The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Adrian Lovett Headshot

Leaders and Laggards in the Fight Against Famine

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

From the tsunami in 2004 to the Japanese earthquake earlier this year, the world has a long-established system in which citizens of the world, and their governments, support each other in times of humanitarian emergency. But it seems not all disasters are equal. More than 12 million people are on the edge of survival in the Horn of Africa as I write. Famine, a word that should have been consigned to a previous century, has been declared and is spreading. And yet, with some notable exceptions, the international response to the crisis has been derisory. Months after drought was declared in the Horn of Africa many governments have still not stepped up to meet their fair share of the UN's appeal. The UN remains a billion dollars short of what they need. Parents are left with the horrific choice of which of their malnourished children, too weak to walk, they must leave - literally - on the side of the road as they struggle across many miles of treacherous territory to find food and shelter. Meanwhile, leaders debate aid budgets, eyeing each other's next move and playing a game of "after you" with barely an ounce of the urgency and energy this crisis demands.

Our policy experts at ONE have calculated what would be considered a fair contribution to the crisis for countries around the world, based on national income and annual contributions to the UN. The results - published today - show that while countries like the UK, US, Sweden and Australia are setting the example and leading the response, France, Italy, Germany and others are languishing far behind.

France - Europe's second biggest economy - has contributed a mere $40m, less than a third of their fair share. While President Sarkozy can be commended for putting long-term food security at the top of the agenda for the G20 this year, people are dying now. Germany's response to the appeal is just over $40m, a quarter of the $158m that should be expected from Europe's largest economy. The German public have personally donated €90m which only highlights the inadequate contribution from the government. As for Italy, Prime Minister Berlusconi and his government have committed less than $5 million dollars. In the ranking of donations, they sit just above Sudan. You don't need a fair share analysis to tell you this is a pitiful amount.

These governments will argue that our figures are wrong. In fact, our figures about their aid pledges to this crisis come straight from the UN. They will argue that other funds, such as those given to the World Bank, should also be counted - but these funds are almost entirely for completely different projects unrelated to this appeal. It is true that European countries of course contribute to the aid given by the European Commission, but even taking this into account, the picture remains essentially the same. Quibbling over the figures is a further unedifying spectacle from officials who should be rolling out cash, not excuses.

It is not just traditional donors than need to step-up. Other than Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States have contributed little to the UN appeal so far. The treasuries of many of these countries have been swelled with cash thanks to the high cost of oil. They are global players. They can and should meet their fair share and help the millions of people suffering in their neighbourhood.

There are some heroes here. Even in times of economic difficulty countries can afford to give, as the US, UK and Nordic countries have shown. British Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell was one of the first to announce an appropriate contribution and in doing so he set an example to the world of how to act in such a crisis. The European Commission has also been strong, led by President Barroso and Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva. African countries and institutions including South Africa, the African Union and Kenya are also contributing. It says volumes about the resilience and growth of Africa that the continent is stepping up to help its own people. And of course, the global diaspora - especially Somali communities around the world - has a big part to play and appears to be rising to the challenge.

It took some mind-numbing number crunching to arrive at this fair share calculation. But at its heart is the principle that in times of need everyone has a responsibility to give what they can to help - and that the greatest burden should fall on those with the most. Governments around the world have a responsibility to the Horn of Africa - leaders have failed to keep their promises to invest in long-term agriculture development which could help stop famines in the first place. So it is shameful that some of the biggest economies in Europe and Somalia's wealthy neighbours in the Gulf are ignoring the desperate situation as the death toll rises.

Oxfam is right to say "there has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world's collective responsibility to act." There can be no room for complacency in this crisis and steady, measured steps are simply not enough. Emergency aid is needed today. Then the world must launch a concerted effort to invest in the long-term solutions that will stop similar disasters returning in the future.