President Michael D. Higgins praises response to East Africa famine of Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, but urges world to do more
By Damian Dolan
President Michael D. Higgins has implored the world to respond to the food crisis gripping East Africa or risk what the United Nations have called “greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War”.
Over 24 million people are facing malnutrition and starvation following three years of drought across Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya, following the strongest El Niño – a fluctuation in the Earth’s climate system – on record which has resulted in failed harvests and the widespread death of livestock.
Mr Higgins commended the decision of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference to organise special collections at churches across Ireland on the weekend of 22-23 July to raise funds for people affected by the devastating drought, but warned that more must be done and called on the world to act, and for all Irish citizens and organisations to respond with generosity.
However, the scale of the crisis unfolding requires a more urgent and rigorous global response, if a repeat of the famine of 1984 is to be avoided.
At the beginning of this year the UN appealed for funding for $6.1 billion to respond to the famine in East Africa, as well as food crisis in Nigeria and Yemen.
As of June it has so far received just $2.2 of that amount in pledges.
“The effects of El Niño and the growing impact of climate change have produced an unparalleled period of drought, devastating crops and livelihoods and forcing thousands of people to leave their homes,” he said.
“The drought is destroying communities and fuelling conflicts, resulting in growing refugee movements in an already fragile region.
“Irish Aid and the Irish NGOs and missionary organisations are already providing highly effective assistance to millions of people across the region. But a response at greater scale is required.
“We urgently need a renewed global effort to help prevent the deaths of millions of poor and marginalised people.”
Commenting on the decision to hold special collections, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, said: “The large number of people affected may shock us, but we must realise that behind these stark numbers are real people: mothers and fathers unable to provide for their hungry children.”
Mr Higgins been a strong advocate of intervention in the past to combat famine and poverty, and has previously spoken out about the effects of climate change. In response to the ongoing crisis in East Africa, he called on the international community to “honour its obligations to finance international aid efforts and climate change adaptation”.
In 2015 the UN general assembly met in New York to formally adopt 17 new sustainable development goals designed to end poverty and hunger by 2030. The new goals were expected to shape political policy worldwide for next 15 years.
This was preceded by the Paris Agreement, which was hailed as a landmark international deal, in which 194 countries, including the EU and China, agreed to sweeping pledges on the environment.
“We are reminded of the significance of us making an effort, at State and citizen level, to ensure that the statements on climate change agreed in Paris and on Sustainable Development agreed in New York in 2015, are turned into implementable policies and actions.
“This crisis, however, requires an immediate response.
“We need to address the gross inequalities that underpin people’s vulnerabilities to climate change, and to review those policies and practices that have allowed and enabled conflicts in this region to continue for far too long.
“Our shared humanity demands no less.”
In 2013, opening the international conference ‘Hunger, Nutrition, Climate Justice’ at Dublin Castle, Mr Higgins told 350 delegates from 60 countries that “Gross inequalities across the world” are root cause of global hunger.
He said: “Global hunger in the 21st century represents the grossest of human rights violations, and the greatest ethical challenge facing the global community. The source of this hunger is not a lack of food, but the moral affront of poverty, created and sustained by gross inequalities across the world.”
Mr Higgins’ stance on Climate Change is shared by Oxfam who in April warned the food shortages in East Africa were threatening to become a humanitarian “catastrophe”.
“Climate change is not a distant, future threat: it is helping fuel this emerging catastrophe in which poverty, chronic malnutrition, weak governance, conflict, drought and climate change have combined to create a perfect storm,” Oxfam said in a briefing.
“While some still deny the severity of climate change and question the need to combat it, others are struggling for their lives as climate change makes a bad situation worse. “Governments across the region and around the world need to step up, take responsibility, and provide humanitarian assistance to save lives now.”
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