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Aid Desperately Needed in East Africa

September 5, 2011

As communities in the Eastern part of the United States continue to dig out from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the International Rescue Committee and other humanitarian organizations are engaged in a massive  humanitarian response to save the lives of millions who are at risk of hunger and disease as a severe drought ravages East Africa and famine is declared in the south of Somalia.

American Express has made donations to the International Rescue Committee and the American Red Cross toward relief efforts, and donations by our employees to relief organizations will be matched by the company.

Nearly half of Somalia’s population is in need of life-saving assistance and tens of thousands have already died from the effects of the drought. Chronic fighting and insecurity in south Somalia has also compounded relief efforts there as many aid organizations struggle to hit the most affected areas while carefully protecting their own safety.

“The international community has very little time left to address this emergency before it turns into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe,” said Nora Love who oversees the International Rescue Committee’s humanitarian aid work in Somalia. “Without an urgent infusion of emergency funds, the famine is likely to spread to other regions in Somalia leading to more starvation, disease and displacement.”

Relief organizations are aware that the famine in East Africa has not attracted the kind of media attention as other disasters like the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the tsunami in Japan earlier this year and now Hurricane Irene. The famine has also had to compete with prominent news stories this summer like the debate over the debt ceiling in the U.S., the phone hacking scandal in the U.K. and the mass killings in Norway (New York Times, August 1, 2011).

“The slow onset emergencies are always hard because they lack the immediacy of an act of nature, but they are just as devastating,” said Jeremy Barnicle, a spokesperson for Mercy Corps.

“I’m asking myself where is everybody and how loud do I have to yell and from what mountaintop?” added Caryl Stern, chief executive of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

If you have a comment or question, please share it with me.

Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO, Americans for the Arts
Your point about all the competing issues and news items is particularly problematic for a key human issue like East Africa. But I think that all the noise and clutter out there affects all needs and causes these days. It is hard to get important news through to critical eyes and ears.
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