Stop the violence, end the famine




Newly arrived refugees carry their belongings through the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya. Dadaab has swelled as thousands of Somalis flee drought and famine.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

By Roy Winter and Jeff Boshart

It now seems undeniable that famines in our global world are directly related to war and violence. A famine is usually the intersection of deep political, racial, or social injustices compounding food insecurity, malnutrition, and drought found in at-risk communities. If we mix in war and uncontained violence, humanitarian response actors can’t respond and the crisis is elevated to a famine.

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If we can reach the people, we can prevent the famine. The last decade of escalating violence in Africa and the Middle East has led to the largest refugee crisis since World War II, further resulting in malnutrition, hunger, starvation, and now famine. In reference to the growing famine in South Sudan, World Food Program South Sudan director Joyce Luma stated, “This famine is manmade.” While water shortages and decreased rainfall are part of the crisis, it is the violence and lack of security that prevents aid from reaching malnourished and starving people. 

Famine is a technical term used when one in five households faces extreme food shortages, more than 30 percent of the population is acutely malnourished, and there are at least two hunger-related deaths per 10,000 each day. When a famine is declared, the world already has failed to protect basic human rights and people are dying of starvation. 

South Sudan has two regions already experiencing famine, while northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen are at a very high risk of famine due to war, government policy or inaction, and drought.  Some experts suggest parts of northeast Nigeria  have escalated to a famine, but the security situation is so bad that aid workers can’t assess the situation. Severe food insecurities and malnutrition are already prevalent in these countries and others in the region such as Ethiopia and Kenya. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) reports 70 million people are in need of food assistance across 45 countries, an unprecedented level of world hunger. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien reports that “we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN.”

To mount a large-scale response to the threat of famine, the United Nations has requested $4.4 billion in aid, though the UN has received less than $1 billion in pledges. Most large aid organizations are trying to raise funds to prevent worse atrocities, but they find it difficult as many donors are “fatigued” by the constant needs from the crises in the last years. Church of the Brethren donors also may be feeling this fatigue as the Nigeria Crisis Response continues.

Preventing famine

Given the resources, beliefs, and practices of the Church of the Brethren, we strive to prevent famine with two key ministry areas: the Global Food Initiative (GFI) and Brethren Disaster Ministries. The GFI (formerly the Global Food Crisis Fund) was founded in direct response to famine in the Horn of Africa in the 1980s.

In the past 35 years, the GFI and many other non-profit ministries and agencies, in an effort to prevent famine and malnutrition, have gradually shifted away from famine relief and toward allocating development funds to projects and places where hunger is chronic. Too often a lack of government services and/or the existence of structural injustice result in communities with deeply rooted poverty. In this context, simply providing food, funds, or material aid will be ineffective, and possibly even harmful. The GFI development approach has proven to be very effective in Haiti and continues the community development that began during the 2010 earthquake response.

Brethren Disaster Ministries, funded by the Emergency Disaster Fund, responds to natural and human-caused emergencies and refugee crises. This programing often starts by providing emergency services such as food, water, and shelter to help save lives and prevent suffering. As quickly as possible, programing transitions to community re-development and long-term recovery. The goal is to help families become increasingly self-supporting through the crisis recovery. As the recovery programs continue, Brethren Disaster Ministries partners more with the GFI to provide holistic recovery in these communities.

Two important examples of Church of the Brethren programs preventing famine are happening in Nigeria and South Sudan. In these long-term mission points, although at very different levels of development, Brethren already have helped avert malnutrition and are preventing famine through large-scale and smaller grassroots organizing. Brethren Disaster Ministries, with grants from the Emergency Disaster Fund, works with the GFI to provide emergency food and supplies, while also supporting sustainable agricultural development and food security. This work is combined with efforts for effective community development, peace building, and trauma healing.  It may be that our many efforts at peace building will have the greatest impact on food security in the long term. When people live in peace, disasters can be overcome as neighbors from near and far support each other. 

Highlights of this important work

Northeast Nigeria, as part of the Nigeria Crisis Response:
-- More than 95 separate food distributions
-- Distributions provided in 30 different areas
-- Assisting over 36,500 family units (averaging 6 people per family)
-- Seeds and farm implements provided to displaced persons and newly settled families
-- Seeds and fertilizer provided to 8,000 families who had returned home from displacement
-- 6 agricultural leaders attended ECHO conference
-- 5 agricultural leaders attended a soybean innovation lab  research farm in Ghana
-- Goat trial project
-- Vaccinations for 10,000 chickens
-- $1,770,717 total food and agricultural ministry expenses from 2014 to 2016
-- $4,403,574 total response and ministry 2014 to 2016

The situation in South Sudan is so difficult that even sending funds into the country to support ministry is challenging. With a new Peace Center in Torit as a base, and partnerships with the Africa Inland Church, many grassroots programs are having major impacts on local communities. A master ministry plan for South Sudan focuses on long-term development in the states in southeast South Sudan. This plan includes significant agricultural development programs. 

South Sudan, as part of the Church of the Brethren mission point:
-- Peace Center built with plans to expand the campus outside the city of Torit
-- Toyota Landcruiser purchased to support all South Sudan mission and relief activities
-- Emergency food supplied to villages in crisis and to displaced families traveling through Torit
-- Tarps, shelter materials, and tools provided to villages that have burned
-- South Sudanese farmers trained in Farming God’s Way, a faith-based agricultural development program
-- Mediation and reconciliation programing helping to build peace between people of different towns and tribes

In Kenya, severe drought is affecting 2.7 million men, women, and children, and is expected to cause 70 percent of crops to fail. The Church of the Brethren is supporting a Church World Service response seeking to prevent this crisis from becoming worse. A grant of $25,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund will help provide water and emergency food assistance. 

Working together

Together, we can prevent the next famine. With the support of many Church of the Brethren congregations, disaster auctions, and church members, we are making a difference in the midst of enormous challenges facing the world today. When necessary, we provide material aid such as food, clean water, shelter, medicines, and clothing. We then focus on partnering with local churches and church leaders.

We seek to not only make an impact in the short-term, but also to plant the seeds of hope--and sometimes actual seeds--that will allow for a future when “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4).

-- Roy Winter is associate executive director of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries ( www.brethren.org/bdm ). Jeff Boshart is manager of the Global Food Initiative ( www.brethren.org/gfi ) and the Emerging Global Mission Fund.

Find a “Guardian” photo essay on the effects of famine in northern Cameroon, an area where many refugees from Boko Haram violence have sought safety, at www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jun/16/lake-chad-crisis-one-meal-a-day-pictures .

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