Fighting the Famine in Africa

August 12, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

As famine in the Horn of Africa continues to unfold, bipartisan support for U.S. efforts to save lives and alleviate the crisis continues to grow.  Last weekend, Dr. Jill Biden, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and former Republican Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist traveled together to Kenya to see first-hand the role of U.S. programs in alleviating the suffering through long-term agricultural development programs and early drought warning systems.

Dr. Biden and Senator Frist wrote, “The goal of our aid is simple: to help create the conditions where such aid is no longer needed.”  They described the impact of U.S. advance response to the crisis, which has helped millions of people.   Senator Frist spoke of the importance of continued long-term development assistance saying, “This trip is important so that the American people understand that their past investments will alleviate suffering in the future.”

Yet funding for these programs is at risk for devastating cuts.  Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced new funding for the famine while reinforcing the case that cuts to International Affairs Budget will limit our ability to mitigate disasters.  While we provide emergency relief to the region, which Secretary Clinton called “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today,” she made the case that we need to maintain a long-view focus on the crisis and break the cycle of famines resulting from droughts, saving thousands of lives and millions in emergency funds.

Secretary Clinton pointed to Ethiopia as a case where recent programs have already had an impact, contrasting the famine in 2002 where some 13 million people faced starvation with today, when 5 million people face starvation in a more severe drought, even as one life being lost to starvation is unacceptable.  The drastic improvement is a result of programs by the Ethiopian government that improved smaller farmers’ crop diversity, nutrition, and access to markets.  These programs are implemented due to increased government capacity in Ethiopia.  While discussing long-term food security programs, Clinton highlighted Feed the Future as a powerful tool in building infrastructure that would prevent famine.

In the midst of the budget debates, it is vital to remember what we as a country can do to alleviate and mitigate humanitarian crises around the world.  These preventative programs save lives, save money, and enhance our national security.  While the people of the Horn of Africa face starvation and crowded refugee settlements, we must remember as Secretary Clinton observed that “Humanitarian assistance is in our DNA- it’s one of our core values.”