Background: According to the United Nations World Food Program, as many as 38 million people in southern Africa, the Horn (e.g., Ethiopia) and the region of the Sahel (western Africa) face the threat of famine due to a combination of serious drought, floods, an explosion of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, ineffective food policies, political turmoil, and debilitating poverty. The crisis is further exacerbated by highly politicized debates surrounding the provision of genetically modified grains (GMOs).
In accord with the U.S. Bishop's statement, "A Call to Solidarity with Africa," Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has sent an appeal to Catholic dioceses urging Catholics to support the efforts of Catholic Relief Services to address this crisis. In October 2002, a U.S. Bishops delegation visited countries most affected by the current food crisis in southern Africa and issued a report calling for greater humanitarian assistance to help avert a potential disaster, and more flexibility on the part of the international community and African governments in responding to the food crisis. In December, Catholic Relief Services, together with the United Nations World Food Program, the United States Agency for International Development, and executives from a number of humanitarian organizations launched a global campaign (Baltimore Declaration) to help avert the impending disaster.
The Threat of Famine
- The current situation in southern Africa is serious, where 16.7 million people need emergency food assistance to survive until the next harvest in April 2003, and in some countries, HIV/AIDS rates exceed 20% of the adult population.
- The ensuing food crisis in Ethiopia threatens to be considerably worse than the famine of 1984-5. The current crisis threatens 11.3 million people in 2003, whereas in 1984-85, 8 million were threatened. Further complicating the current conditions are the incidence of HIV/AIDS, rising commodity prices and decreasing per capita income ($190 in 1981 vs. $108 in 2001). In several zones of Ethiopia, the global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates among children under five exceed 15%.
On December 3, American humanitarian organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, and the United Nations' World Food Program launched a global campaign to assist as many as 38 million people who face the very real risk of death by starvation.
They appealed to governments, citizens' groups, private voluntary organizations, religious institutions and individuals to join in a massive and urgent response. They are mobilizing their organizations to provide the resources required to stave off this looming disaster. They also call upon governments in food-insecure countries, donor governments, and the entire international development community to take the necessary steps to avert future crises of this nature.
Issue: While we commend the U.S. government for the lead it has taken to date in supplying food aid to Africa, we are concerned that delays in passing a FY 2003 budget have left insufficient funds for food emergency programs. CRS and other emergency relief organizations are already unable to access adequate food aid to respond. Unless resolved, the funding crisis will also likely drain food aid and other resources from development programs needed to end the cycle of poverty exacerbating this and other crises around the world. Should Congress approve substantial funding for food aid in the fiscal year 2003 budget, supplemental appropriations will still be needed to address the emergency in Africa.
- Contact your Member of Congress and press for immediate enactment of the full $1.2 billion for food aid (Title II in PL 480) in the FY 2003 agricultural appropriations bill. As of January 28, Congress has not completed action on this provision.
- Urge your Member of Congress to support the provisions for additional assistance to sub-Saharan Africa found in the Africa Famine Relief Act (S. 185 and H.R. 390), which include $600 million in food aid and $200 million for reconstruction and relief.
- Encourage support for the efforts of Catholic Relief Services as it responds to this crisis.