Climate change induced drought is sweeping across Africa, resulting in starvation and disease in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. 20 million lives are at stake, and UN officials are billions of dollars short of being able to respond. The needed food and water are there, even within the affected countries, but people who have lost their crops and cattle are too poor to buy them, and/or unable to get to where they are because of distance and armed conflict. Yemen is being bombed and blockaded by the US-supported Saudis, determined to force regime change. In northeastern Nigeria, thousands of displaced people lacking clean water to drink and wash with are dying from preventable diseases as the battle grinds on between Islamist militants and the Nigerian military. In South Sudan, both rebel forces and government soldiers are intentionally blocking emergency food and hijacking food trucks, aid officials say. In Somalia, the Shabab militant Islamist group has banned Western aid agencies.
When rivers and other relatively clean water sources start drying up, as they are now in Somalia, people start to get sick from the slimy or cloudy water they’re forced to drink. They flee their villages, hoping to get help in the towns. Camps form, but they don’t have enough water either, and it’s hard to find a latrine or enough water for people to wash their hands. Shockingly fast, they become disease factories.
Water, of course, is less negotiable than food. A human being can survive weeks with nothing to eat. Five days without water leads to death.
Different helping strategies are being emphasized this time. One is simply giving out cash. United Nations agencies and private aid groups in Somalia are scaling up efforts to dole out money through a new electronic card system and by mobile phone. This allows poor people to get a monthly allowance and shop for food and water. It helps the local economy (importing food doesn’t), and people get help fast. The developed countries responsible for climate change owe this help to people who have done little or nothing to contribute to what’s killing them. And many more Africans may soon need it. Sweltering days and poor rains so far this year have also left Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania parched and on the edge of major food crises.
From a New York Times article, “Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just One Famine, but Four” by Jeffrey Gettleman (3-27-17).