ones," "letting other organizations bear responsibility," or "preserving current important spending patterns" (read between the lines, if you'd like, on the last one).
2) Resolve to make a substantial (more than a paltry $13M, if in fact that is the most accurate estimate of the amount contributed to date) response to the crisis, somehow, some way.