Ken Hackett, who headed Catholic Relief Services for nearly two decades, knows about famine in the Horn of Africa. “In a way, it’s as bad as it has ever been,” he told Bishop Martin Amos during a discussion about the current crisis. Hackett spoke with the bishop in Davenport a few hours after giving the commencement address last month to graduates of St. Ambrose University.
Bishop Amos calls for a special collection this weekend on behalf of the nearly 23 million children, women and men whose lives are threatened by famine in the Horn of Africa. Think of them as members of our family, the family of God and the responsibilities that come with kinship. Respond, as the bishop says, by praying, learning more about the crisis and giving financially to Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
Extreme hunger in countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan has a myriad of causes: drought, poor harvests, civil war, despotic governments, violence and climate change among them. Catholics Confront Global Poverty reports that the Trump Administration’s federal budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 severely cuts large portions of life-saving poverty-focused international assistance. As reported in a Catholic News Service story in this week’s issue, cuts in foreign aid “could affect national security because poverty and desperation would expand,” a CRS spokesman said.
The U.S. government has committed $1 billion to the famine relief effort, but some sources say four times that amount is needed. Exacerbating the crisis is an expected smaller contribution from European countries, which are focusing their efforts on the migrant crisis, Hackett said.
Meanwhile, war rages in South Sudan and Yemen, disrupting the ability to produce and secure food. Kenya’s two huge refugee camps are now 20 years old. In a February news report, CNN said that the Dadaab camp in Kenya — the largest in the world — has become “a launch pad for various terror attacks by Al-Shabaab. Nigeria faces the threat of the terrorist group “Boko Haram;” farmers there are afraid to plant. Eritrea, Liberia and West Africa also face crises as people flee from their home countries north toward Europe, according to Hackett.
Hackett, who recently retired as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, told Bishop Amos that the Holy Father may travel to South Sudan, possibly with the Archbishop of Canterbury, in an attempt to broker a peace agreement. Without peace, the people of South Sudan cannot provide for themselves. We must convince our government to provide diplomatic assistance as well as food aid to chart a more hopeful course in South Sudan. Bill O’Keefe of CRS calls on Congress to protect nearly $60 billion in diplomacy and development aid.
Curiously, the world’s major newspapers have not been providing the same on-the-ground coverage in these troubled areas of Africa as in times past. Keeping informed about the current state of events is essential to ensuring that the crisis of famine is confronted and extinguished. One way to keep informed is to subscribe to the online Catholics Confront Global Poverty (www.confrontglobalpoverty.org).
As we become informed, let’s start a letter-writing campaign to our senators and representatives to provide funding and other resources to stop the famine and the conditions contributing to this scourge.
Hackett challenged the Davenport Diocese to bring in a speaker who works for “Solidarity with Southern Sudan,” a consortium of 30 church missionary groups addressing issues ranging from health and relief to education.
Meanwhile, CRS is partnering with the U.N. World Food Program in the Herculean task of getting food to those who need it most. Read about the agency’s efforts at http://tinyurl.com/y74g54z9. Please give to the special collection this weekend, June 3-4, to ensure that the least of our brothers and sisters do not perish for lack of food.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor