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Help urged for worst famine in East Africa in 60 years

Monday, September 12, 2011

CALGARY — Asha Jama has been receiving calls nearly every day from family, friends, even complete strangers in Somalia crying out for help as famine spreads through the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.

“They tell me they see children dying,” said the president of the Calgary Somali Women, adding many of her own relatives in Somalia have perished. “I can’t eat. I’m thinking about them.”

Jama and her family joined World Vision Canada president and CEO Dave Toycen at the Ethno Cultural Council of Calgary last week to urge Calgarians to make donations and help fight the worst famine to hit East Africa in 60 years.

The United Nations warned that 750,000 Somalians could die in the next few months unless aid efforts are ramped up.

The federal government has been matching donations since July 6, but that comes to an end on Sept. 16.

So far, the government has given $72 million toward relief efforts in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya — but the official verified total will not be given until the matching period is complete, said Justin Broekema, press secretary to the Minister of International Co-operation.

Toycen said Canadians have already donated nearly $9 million through World Vision Canada but encouraged those who have not yet donated to do so, and for those who have already given to give again.

“We are reminding Canadians that children are dying. Children as young as one to five are being left for dead in the Horn of Africa,” Toycen said.

He said many Somalian families are walking the distance of Calgary to Vancouver with little to no food, and are being forced to decide which child to keep alive as they make their way to camps to seek help.

World Vision Canada is currently focusing its efforts on the border town of Dolo and the Puntland region, where refugees are arriving in camps to seek help, and on further development in Somaliland to ensure the drought doesn’t affect progress already made.

He said the organization’s staff have also started implementing child protection policies and protection training.

According to an informal survey World Vision Canada recently conducted, there’s evidence that children are selling themselves for food and water, Toycen said, adding some children are also being trafficked.

Meanwhile, Samaritan’s Purse Canada — a Calgary-based international relief and development organization — is in Kenya near the Somalia border, providing food and health care, and building latrines to decrease the risk of a cholera outbreak.

Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Jeff Adams said in a recent letter to the Herald that staff are distributing food to thousands of families and schoolchildren, and implementing supplemental feeding programs and therapeutic care to approximately 400 malnourished children.

A Samaritan’s Purse team has brought more than 1.2 million litres of water into some villages, and treated more than 60,000 litres of water with purification tablets.

Staff and local officials are also working together to drill boreholes and wells to supply water to people and livestock.

Samaritan’s Purse has learned that 17 per cent of the children are severely malnourished, 13 per cent are moderately malnourished, and 26 per cent are at risk of becoming malnourished, Adams said.

“The UN says the famine is hurting about 12 million people, including an estimated 500,000 children who are in imminent danger of starving to death,” he wrote.

“Almost 30,000 have already died. The need for Canadians to help their African brothers and sisters has never been more urgent or real.”

Adams reminded Calgarians that the famine is not a “two-week, three-week, three-month” event and that the need is “enormous.”

“We live in pretty enjoyable conditions compared to what they’re experiencing and they deserve our help,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview.

Jama said she is working with Somali-Canadian groups in Edmonton, to raise funds and awareness.

Jama’s 22-year-old daughter, Mariam Hassan, said while many of the calls that her family receives are from complete strangers, she feels compelled to help them all.

“What people don’t understand is, we are all brothers and sisters,” she said.

Source: Calgary Herald