"Drought triggered the current crisis, but it’s as much a manmade as natural disaster." said Caritas Internationalis Humanitarian Director Alistair Dutton
Credits: Eoghan Rice/Trocaire
Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday 5 October highlighted the plight of 13 million people at risk in East Africa’s ongoing food crisis. Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and other parts of the region face a severe food crisis caused by drought, conflict and social injustice. Somalia is the first famine of the 21st century, with hundreds of thousands of people in danger and one in three children suffering from malnutrition.

Pope Benedict urged the international community to tackle the humanitarian emergency. He invited everyone “to offer prayers and practical help for so many brothers and sisters so harshly tested, particularly the children in the region.”

The Caritas network of Catholic aid agencies is helping over one million people in East Africa’s food crisis, providing families with food, clean water, and a way to support themselves in the future. Caritas is developing and implementing programmes worth more than €30 million ($41 million).

Presented to Pope Benedict were Bishop Giorgio Bertin, Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu and President of Caritas Somalia; Paolo Beccegato, Head of the International Department for Caritas Italy; Ken Hackett, outgoing CEO of Catholic Relief Services (a U.S. Caritas member), and Alistair Dutton, Caritas Internationalis Humanitarian Director.

“Caritas members all over the world have moved quickly to help prevent suffering in East Africa through our partners on the ground,” said Dutton. “We will continue to care for the hungriest and most vulnerable victims.

“Drought triggered the current crisis, but it’s as much a manmade as natural disaster. We must tackle chronic underdevelopment and help communities adapt to changing climates across the region. We must seek an end to conflict in Somalia if this is to be the only famine in East Africa this century.”

The Pontifical Council Cor Unum is hosting a meeting 7 October in the Vatican, inviting Catholic aid agencies including Caritas and representatives from the Church of England to discuss new efforts to tackle the crisis. In Ethiopia, Caritas and its church partners have distributed food to approximately 500,000 people and is providing clean water to an estimated 250,000 people. In Kenya and Ethiopia, diocesan partners run feeding centres for malnourished children. To aid refugees fleeing Somalia, Caritas members are working in refugee camps to build sanitation facilities like showers and latrines.

Because farmers have lost crops and livestock to the drought, Caritas is distributing drought-resistant seeds and is giving more than 10,000 animals to needy farmers. Ongoing programmes will improve water systems and train farmers in conservation techniques so that communities are more resilient in the face of extreme weather.