Vatican Reiterates Appeal for Horn of Africa

Underlines Dire Circumstances of Drought, Food Crisis

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2011 ( The Vatican is calling particular attention to the dire circumstances of the peoples of the Horn of Africa, in particular Somalia, who have been facing a severe drought and food crisis since July.

The press office published an informative noted on the «Efforts and Commitment of the Catholic Church in the Horn of Africa,» which is issued in conjunction with a press conference held today by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum on the plight of several East African countries.

Presented in a question-and-answer format, the note summarized the situation in countries such as Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia: «A severe drought, conflict and lack of governments have led to massive numbers of people going hungry.

«Famine has been declared in several districts of Somalia. Because goats and cattle are dying of thirst and starvation, people who herd livestock are losing their source of food.

«Particularly in Somalia, hundreds of thousands of children are malnourished. This present situation represents the peak of a long-term process.»

The Vatican note reported that Somalis in particular have left their country, seeking refuge in Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.

«They are fleeing starvation and armed conflict,» the note said. «Herdsmen are moving farther into new territory to graze their livestock, encroaching on land traditionally used by other communities.

«In some parts of the region, local fighting has broken out over water and grazing. Villagers are cutting down trees to sell for fuel or are migrating to already overburdened cities where it is very difficult to find work.

«Herdsmen are selling off livestock to buy food, which damages their future livelihoods. The late and erratic rain has changed the yield times for crops, leaving farmers confused as to when they should plant.»

The Vatican related a Sept. 30 report of the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which states that 13 million people in the region are in need of emergency assistance.

«Particularly in Somalia, hundreds of thousands are at risk of death without urgent intervention,» the Vatican said. «In Ethiopia, due to the combined drought, crop and livestock losses, millions of people will not have enough to eat or enough water for the next 3 to 6 months.»

It noted that Somalia has been the hardest hit, with more than half of its population affected in the crisis.

In responding to the crisis, the Vatican reports that Catholic organizations, beginning with the «direct support of Benedict XVI given through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum,» and including the Caritas organizations and various local, private and national charities, have given some 60 million euro ($80 million) to aid the affected populations.

In particular, the note stated, Catholic organizations have provided food aid and nutritional supplements, tents, medicine, first aid, water, hygiene and sanitation, support to the medical system and health care, assistance to the most vulnerable including children, the elderly and people with disabilities, distribution of seeds and veterinary supplies, spiritual and psychological care.

Pray for rain

Asked if the situation will improve soon, the Vatican note said it would depend on the amount of rain this year, and that some areas have already improved.

«However,» the noted added, «it will take time and also support from the international community to help drought-affected families recover from the loss of livestock and of one or two crop seasons.»

The Vatican continued: «The situation will remain serious in the coming months: the aid is not sufficient, and the month of October is crucial, because it is normally a period of precipitation, but the irregularity of rainfall in recent months may indicate an additional  period of drought.

«The current situation is not due exclusively to lack of water, but it is also generated by violent conflicts, a weak central government, corruption, the insecurity of land tenure and a continued lack of basic services.»

The Vatican called for additional measures to be taken to be taken to prevent future crises, including the development of water sources, water management, drought-resistant seeds, land management and veterinary services, and stronger political structures.

Additionally, the note urged the international community to «strengthen the efforts to give peace and stability in the area of the Horn of Africa.»

«Formation at all levels, stability of families and communities, concrete paths toward peace and reconciliation are part of this process,» the text concluded. «The Catholic Church, following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, is engaged in all these issues in a spirit of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.»

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