Wednesday, 17 August 2011


More than two million children may die of famine and disease in the Horn of Africa this year while the world merely observes, regardless of UNICEF and private organizations' pleas for help. One of the worst droughts in more than a decade, combined with rising food prices and armed conflict, account for extensive famine and disease in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Somalia is much worse than its neighbors, largely owing to a two-decade political instability after the overthrow of the government in 1991 and ensuing civil war that has paralyzed the economy and relief efforts to save the population.

Droughts that hit the Horn of Africa once or twice each decade now take place almost on an annual basis. High population growth against the background of ecological devastation combined with food prices that have doubled or tripled in some cases, and ill-planning by government otherwise incompetent and corrupt has resulted in the current situation.  Government corruption in Kenya, combined with the high cost of food prices and drought has resulted in thousands of children dying each day.

Ethiopia embroiled in US-backed military operations in Somalia intended to quell Islamic terrorism, is in much worse shape. Warlords have divided Somalia where the situation seems more hopeless than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and where the death toll appears out of control.

What is the responsibility of the world community in this case? Some blame the climate, others the governments immersed in misrule and corruption, others look to the issue of overpopulation, others blame the lack of proper land and water management, and so on. While politicians and journalists seek causes for the current devastation, children are dying like flies because there is no lack of a global response as President Obama has stated; a president who had roots in Africa but has done very little to help the continent even in this crisis.

The UN wants to raise $2 billion for immediate relief, but it will take much more to solve the problem long-term. UN officials know as well as governments and corporations that have dealings with sub-Sahara Africa the problem is water above all, followed by governments pledging to spend a minimum of ten percent of national budgets for the agrarian sector, and grants for seed and fertilizers from developed countries.

The African Development Bank and IMF in cooperation with US and EU have been promoting water privatization in Africa, a plan that has proved devastating to the poor where is has been implemented. Water ownership by large foreign corporations means that 400 million Africans without access to drinking water are victims or potential victims in a continent that has large water availability, but lacks continental-wide coordination and management.

Water development in Africa is a salient factor to chronic famine, but not as long as IMF, World Bank and Western governments impose privatization schemes intended to enrich multinational corporations that own water supply and distribution. In the absence of cooperation between African governments on water development issues, and in the absence of foreign aid for water development projects designed to sustain the growing population in the next 50 to 100 years, water-related conflict is inevitable.

This is not to minimize all other pertinent factors from civil war and government corruption to rising food prices and out-of-control birth rates; all needing solutions that only government can provide with external assistance. All must be addressed collectively to solve the problem of famine and disease in Africa. It is possible to eradicate extreme poverty and prevent the death of more than two million children in the Horn of Africa, but currently it is more profitable to allow them to die and to continue the policy of exploiting Africa's natural resources as though nothing has changed since the era of colonialism. Such are the values of the market system, its hypocritical charitable mask notwithstanding.

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