Doing likewise for East Africa

Doing likewise for East Africa

By Tim Costello CEO, World Vision AustraliaThe last few weeks have reminded us of how fears about the state of the global economy and a possible second global financial crisis can consume our thoughts and the media. While this potentially affects the lives and livelihoods of many people, we must put it in the context […]

By Tim CostelloFriday 30 Sep 2011Social JusticeReading Time: 4 minutes

By Tim Costello
CEO, World Vision Australia

The last few weeks have reminded us of how fears about the state of the global economy and a possible second global financial crisis can consume our thoughts and the media. While this potentially affects the lives and livelihoods of many people, we must put it in the context of the crisis that is happening in East Africa where millions of lives are at risk. According to estimates by the World Food Programme, more than 13 million people need urgent food assistance.

As I have said previously, this emergency engulfing countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia is one of the worst in decades. It is like the 1984 Ethiopian famine all over again, and back then it was only after a BBC journalist brought attention to the crisis that the world took notice. It is our moral responsibility to not turn away this time.

This disaster is something we have seen responding to since last February.  In north Kenya alone, poor rainfall late in 2010 and again in the ‘long rain’ period between March and May this year has meant that the number of people requiring food assistance is likely to rise to 3.7 million very soon, compared to 2.4 million earlier this year. The fact is that when rains fail for three years in a row, as they have in this part of the world, then the likelihood of avoiding the kind of tragedy we are facing now is extremely low.

It is important to realise though that the crisis in East Africa is not just the result of severe drought in the region. Many of the causes of the food crisis in 2008 are still present. Some of these causes include the fact that in mid-2008 the world food supply came under pressures from a variety of sources, including poor harvests in the United States and Europe, prolonged drought in Australia, and high oil prices. All of these factors increased demand for food. On top of this, due to low supplies, foreign buyers suddenly began to stockpile. They put in orders on US grain exchanges two to three times larger than normal. This resulted in major domestic US mills putting in their own massive orders, fearing there would soon be no wheat left at any price.

For the developing world the outcome of these events was dire as food prices soared. More than 30 countries were racked by food-related civil turmoil. The World Bank estimates that the food crisis pushed 100 million people worldwide below the poverty line. This situation was then compounded by adverse weather with parts of East Africa not receiving any rainfall for three years and also by the ongoing conflict in Somalia leading tens of thousands of Somalis to flee to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. It is, therefore, no surprise that we are now seeing such a calamity in this region.

As Christians, it is clear that we are called upon to respond to such dire need wherever it occurs. The biblical injunction to do good applies to all, both to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10) and anyone else who is in need (Luke 10:25-37).

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The disaster unfolding in East Africa is not just a humanitarian one. It is not something to which emergency relief on its own will provide the solutions. It is also a matter of justice. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6). The biblical understanding of righteousness is justice and trying to live right. We are to be the neighbour to anyone in need. This is the wonderful and challenging message of Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan. When the lawyer asks the question, “who is my neighbour?”, Jesus turns the question around, and in telling the story, says that we are the neighbour (“go and do likewise”). He also says elsewhere in the gospels that loving our neighbour is the second greatest commandment and is inseparably linked with loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

The life and example of Jesus, and the tragedy in East Africa, call us to do good wherever and whenever we can, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. We must not delay again, as we did in 1984. Love requires an urgent response. It requires us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God in response to our brothers, sisters, and neighbours in East Africa.

World Vision is conducting a relief response to address both the immediate and longer term needs of those affected by drought. This involves providing emergency food, including distributing supplementary food to malnourished children and lactating women, as well as providing water and medical support. World Vision is also continuing its development work to support communities over the long-term to improve their resilience to situations like the current crisis. To enable this work, World Vision Australia is collecting public donations via the ‘East Africa Emergency Appeal’.  Donations can be made online at worldvision.com.au or by calling 13 32 48.