How Plan UK can Help East Africa's Drought Victims

01/11/2011 23:15 GMT | Updated 01/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Sometimes, when we watch a humanitarian crisis such as the one in East Africa unfold in front of our eyes, we can feel helpless. And wonder why 26 years on from when Bob Geldof and Midge Ure brought us the Live Aid concerts and we saw millions starving to death in Ethiopia in Michael Buerk's news reports, countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Southern Sudan are still suffering. East Africa is now being described by the UN as the "world's worst unfolding humanitarian crisis".

The crisis has been caused by long-term poverty in the region coupled with the most severe drought seen in this part of the world for over 60 years. The result - 10 million people throughout the region being in need of food, water and emergency healthcare.

As someone who has sponsored children through Plan UK over the last 30 years, including seven-year-old Eunice in Kenya, I've been particularly aware of what's happening in East Africa and how sponsorship is supporting children and families in the region.

Sarah Mace, who works in Plan's Disaster Management Unit looking after East Africa, has recently been out to Kenya. She says that you can feel the impact of the drought everywhere. In some areas in East Africa, it hasn't rained for three years. The food crisis has devastated livestock and put food prices beyond the reach of the majority of families. While large scale farms in Kenya bring in revenue, it's estimated that around 60% of all agricultural income comes from small-scale farmers. And it is in these communities that the impact of the drought is being felt the most.

Plan is continuing its school feeding programme in Tharaka, Kitui, Machakos and Kwale seven days a week - not just for the school children, but for their younger siblings. This has been effective and children are coming back to school and to their homes.

The charity discovered that some children have been pulled out of school to help generate an income for the family.

The crisis is also making children more vulnerable to exploitation. Children are involved in child labour; making charcoal and working in construction. It's also reported that they are involved in performing sex acts at 30 pence a time, in order to eat.

In East Africa, Plan's work is on-going to help children affected by the drought. The need is not going to go away. The charity is part of DEC, providing emergency aid in the region. And its sponsorship programme enables Plan to invest in longer term, more sustainable, child-centred solutions including education, health and children's rights.

It also funds initiatives to help reduce the risk and impact of disasters such as building school kitchens, bringing clean water closer to communities, helping farmers irrigate their land and develop drought-resistant crops such as mangoes and citrus fruits.

I am supporting Plan UK's East Africa Sponsorship campaign to find an additional 494 sponsors for children in Kenya - see the video - because I believe that through sponsorship we can help lift children out of poverty, give them opportunities for a better future and work with communities to help them prepare for emergencies and minimise the worst affects.

From the regular updates I receive about Eunice, the seven-year-old girl I sponsor through Plan, I know that Plan is building new classrooms and equipping others so younger children don't have to travel such long distances to school and that health campaigns are being run to create awareness about cleanliness in the home and at school. There's also a focus on improving farming and savings skills to help families increase their food production and grow their income.