By Keenan Alexander MSYP (Glasgow Provan)
Recently the lack of coverage of the ever growing disaster in the Horn of Africa has really annoyed me. It’s typical of the society that we live in – out of sight, out of mind! I wanted to take this opportunity to bring it back to the forefront of people’s minds and to make some points on the issue.
Let’s be absolutely clear, this crisis isn’t getting any better. I watched a debate in the House of Commons on Food Security in Africa and many Members, from both sides of the house, made some very interesting points.
It’s very easy to respond to a crisis once it has hit. However, we’re not as good at preventing them. Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South, said that we have a “moral responsibility to those most in need.” Frankly, I couldn’t have put it better myself. We hear of people, although thankfully they are in the minority, talking the crisis down. Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire, spoke about letters she has received from constituents who feel that it’s a waste of money and that “charity begins at home.” This level of ignorance is astounding. As someone who has experienced the poverty in Africa first hand, hearing statements like that really upsets me. Yes, times are hard in the UK. Yes, we face some public spending cuts and yes, one in four children in Scotland are living in poverty. Whilst in an ideal world this wouldn’t be the case, at least we have a Government who is working to tackle these issues.
In Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya a state of famine has been declared. I think the word famine is batted about too easily. A famine occurs when thirty percent of children in a country are “acutely malnourished.” So yes, things may seem difficult here in the UK, but there’s no comparison really!
This leads me to my second point. It’s a well known fact that democracies have far fewer famines than countries which don’t have democracy. Why is it then, that we aren’t taking action against the corrupt governments around the world, and particularly in Africa? Pauline Latham, MP for Mid Derbyshire and a member of the International Development Select Committee, spoke of the need to tackle corruption. Sadly, corruption exists at every level of society in many developing nations. It’s my belief that if we are ever to assist the people of East Africa then we need to ensure that their leaders, both locally and nationally, are doing everything they can to ensure that these disasters are less frequent. I use “disaster” loosely. To clarify, famines are not natural disasters. They occur as a result of both political and economic mismanagement and more importantly, human failure.
The United Nations has called this famine in the Horn of Africa “the worst in sixty years.” Sadly, there are 3.2 million people in immediate need of life saving assistance. The UN FSNAU predicts that the famine will continue until at least December 2011.
For anyone who has been to Africa, you’ll know how proud Africans are. They have a fantastic spirit and are, surprisingly, very grateful for what little they have. It’s absolutely essential that any support from the UN and NGOs are a hand up, and not a hand out. These people have their pride and should be seen as equals. Yes we may feel bad about their situations but one thing they don’t want is our pity.
Although I have focussed on the negatives, there are many positives. The people of the UK are, and always have been, extremely generous. Like I mentioned earlier, and as we all know, times are tough in the UK. However, the UK is the second largest donor to the region, behind the United States. The UK Government committed .7 % of the UKs gross national income (gni) to aid. So far, the Disasters Emergency Committee has received donations of over £45m from the British public. The World Bank has also pledged £307m. Whilst all this money will be very welcome, I don’t believe that it’s the answer. We need to educate and help nations in Africa become self sufficient. This may be a long way off but there’s no better time to start!
I’m a great believer in the old saying, “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.”