"There is more in the news this morning about shaving foam than about nutritional supplies for children who need their lives saved." This was the impassioned plea of David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, on Radio 4. His frustration is understandable. Relief agencies have seen the food crisis in the Horn of Africa approaching since August 2010, but it struggled to get media attention. Now it has reached crisis point, with an official famine declared in parts of Somalia, media reporting has picked-up but it is the fall-out of the phone-hacking scandal that still dominates the headlines. Media attention is in short supply and many governments are responding too slowly to the unfolding emergency.
Reports from Save the Children, Oxfam, UNICEF and other agencies working on the ground are that death rates are increasing. Around 10 million people are desperately in need of food, clean water and basic sanitation.
There is an urgent need right now for money so that aid can be delivered. The British response has been good - the public are giving generously to appeals and the government has stepped up quickly with emergency assistance. But the same cannot be said for other world leaders. France is yet to announce any additional funds. And countries including Italy and Germany are not doing enough. President Sarkozy has called for an emergency meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday which we hope will spur action from governments.
At the same time we must not let leaders drop the ball on long term solutions, as has too often happened in the past. G8 leaders have yet to fulfill their L'Aquila promise to invest $22 billion in agricultural development, with just one year to go until the deadline only a fifth of the money promised has been delivered. And African leaders must also step-up and keep their promise to ensure 10% of their national budgets support agriculture.
We have seen the images of starving children before and it is easy to question whether things will ever change. In fact much can be done. Investments in agriculture, especially water conservation and soil health in drought prone regions, as well as crop storage, livestock insurance, and early warning systems can all increase a community's ability to cope when faced with a drought. The FAO rightly highlights we need to invest in seeds and fertilisers now to take advantage of the expected good rains in a month or so time. Thanks to smart aid over recent years progress has already been made. For example, 87% of people in the world today have enough food to eat and lead healthy lives - up from just 76% in 1970. And in Ethiopia the number of people malnourished has fallen from 71% in 1992 to 46% now.
But we know how to change things even more: we can help stop starvation now - and stop the causes of starvation. ONE has launched a campaign asking for leaders to urgently provide the full funding that the UN has identified as necessary to help people in the Horn of Africa, and to keep their promises to deliver the long term solutions which could prevent crises like this happening again. Please take a moment to add you name.
This is an urgent crisis and one which deserves its own headlines.