By Kevin Rudd –
A lot of people, when they look at pictures on the television about the unfolding famine in Somalia, say “we’ve seen it all before. What’s different about this one? And why haven’t they fixed it up by now?”
I understand some of the cynicism but if you have been to this region as I have just been, you cannot be indifferent to what is happening there. This is the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in 60 years.
Famine has been declared in a significant slice of Somalia and by Christmas it is anticipated that the famine will extend to the southern half of the entire country.
What does that mean in terms of people? More than 11 million people affected – the equivalent of the entire population of Queensland and New South Wales combined.
Almost 4 million of those are in Somalia itself. But here is the kicker – 60 per cent of those in need in Somalia have, as of now, not had any contact with UN Humanitarian agencies like the World Food Programme . And the reason is that the security situation within the country is just so difficult.
Therefore the international community has a double challenge: to make sure that the UN agencies have enough funding now to deal with the crisis before it becomes a total catastrophe; and second, to give the UN humanitarian agencies enough flexibility to do what they can to make sure that people get this aid on the ground, despite the security challenges.
When you look in the eyes of little kids who are on the verge of dying, it is hard to look in their faces and say: “It is all too hard because you are in a part of the world that is wracked by war”. These kids have nothing to do with the decades long Somalian security problems. They are not to blame.
But our job, as a hopefully still compassionate international community, is to make a real difference. That is why I have decided that Australia should put its best foot forward. One of the core objectives of our aid program is to save lives.
And when you have a famine already declared, and one which may become much worse by the end of the year, I believe we have a responsibility to do what we can to save lives.
So I am proud of the fact that we are one of the world’s top donors to what is going on in the Horn of Africa now. The Brits have also been generous donors, as have the Canadians. But we need to get the rest of the international community on board as well. Because currently the United Nations appeal is approximately $1 billion short of what is needed.
What I fear most is us all sitting around our television sets at Christmas time, looking back at a catastrophe that has unfolded, and asking ourselves the question: “Why didn’t we do more back then?”
So that is the challenge which faces us as of today. We in Australia are doing our bit and the rest of the world needs to rise to the challenge as well.
Kevin Michael Rudd is Australia’s Foreign Minister prior to which he served as Prime Minister. Before entering Parliament in 1998, Mr Rudd worked as a diplomat, as a senior official in the Queensland Government, and as a consultant helping Australian firms to establish and build their business links in China.